Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Mixing politics with religion

Mixing politics with religion

April 19, 2011

APRIL 19 — “Never mix religion with politics. There is nothing more volatile, nothing more provocative than mixing the two. Inevitably, we will quarrel if we try to politicise religion … also racial issues as well.”

So said Tan Sri Taib Mahmud, newly sworn in as the Chief Minister of Sarawak.

I couldn’t agree more. Now that the great battle for Sarawak is over, perhaps Tan Sri Taib could start propagating his advice amongst his colleagues in the Federal government, and other state governments?

If so, I fear he has a struggle of truly Sisyphean proportions.

Perhaps I never quite realised it as a child growing up in Malaysia, but increasingly I find myself thinking that religion in Malaysia is becoming ever more and more politicised. In some ways it’s perhaps inevitable — after all, when it comes to Muslims, the State knows best.

As a Muslim, should I be living in KL right now, my religious belief would in fact be governed by what JAWI deems is right. Now, in most cases this wouldn’t be a problem. However, there are times when what JAWI thinks is right could come into conflict with what I think is right.

Take Ramadan, for instance. As far as JAWI is concerned, I cannot eat in public during fasting hours. Not a problem, usually. However, as a woman you and I know that there are times when I am actually prohibited from fasting. What if I was amongst a group of other non-fasting Muslim women (or non-Muslims, for that matter), and we decided to have a bite whilst watching a movie in the cinema?

That’s a fairly innocuous example, actually. What is of far more concern is our religious authorities’ penchant for arresting those who practise the “wrong” type of Islam (actually, the Federal government is guilty of the same). Last year, JAIS arrested about 200 people in Gombak, for the “crime” of being Shia (rather than Sunni, as practised by most Muslims in Malaysia).

Some of you may even remember the Memali Incident of 1985. Was there a real threat to the nation’s security then? Possibly. Does that excuse the deaths of 14 villagers and four policemen? Well, we’ll never know, will we, given our aversion towards discussing anything controversial in a calm and rational manner?

Not mixing politics and religion? Oh, please. PAS and Umno are the masters in mixing it all up. Whisper it: vote for PAS, and you’re a kafir. Or conversely, vote Umno and you’re a kafir. PAS is more Islamic than Umno. No, no, Umno is more Islamic than PAS. Both parties fight to out-Islam the other. Actually, PAS can’t be all that Islamic because they’re working with DAP. Ahh, but Umno has always been in bed with MCA and MIC. And so it goes on.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the religious authorities merrily go on their religious crusade, raiding nightclubs and then leering at the sexily-dressed young girls that they “catch.” Or better yet, video the young couples that they bust in khalwat raids and then broadcast such videos in programmes like Imam Muda.

Who speaks up for these people? Nobody — after all, they’re getting what’s due having indulged in promiscuous behaviour. But what about the unIslamic and frankly degrading practice of heaping humiliation upon these people? Who cares — Islam is what the religious authorities say it is, and none of the political parties will do anything to upset the likes of JAWI or JAIS because that could be seen as being unIslamic!

Well, we Muslims are used to having our religion intertwined with our politics. Ahh, but pity you Christians who are now finding out what might we wield! Our intellectual prowess is such that, not content with politicising our own religion, we now seek to politicise your religion too. After all, what is the AlKitab furore about if not the flexing of the collective religious authorities’ muscles?

I will probably be dismissed as a liberal, pluralistic Muslim when I say this, but with all due respect, I could not care less if Christians want to use “Allah” in their prayers and their bible. I know and you know that we are praying according to our respective religions, so what does it matter what words we use in our prayers?

My faith isn’t so weak that I would find myself wanting to change my religion should I inadvertently read the Malay bible (as it happens, I have read parts of the Bible – in English – when, as a child, I found a bible in a hotel room and feverishly looked up the passages pertaining to the Beast, thanks to the influence of "The Omen"!).

The government should have more faith in Malaysians’ faith but actually, this is a heaven-sent opportunity to burnish one’s Islamic credentials, so a non-issue becomes one of grave national interest. You can dismiss my views of course, but before you do so, think: if the bibles hadn’t been impounded and no fuss made by all quarters, would anyone have actually been hurt?

So yes, Tan Sri Taib, let’s stop mixing politics with religion. Let the AlKitab be distributed without any restrictions throughout Malaysia. Let Muslims read it if they wish. Stop persecuting Muslims and non-Muslims with our brand of official Islam.

Ah well ... and pigs might just fly, one day in our country.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

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