April 23, 2016
by Lyana Khairuddin
We should take up discourses that allow a richer, more meaningful understanding of religion and cultural sensitivities to allow society to attain a measure of peace within its diversity.
IN my line of work, I do a lot of talking. Apparently, being having a PhD makes one an expert in speaking about particular topics, and one’s opinions are held to a higher regard than most.
Personally, I have always had an issue with the word “lecture” and the way things are taught in traditional, conservative classrooms.I prefer to have conversations on a particular topic, with many questions related to the topic being thrown in for discussion, rather than one-way didactic lectures.
This is the conundrum with being considered an expert; where one would expect an expert in any field to give a lecture, followed by a question-and-answer session with the audience, rather than a discourse. After all, technically, this is what I am paid to do.From my six years of being on this side of the rostrum, however, I still think that having a discussion is the more enriching experience.
I would prefer to learn from my students, as they expect to learn from me. Thus, it saddened me to see the many attendees to a recent lecture by a non-Malaysian ulama in rapt attention and mesmerised by claims of miraculous conversions into Islam.
Try talking sensibly to this religious functionary
What made me even sadder was the fact that our religious affairs department applauded and welcomed the said ulama (with open arms and complete VIP treatment), claiming that he is a beacon of “moderation” much required in a country baffled by extremists in our midst.
As part of the Voices of Moderation campaign ran by this newspaper, I am offended. As a Malaysian born post-independence, I think it is high time we Malaysians take discourses into our own minds and voices.
We do not need an outsider to tell us to be moderates or how “Islamic” we should be. We Malaysians should read the Quran more (and actually understand what we are reading), have discussions moderated by learned persons in the Quran and Islamic history (there are many among us), and have more interfaith dialogues with fellow Malaysians who practise Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and other faiths. I would even suggest having discussions with agnostics and atheists.
We should go a step further from “I want to hug an ulama”, as popularised by Syed Azmi, to “I want to accept a fellow human being”.I do not see the relevance of having a public lecture that compares religions and then claim that one is better than another.
I would, however, put my support behind discourses that allow a richer, more meaningful understanding of religion and cultural sensitivities to allow a society to attain a measure of societal peace within its diversity, to live and let live, yet respectful of each other’s believes.
It is a utopia of sorts, yet a dream that was once envisioned for this country of ours. Furthermore, things should move beyond just talking and reaching an understanding.
How many of us have had our fellow Malaysians catering to our needs in order to include us? I’ve had non-Muslim friends catering only halal food to accommodate me. For this to have happened during a Christmas celebration in Brisbane was an amazing feat, and one that overwhelmed me with gratitude. I only hope to do the same for my Buddhist friends who are strict vegans, and my Hindu friends who do not eat beef, when I have meals with them.
Before we start looking up to an outsider to inform us of whether our version of Islam is great and how our society would become more “moderate” by doing so, I think we should start having conversations with our fellow Malaysians.
How are they affected by the ruling over the use of the word “Allah” in the Herald case from many moons ago? How do they feel about the recent raids conducted by the religious authorities on transgender Malaysians? What do they think about the kerfuffle in Taman Medan last year? Is there still resentment over not being able to display the cross on buildings (to identify a shoplot as a church)?
I think it is past time that we have these conversations and get to know each other better.It does not do for us to only claim to have friends of other faiths and ethnicities, but we do not talk to them, or even know them.
Perhaps this would also be a step towards not being blindly fooled by “ex-priests” from Germany. After all, our lack of knowledge on the many sects of Christianity is only matched by our lack of knowledge in geography!
I am also an advocate for spreading kindness and compassion through our very actions. There is no need for “comparative religion” if all of us are to understand that every religion teaches us to do good to fellow humans, and be good human beings ourselves.
The discourse should be about how every mosque, temple, and church in Malaysia can be put to better use for the community at large.The discourse should be on interfaith understanding, on finding a common ground against extremist ideas, and on advocating the spirit of voluntarism in our citizens.
Let us reclaim the discourse in Malaysia.
Lyana Khairuddin is an academic with a local public university who runs to keep being optimistic about Malaysia. The views expressed here are entirely her own.