Xenophobic Najib Razak, where is Reverend Koh?


April 19, 2017

Malaysia: Xenophobic Najib Razak, where is Reverend Koh?

by Manjit Bhatia

http://www.newmandala.org

Manjit Bhatia asks who bears the answers to the Malaysian-Chinese Christian preacher’s disappearance.

Image result for Imam Zahid Hamidi
Is the Face of an Enlightened Leader or a Philosopher-King? No, he is known for the company he keeps

Eight weeks after the February 13 abduction of 62-year old Malaysian-Chinese Christian preacher Raymond Koh Keng Joo – in broad daylight on a busy outskirts Kuala Lumpur street – Malaysia’s Police still claim have no clue of his whereabouts. That’s in spite of nabbing a suspect six weeks ago who curiously, demanded only one-third of the $A29,500 offer for the pastor’s release.

Also curious: the kidnapping happened 70 meters from the Selangor state police building in Shah Alam. More curious still: it was filmed, as if the cameraman lay in wait, and the video was quickly uploaded to social media sites. By whom, nobody knows. Despite CCTV footage, Malaysia’s coppers can’t seem to identify the 10-15 criminals or their motive.

In Malaysia, where bigotry rules alongside traditional patrimonialism,  the   kidnapping hasn’t caused a ripple among Malaysians, who fear state retribution.  Religious xenophobia has been fueling political violence, especially as Muslims soon could be living under sharia and hudud – laws already before Parliament.

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So where is Reverend Koh?

So where is Koh? Is he alive? Or has he been killed? The case quickly became frigid. Police, however, are questioning Koh’s family and his “past”. Nothing unusual for Malaysia’s Police to pass the buck. But its history of unexplained deaths in custody speaks volumes about the rise of institutional criminality. So, too, the link between Police and Islamic authorities.  

Most early speculations about Koh’s kidnapping can be ruled out, including ransom demand by common thugs, and rogue military elements or Islamic terrorists having kidnapped the Christian pastor. The earliest speculation – that Koh is being held in a government gulag, undergoing “re-education” prior to his release – is improbable. It will give Koh opportunities to speak out. And the beleaguered UMNO regime wouldn’t chance its crooked arm on more damning exposés.

It’s no secret Koh has been proselytizing Christianity to Malay-Muslims while providing basic needs to all races, not just Malays, through his Komuniti Harapan charity. The gravest accusation against him is his converting Malays – a definite no-no in Muslim-majority Malaysia. To deter Koh, Islamic authorities raided one of Koh’s charity fundraising dinners. Koh also received a bullet in the mail.

Though one persistent speculation about Koh’s kidnapping won’t fizzle – his abduction was a calculated operation. The criminals drove black SUVs with heavily-tinted windows – the sort favoured by Malaysia’s Police. Several unmarked cars and motorcyclists accompanying the SUVs herded traffic procedurally like Police.

Image result for The incompetent Inspector-general Khalid Abu Bakar

If he does not care, why is he still Malaysia’s Top Cop?

The attackers wore hoods – attire favoured by Police on such operations. Recall 1998 when former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad ordered balaclava-clad police to invade the home of and arrest his ex-protégé Anwar Ibrahim. Recall also the murder of Mongolian socialite Altantuya Shaariibuu, who was blown up by army-grade C4 explosives in a jungle near Kuala Lumpur. The military-guarded explosives fell into her killers’ hands, two of whom were “high-level” Police bodyguards to VIPs.  

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Malaysia’s Home Affairs Minister

Malaysia’s Police has a record of a slew of abuses of power and criminalities – from unexplained and uninvestigated deaths in their custody amounting to murder and abuse of human rights to extortion, racketeering and unbridled corruption. Locals aren’t surprised by any of the Police’s antics. In 2013, Home Minister Zahid Hamidi, to whom the Police answer, praised the outlawed Malay criminals Tiga Line – without consequence to his position. It’s another sign of the growing criminalisation of Malaysia’s institutions by the ruling political elite and its doxy economic class.  

But Police wouldn’t have acted alone against Koh. JAKIM has been headlining Malaysia’s turn towards ultra-conservative religious intolerance. JAKIM is the federal Islamic religious department under Premier Najib Razak’s purview. JAKIM is renowned for its political ideology and racist recklessness. Like its lesser sister organisations JAIS and MAIS, JAKIM, with Najib’s blessings, has been actively pushing for the greater Sunni Arabist Islamisation of Malaysia, bankrolled by Saudi largesse.

JAKIM has banned Christians from using the term “allah” – apparently the exclusive preserve for Muslims. Since the 9/11 terrorists attacks, non-Islamic religious practices in Malaysia have been frowned upon, scrutinised and gradually proscribed through threats by Umno-funded ultra-rightwing racists, like dumping cow heads at Hindu temples and vandalising churches.

Besides the Police, Islamic bodies also help to anchor the Najib regime’s soft authoritarianism. In 2015 JAKIM’s junior partner JAIS, which operates in Selangor state and is answerable to the sultan, raided a Christian society warehouse. It confiscated mainly Malay-language bibles while police provided JAIS protection. JAIS escaped criminal charges but issued an edict against Christians using the “Allah” word.

Koh’s proselytisation of Christianity to Muslims and their conversion is no greater a crime than the UMNO regime’s band of Sunni Islamic “authorities” engaged in “body snatching”, mostly of deceased Hindus who are then proclaimed as Muslims and whose names show up on electoral rolls to protect the Najib regime’s moral bankruptcy and political illegitimacy and criminality. Police and JAKIM bear answers to Koh’s disappearance.

 Manjit Bhatia is an Australian research scholar who specialises in the economics and politics of Asia and international political economy. He is also research director of AsiaRisk, an economic and political risk consultancy.

 

Speaker Pandikar Amin (NOT)Mulia gets notice of court action on tabling of Act 355


April 5, 2017

Speaker Pandikar Amin (NOT) Mulia gets notice of court action on tabling of Act 355

by Adrian Wong@www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for Tawfik Ismail

Civil Society Activist

Mr. Mohamed Tawfik Ismail, the son of former Deputy Prime Minister Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, expects PAS not to table the controversial proposed amendments to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 in Parliament tomorrow.

This comes with him having served an originating summons to Dewan Rakyat Speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia, to make the entire tabling of the amendment to be sub judice.

“We do not expect the Act 355 amendment to be on the order paper for tomorrow,” Tawfik told reporters after serving the summons he obtained from the High Court, which he served on the speaker of the House.

His solicitor, Mansoor Saat, who was also present, explained that this would be so because the Speaker had set precedents in past matters that the issue of sub-judice would set in if a matter before the House is taken to court.

“Following the precedents in some other cases, similar with this issue, the amendments should not go into the Dewan Rakyat for the tabling,” Mansoor added.

Tawfik filed the originating summons in the High Court in Kuala Lumpur last Friday, to seek a declaration that the proposed Act 355 amendments were unconstitutional.

Tawfik explained at the press conference today that the move to table the amendments without the Malay rulers or Conference of Rulers’ giving the go-ahead would deem them unconstitutional. This is because the nine Malay rulers also head Islamic matters in their respective states.

“This move is taken to defend the country and the Federal Constitution. The Yang di-Pertuan Agong also has to defend the rule of law.

“For me, the court should make several declarations so that the amendments would not cause problems in the people’s thinking,” Tawfik said, adding that the application was filed in court last Friday and copies were served today to Pandikar (photo) and the Dewan Rakyat secretary.

He added that he was acting urgently on this matter, because Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had said that PAS President Abdul Hadi Awang would be able to table the amendments on the last day of the Parliament sitting, which is tomorrow.

He said this was something of natural concern, and “we do not think that the proper procedures have been followed in Parliament”.

‘Must always abide by the constitution’

Tawfik added that he had sent several letters on the matter, and even to the Keeper of the Rulers Seal to ascertain if the Malay rulers had given their approval to the controversial bill or otherwise.

“We already sent another notice to remind the ‘Speaker last week, and he didn’t respond. So we have no choice but serve the originating summons today.

“We wrote to the rulers before the Rulers’ Conference in March. And the amendments did not get any acknowledgement of approval from them.We are also concerned because the government too wanted to table its own bill on the same basis. But if the government did not have the consent of the rulers, then how? We must always abide by the constitution,” he said.

 

Najib Razak is playing with Islamic Fire and will be burnt politically

“I hope the Prime Minister (Najib Abdul Razak) feels the same on this. Maybe, due to political reasons, he has been caught. If Abdul Hadi does it the proper way, by getting the rulers first of all to agree, then nobody would have an issue of its constitutionality. We are not attacking the philosophy behind this bill, because it is not religious as far as I am concerned. This concerns a matter of rule of law,” Tawfik explained.

 

Malaysia-China Relations: Not China but we are the financially irresponsible and reckless nation


April 4, 2017

Malaysia-China Relations: Not China but we are the financially irresponsible and reckless nation

by P. Gunasegaram@www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for Chinese investments in Malaysia

Malaysia’s sudden, new-found amour with China in a plethora of business deals worth hundreds of billions, coming in the wake of the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) scandal where RM40 billion is already at risk or  wasted, is tremendously worrying.

The huge amount of China borrowings that will accompany such deals, with delayed payment for up to seven years in some cases, will put the country in grave economic danger in the future as many of the infrastructure projects are not viable.

If some of the projects do not raise enough cash flow to start repaying the massive borrowings by the time payments are due, a great strain will be imposed on the country’s financial position and may even result in it becoming unable to meet its obligations, leading to default.

Already, the involvement of China state-owned firms in 1MDB-related projects such as buying power assets and taking stakes in property development ventures have raised legitimate fears that some of these may involve quid pro quo arrangements in other deals which may benefit Chinese firms.

In other words, putting it bluntly, Malaysia may be giving China plum deals in return for help in covering the hole of over RM30 billion in 1MDB. More on that later but first, here’s a list of some mega deals made.

1. Purchase of 1MDB’s power assets for RM9.83 billion cash in November 2015.

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The purchase was made by China General Nuclear or CGN, putting power assets which were purchased from Malaysian private hands into a China state company. That rubbishes any claim that 1MDB was a strategic development company. The price was considered inflated, leading to speculation that other projects will go to China to compensate for this.

2. Purchase of 1MDB land for RM7.4 billion.

Less than two months later, on New Year’s Eve in 2015, 1MDB sold a 60% controlling interest in Bandar Malaysia to a consortium comprising Iskandar Waterfront Holdings and China Railway Engineering Corporation, a China state company. The latter holds a 40% stake in the venture. This is a highly questionable deal surrendering control of one of 1MDB’s two flagship projects to others, including a China company, when there is enough local property development expertise. It lends credence to there being a quid pro quo deal with China.

3. China is expected to get high-speed rail project costing RM40-80 billion.

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The high-speed rail project between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore is expected to go to a China firm despite international tenders being planned. Interestingly, the Kuala Lumpur terminus is at Bandar Malaysia.

4. The RM55 billion East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project announced in November 2016.

China will both fund and build this project which has a seven-year delayed payment provision. Essentially a double-tracking project linking the east coast states with the west, there has been no economic viability study on it. There are genuine fears that the construction cost is terribly overstated and it is unviable.

5. A proposed RM200 billion port development in Port Klang.

China is supposedly in the running for this massive project if it does see the light of day. This is a long-term project which again may be unnecessary considering the number of ports being developed concurrently now.

6.The RM42 billion Melaka Gateway project in September 2016.

This includes four islands – three man-made, in a RM30 billion deal with China companies – a port, a bulk-and-break terminal, ship building and ship repair, mixed development, shopping complexes, ferry terminals, marina and so on. Where is the demand for these going to come from?

7. The RM400 billion gross development value Forest City off Johor.

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This massive development on four man-made islands, which may eventually house 700,000 people, is being developed by a China company, effectively in a joint venture with the Johor Sultan. Considering that it is a property development which local players could easily have undertaken, what is the rationale for bringing in yet a Chinese company into this?

Not for altruistic reasons

There are more. Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, after a visit to China in November, came back with memoranda of agreement for RM144 billion worth of projects. That list includes ECRL and the Melaka Gateway projects but not the others, which means there are several more projects worth tens of billions of ringgit.

What is very alarming about these projects is their dubious economic value, leading to strong suspicion that they could well be related to covering a hole of over RM30 billion in 1MDB – the Auditor-General’s Report on 1MDB reportedly says US$7 billion could not be accounted for.

In fact, the Financial Times of the UK reported in December that 1MDB is preparing to make a repayment with Chinese assistance to Abu Dhabi’s state-owned fund in settling a US$6.5 billion (RM28.6 billion) dispute over an alleged breach of contract.

The move to begin repaying what 1MDB owes Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC) was confirmed by two people familiar with the matter, the FT said.

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Najib Razak and Big Momma

China has been approached as a source of funds for 1MDB, the FT said, citing three people with knowledge of the matter, one of whom said Malaysia would swap assets for financing.

China is of course not doing all of this for altruistic reasons but to further its own interests. First, it aims to get work for its companies and sometimes its own people – it sends in its own workers for many projects.

Two, if countries are unable to repay their debts, then more assets will have to be handed over to China and the affected countries become ever more indebted and linked to China in other ways, furthering China’s aim of strategic and military influence, as this article titled ‘China’s debt-trap diplomacy’ eloquently points out.

As a small country, Malaysia has been rather adept at playing the role of the nimble kijang or deer which keeps itself from getting crushed when elephants fight. But 1MDB’s problems may be leading us down a path which is even more dangerous than the garden path the so-called strategic development company led us up on earlier.

P GUNASEGARAM says throwing good money after bad is a lousy deal which only the desperate make. Email: t.p.guna@gmail.com.

Gauging The Hudud Thing in Malaysia


March 14, 2017

Gauging The Hudud Thing in Malaysia–Political Islamism out of UMNO’s desperation

by Rashaad Ali

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/03/08/gauging-support-for-islamic-law-in-malaysia/

Image result for The Hudud Thing in UMNO's Malaysia

The Desperate Godfathers of Hududism in Malaysia–UMNO’s Najib Razak and PAS’Hadi Awang

The 18 February 2017 rallies both for and against the bill to amend the 1965 Criminal Jurisdiction Act, known as RUU 355, have opened yet another political and social schism in Malaysian society. RUU 355 began as a private member’s bill by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party’s (PAS) President Hadi Awang and seeks to raise the penalties for certain crimes that fall under the jurisdiction of sharia courts in Malaysia.

Public opinion appears divided on the issue, as the continued politicisation of religion takes precedence over authentic religious debate on the matter. Some see the bill as a facade for the eventual entry of hudud — Islamic — laws into the country. PAS held the rally in support of the bill, which drew a reported 20,000 people, while the counter rally was organised by the non-governmental organisation Bebas and drew a much more modest crowd of around 200.

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Hudud –The  Political Hypocrisy of  It All

Support for the bill is significant enough. Various surveys, including one conducted recently amongst university students, indicate Malay-Muslim support for the amendment and for the implementation of Islamic laws. The pro-RUU 355 rally emphasises this and the numbers indicate some level of moderate success for PAS — mobilising 20,000 odd people for a rally is no small feat.

But as the subject of this bill is central to the party’s aims, larger numbers could have been expected. This suggests a difficulty in appealing to urban folk and that mobilised supporters from other, more remote parts of the country account for the majority of the turnout.

Image result for zaid ibrahim dapThis Guy does not  know where he is coming or going in Malaysian Politics–UMNO to PKR to DAP and what next?

The counter rally, held at the same time but at a different location to the PAS gathering, better demonstrates the mood regarding the bill. While the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) was critical of the bill when it was first announced, it eventually distanced itself from the counter rally completely. The only DAP name who attended was Zaid Ibrahim, and that was in his individual capacity rather than as a party member.

The DAP’s absence is unsurprising as the issue puts it in a difficult position: the DAP may not support the bill, but attending the counter rally would cement the perception that they are an anti-Malay and anti-Muslim party. The discourse surrounding this issue has been very black and white; support for the bill is seen as a Muslim’s religious duty, while opposition to it is deemed vehemently anti-Islamic.

The general public’s low attendance at the counter rally suggests that the issue was not significant enough to take to the streets in numbers. For Malay-Muslims, the fear of reprisal for attending a rally seen as anti-Islamic is a significant factor in keeping people away. It appears easier for the pro-RU 355 rally to draw Malays, as the narrative is more populist, keeps with a conservative Islamic position and is supported by major Malay parties like the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and PAS.

As for non-Muslim participation, it appears this issue is neither relevant nor attractive enough to drag would-be participants out of bed in the morning. They can hardly be blamed as many voices from the pro-RU 355 camp constantly state that the amendment will not affect non-Muslims.

Although this amendment does not mean that non-Muslims are suddenly going to be tried under sharia law, having two legal systems for two different groups of people brings the notion of equality before the law into question. For a multicultural country that should seek to be inclusive instead of exclusive, these amendments are not helpful, especially when considering the knock-on effect it will have on the country as a whole.

Past cases of overlapping jurisdiction between sharia and civil courts, such as conversion cases or burial rights of non-Muslims indicate that the separation of the courts is not clearly defined. While the bill aims to raise the penalties for certain crimes under sharia law such as murder and theft, some constitutional experts argue that these crimes fall strictly under the purview of federal, not sharia, law. This bill exacerbates an already highly polarised society divided along racial and religious lines.

It is also another episode in the overall Islamisation trend happening in Malaysia that directly and indirectly affects all groups in society. Various incidents in the past few years point to how religious relations in the country can easily sour. A church was forced to take down its cross display in 2015, there have been recent issues with the usage and distribution of paint brushes containing pig bristles and there is now moral policing of dress code at government buildings.

The issue is complicated further because it is primarily for political rather than religious purposes. Putting aside PAS’ ambition to see this through, the bill is an obvious affirmation of the party’s own religious credentials. In the current climate, this helps to regain the trust of its core supporters, which also explains why the UMNO has jumped on the bill’s bandwagon. It helps the UMNO bolster its image at a time when the administration has suffered a dip in popularity. The timing of this issue is also convenient, as elections are due to be held by 2018.

As it stands, it would not be surprising if the bill passes next month when it comes to parliament. Opposition members who oppose the bill are likely to be absent from the vote for fear of being branded anti-Islamic. If the amendment passes, the biggest concern is whether it will worsen existing racial and religious polarisation in the country. Given the political dimension of the bill and the looming general election, a more inclusive Malaysia is not yet on the horizon.

Rashaad Ali is a research analyst with the Malaysia Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

This article was first published here on RSIS.

 

 

Double-Speak–The UMNO Political Culture


December 6, 2016

Double-Speak–The UMNO Political Culture

by KJ John@www.malayiakini.com

Image result for Double Speak Najib Razak

Double-Speak is a political way of life for Malaysia’s Prime Minister–Why can’t we say that he is a liar?

Is double-speak natural to human beings and the only way to become a true-blue politician worth his/her weight? An UMNO Deputy Minister and an equally idiotic Deputy Speaker of Parliament could not see anything wrong with that MP’s wrong speech and impure motives about another MP.

The victim of this abuse was a lady Member of Parliament; whose dignity was obviously denied but our Deputy Speaker appeared to play down the incident. It was clearly recorded vide a video-clip of our parliamentary session distributed to me from Singapore.

Sadly, too, if Parliament is our symbolic leadership head of our nation-state’s parliamentary democracy system; it is sad that the rotting of our fish-head has begun in that August House. My only retort to the deputy minister is: “padan muka” with this note: our grandchildren are watching and learning from your uncouth conduct.

Hadi’s public misinformation

Was Ustaz Abdul Hadi Awang, the President of PAS, also participating in doubles-peak with his Act 355 amendments agenda? While he is a Member of Parliament for Marang, is he not elected to do at least two things; one, is to represent all the people in Marang and two, to speak up on bills and handle concerns in Parliament for both his party and his constituency.

But, my question to him: is he only a Member of Parliament for Muslims with complete disregard for non-Muslims who live in Terengganu?

My take is that Hadi’s Act 355 amendments is simply mischievous and therefore malicious in intention. It is absolutely an attempt to open back doors for hudud implementation in the whole of Malaysia; without labelling it as such. My previous column argued eight reasons against it but allow me now to appeal to all my Muslim friends in Malaysia to explain why we (as Christians) have little choice but to oppose this bill.

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The Village Idiot and UMNO Clown with his Corrupt Boss

First, think of Malaysia as existing practically at three levels of reality. These are federal, state and local levels. That means that when one is a federal citizen, that role ascribes and observes certain rights and obligations to all of Malaysia and to all her citizens; there cannot be inequity of citizenship. That is a universal expectation of citizenry anywhere in the world; even when some are treated more equal than others.

Therefore, while his bill was promoted and projected as a bill for Kelantan (one state) to dispense new Syariah by-laws with new limits; the simple fact is that federal law is being mobilised to enable state level criminal prosecution, and therefore its application is always national and federal.

Allow Kelantanese to breathe green air?

Can we assume, for arguments sake, that Kelantan gets this bill for Syariah system compliance and was not designed with hudud intent in mind. Let us grant this right to one of the nine states with rulers; as their second level of operational reality; state-level existence.

Whether we like it or not, such an enablement includes Sabah and Sarawak, too. But, please help me think through the real consequential issues and concerns of all other state jurisdictions at local levels premised on this Kelantan hypothetical experiment.

Therefore my simple but honest question to every Malaysian living in urban and suburban areas is as follows:

If criminal law is now a jurisdiction of any state and consequently their local government Administrations; cannot these authorities also later be mandated that, for example, only Muslims can live in a particular geography of Kelantan; whatever their logic or reasons?

Can non-Muslims therefore be disallowed to buy homes in some other specified area? Or, can it be stipulated that their beaches, like Pantai Cahaya Bulan (PCB), are now only for Muslim-specific attired swimmers? Non-Muslim can therefore be excluded, right?

Of course, supermarkets with male and female lanes become a mandatory given; if not halal and non-halal carts.Is all the above mere fiction from my head, or is there some element of reality to all of it?

The reason I ask these questions is that only our criminal laws can distinguish between the purity of intentions versus obvious and real evidence of wrongdoing. This is our practical but real level of human existence. Any differences or gaps between one’s espoused theory and the one-in-use is always a matter of spiritual consideration and never the domain of public policy of any state.

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Once Friend, now a Political Foe

Therefore, regardless of what Hadi or anyone says; the new bill gives unlimited jurisdiction for the Kelantan state government to colour their air green and it can insist that everyone can only breathe and live such green air; in Kelantan. How else could the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (JAIS) have raided Damansara Utama Methodist Church or DUMC (a church complex) without a police search permit merely on suspicion of some wrongdoing?

This gap between intentions and real action causes a lot of doubt and makes citizens question true political motives. For example, in a BBC interview with Maria Chin Abdullah, they could not understand why she was released before the court’s habeas corpus hearing.

My answer is simply that the Home Affairs Minister could not defend their abuse of the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma); as former Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail so clearly already explained from the Hansard records what were the real intentions for the enactment.

God or Allah is our creator

Before the 2013 GE, Ustaz Hadi attended a meeting chaired by Anwar Ibrahim and attended by a whole group of NGOs and promised all of us that the word ‘Allah’ can be equally used by Muslims as with non-Muslims. I was there and heard his promise. But today they do exactly the opposite. Can we trust such politicians, even when they speak with green tongues?

Therefore, my only question to Ustaz Hadi is as follows:

Do we really believe in different Gods?

Is not intention in faith always a personal human faith matter and not a matter anyone else’s religious enforcement? Is not such responsibility for faith always a personal matter and not for the state?

How then can anyone justify all ‘forced limits to human intentions?’ Are we then not taking over God’s role and responsibility, and thereby playing God?

 

Malaysia’s Troubled Religious Ties


October 13, 2016

Malaysia’s Troubled Religious Ties: A Case of Muslim Hindu Relations

by Dr. Syed Farid Alatas

http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/malaysias-troubled-muslim-hindu-ties

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Although Malaysia is a Muslim-majority country, the understanding of many Malaysians since independence in 1957 was that the minority religions and races ought not to be made to feel threatened that they would not be able to maintain their respective identities and promote their cultures. This understanding was based on the belief that there was sufficient political and cultural space for all religions and cultures to thrive while Islam continued to be the state religion.

The belief in the possibility of harmonious co-existence between the different communities in the country has recently been shaken due to the assertion of a more exclusivist Muslim identity among the religious and political elite. This has affected Malaysians’ perceptions of the state of ethnic and religious harmony in the country. A case in point is the relations between Hindus and Muslims in the country. Recent incidents involving Hindus and Muslims serve to heighten fears that Malaysian harmony is gradually being eroded.

The decades of peaceful co-existence between Hindus and Muslims are slowly giving way to a more intolerant stance taken by some Malays in which a Malay-Muslim identity is stressed at the expense of non-Muslims, sometimes resulting in the denigration of their ethnicity and religions. For example, in June this year, Malaysians were shocked to learn that in the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia’s (UTM) Islamic and Asian Civilisations module, derogatory remarks were made about both Hinduism and the Sikh faith.

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What was so insulting about the content of the module was that the lecturer claimed that Islam had introduced civility to the lives of Hindus in India. It was also said that Hindus preferred to be “dirty”, and that it was only Islam that had taught Hindu converts to Islam the importance of cleanliness. Although UTM conducted a probe and subsequently terminated the service of the offending lecturer, it was astonishing to many that such content could be taught at a university. The UTM fiasco was not the only example of bigotry against Hindus. There were five cases of Hindu temples being vandalised in recent months in Perak and Penang. While these are all isolated incidents, they have led many to wonder if this is the beginning of the onset of mistrust and intolerance between Malaysia’s different racial and religious communities.

Muslims in Malaysia should think more about who their Hindu countrymen are. One way to do so is to acquaint themselves with the writings of Abu al-Rayhan Al-Biruni, a Muslim scholar who was an authority on the religions of India. Born in 973 in Khwarazm in what is present-day Uzbekistan, Al-Biruni was in the court of Mahmud Ghaznavi (979-1030), the ruler of an empire that included parts of what is now known as Afghanistan, Iran and northern India. Al-Biruni travelled to India with the troops of Mahmud and lived there for years, during which time he mastered Sanskrit, translated a number of Indian religious texts to Arabic, studied Indian religious doctrines and wrote several books and treatises, including the Kitab Fi Tahqiq Ma li-l-Hind (The Book of What Constitutes India).

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He refrained from making value judgments about other religions from an Islamic perspective. He was very conscious of the need to present India as understood by Indians themselves. In order to do so, he quoted extensively from Sanskrit texts. His objective was to study the religions of India in order to bring the two communities closer together. He states that the reason for embarking on his research on India was to provide Muslims the essential facts they would need when they encountered Indians and wished to discuss with them aspects of Indian religion and culture.

Al-Biruni considered such dialogue with Indians as crucial as it would create more understanding on issues about which Muslims remained very vague, as far as their understanding of Indian religions was concerned.

It was also his view that the Indians believed in a single god, by which he meant the same god that is worshipped by Jews, Christians and Muslims.He was the first scholar, in the Muslim world as well as the West, who approached the study of Indian religions objectively and avoided treating the Indians as mere heretics.

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Malaysia is generally speaking a harmonious society. But, the political developments of recent years, which have seen an unhealthy development of identity politics in the form of, among other things, reckless statements made by politicians, religious leaders and educators, threaten to upset the current harmony that informs our society. This will potentially affect Hindu-Muslim relations.

The worrying trend in Hindu-Muslim relations suggests that there is clearly a need for dialogue between the Hindu and Muslim communities of Malaysia. The purpose of this dialogue would be to examine the commonalities in values, beliefs and culture that exist between Hinduism and Islam and to reaffirm the commitment that the two communities have to peaceful co-existence.

It is vital, for the sake of maintaining mutual respect and tranquillity in this country, that the political and religious leaders continuously speak out against bigotry and violence in the name of religion. Muslim leaders have a particularly greater responsibility in view of the fact that Islam is the religion of state in Malaysia. This means that the Muslim political and religious elite should not merely tolerate the presence of non-Muslim minorities but actively protect their rights and property.

The writer is an associate professor in the departments of sociology and Malay studies at the National University of Singapore.

S.E.A. View is a weekly column on South-east Asian affairs.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2016, with the headline ‘Malaysia’s troubled Muslim-Hindu ties’. Print Edition |