HOW does one insult Islam in Malaysia? And how does one insult Muslims in Malaysia?
Over the past few years and increasingly over the past months, the state, politicians and pressure groups like Perkasa have demonstrated just how to do either one or both. For the most part, these incidents are an insult to Muslims in Malaysia, rather than to the world’s fastest growing religion per se.
Here’s my take on how these groups have been giving lessons to the nation, and to the world, on Insulting Muslims 101.
Step 1: Weak and wavering
Here’s how to portray Malaysian Muslims as weak and easily swayed by all manner of external influence:
Ban a movie about a pig because it may just convince Muslims to eat what their faith teaches them to be haram. Don’t stop there. Discipline a child for bringing to school the pork lunch his Christian mother prepared for him. Similarly, make sure alcohol can’t be sold in Muslim-majority areas.
Ban the use of “Allah”, and three other Arabic words, in non-Muslim worship. Send a message to Muslims in Malaysia and in other parts of the world, where incidentally “Allah” is used by non-Muslims in their worship, that Malaysian Muslims are easily confused.
Step 2: Intolerant and judgemental
This is oh-so-easy to execute especially post-Sept 11 when many fear Muslims to be violent and irrational terrorists. Within that global context, adding “intolerant” and “judgemental” to the cocktail of bad traits Muslims purportedly have doesn’t require very much effort.
Projecting an image of Malaysian Muslims as intolerant and judgemental can be done in several ways. For example, show them in an 8TV Ramadan ad as being affected by a non-Muslim Chinese Malaysian who wears a sleeveless top to a Ramadan bazaar. Let them be police and judge in these TV ads who can tell non-Muslims what good, moral behaviour is all about and how non-Muslims should dress.
Step 3: Constantly needing state intervention
If Step 1 is effectively executed, Step 3 is a logical next step. Because Malaysian Muslims are purportedly so weak and easily swayed, the state must step in to protect Muslim faith. And so apostasy is made a crime under syariah law in Malaysia. Not fasting during Ramadan is a punishable offence for Malaysian Muslims. Never mind that in Indonesia, in the most populous Muslim country in the world, no such regulation is needed.
Ostensibly, it’s also because Muslims are so weak in Malaysia that should a non-Muslim marry a Muslim, she or he must convert. No such legal requirement is imposed on non-Muslim couples of different faiths who marry each other. Neither is this legal requirement in place in Indonesia where Malays can even be Christians and yet this poses no threat to Indonesian Muslims.
Yes, and because Malaysian Muslims are weak, they need a Faith Rescue Unit in Selangor and at the federal level, they need an Islamic Affairs Ministry in an already over-bloated cabinet. Without the state watching over how Muslims live out their faith and intervening in both their public and private lives, woe is sure to follow the ummah.
Step 4: Afraid of Christians and Christianity
Are Malaysian Muslims so threatened by Christians and Christianity? Apparently, they are or even if they really aren’t, they need to be.
And that’s why Christian events should not be held during Ramadan. And of course, Muslims must be shown that that it would be disastrous for them to attend any event held on church premises. Muslims who do attend such events must go for counselling so their faith can be protected.
How is this insulting? Well, I’m reminded of my own experience living as a Catholic with other non-Muslims in Third College in Universiti Malaya where the boarders and administrators were predominantly Muslim. And where the loudspeaker for the azan was just outside the bedroom I shared with a Hindu senior. Even though we were bombarded with the call for Muslim prayer five times a day, every single day, and surrounded by Muslims and their practises, that didn’t stop us from going to church or the temple or from practising our faith. Somehow, we were not tempted to apostasise.
So, if even stepping onto church premises for a community dinner can so quickly turn their faith on its head, Muslims must be particularly vulnerable to Christian influence. We must remember though, that this vulnerability may not be applicable for Muslims, including Malaysian Muslims, in other countries where Muslims can visit cathedrals and temples and not feel compelled to apostasise.
It must be this special vulnerability to Christians in Malaysia that forms the reason for Perkasa wanting Christian teachers to be barred from teaching in national schools or at least, to have them monitored. Never mind that our prime minister and other notable Malaysian Muslims attended Christian missionary schools and today remain Muslims. Or that Datuk Seri Najib Razak was at the Vatican with the head of the Catholic Church and did not recant his faith. The prime minister must be in a league of his own compared to other Muslim mortals who don’t hold such high office.
The sting of the insult
Why are these insults really insulting?
Well, because Malaysian Muslims, at least most of them, are far more certain about their faith, and less susceptible to non-Muslim influence and lifestyles, then they are made out to be.
During Ramadan for example, I stayed in a Muslim household for a week to help a good friend with her new-born. Guess what happened when I had breakfast and lunch in front of the fasting Muslims? Was I chastised for tempting these Muslims and endangering their faith? Not at all. Even though they could not eat, they made sure food was available for me, even cooking for me.
On another occasion, a non-Muslim friend who was dressed in a spaghetti strap top didn’t receive stares or rebukes at the Ramadan bazaar we were at in Section 3, PJ. The Muslim vendors and customers weren’t interested in looking at her bare arms and shoulders, nor did they find it offensive. They were more interested in the food so that they could break fast.
So who are these people who would insult Malaysian Muslims and make them out to be so weak and so much in need of state support? And why would they want to do that?
The politics of fear
One way to answer this question is to ask: Whose interest would it serve to have Malaysian Muslims believe they are weak and under threat from non-Muslims, and hence need constant rescuing?
Seems to me it would serve the interest of the politicians and state and non-state actors who insist that without them, Muslims in Malaysia would indeed be lost souls.
Who might these be? Well, Umno and PAS for certain, who demonstrate repeatedly just how much they would like to control the lives of Muslims — even to the point of disrupting the lives of non-Muslims — in Malaysia. That Utusan Malaysia, TV3 and TV1 — all of which fall under Umno either through ownership or government control — have published and broadcast inaccurate reports about Christian proselytisation of Muslims is yet another sign of what is at stake. The possibility that the religious beliefs of the majority in Malaysia are being threatened by the minority is surely one of the easiest ways to fester disharmony and distrust in multi-racial Malaysia.
And of course, there’s Perkasa which, in the name of Islam, would emasculate all Malaysian Muslims with their politics of fear and animosity, and threat of violence against non-Muslims and non-Malays.
If Muslim and non-Muslim Malaysians were to believe everything that is done from Steps 1 to 4, this country would have crumbled a while ago from the strain of having a fearful, besieged Muslim majority reacting to every external influence as a threat.
That we haven’t become a Humpty Dumpty nation suggests that we are all far more resilient and respectful of each other than what has been portrayed. And yes, that includes the Muslims who live among us. Question then is, what will we do to stop this campaign of insulting Muslims in Malaysia?