December 22, 2007
Islam: A Blessing to Malaysians?
Co-organised by the Centre for Public Policy Studies and Malaysia Think Tank London, we had a seminar on Tuesday night on “Islam: A Blessing to Malaysians?”, with main speaker Wan Saiful Wan Jan, and co-panelists Rev. Dr. Hermen Shastri from Council of Churches Malaysia, Ustaz Hasrizal also from MTTL, Shanmuga from Malaysia Hindu Sangam and myself chairing the session.
There were about 90 plus people, when I had only expected about 50 to turn up. It was packed to the brim! Thanks to everyone for coming! (Pictures are on my Facebook album)
I started by saying that I received mixed comments from invitees, those who were glad we were discussing it and those who felt it was a ridiculous proposed statement to make. Why indeed has Islam taken on such a bad name and face for itself?
I said that no matter what, it is without a doubt that Islam is taking an increasingly essential role in shaping our identities of race and nation, both for Muslim and non-Muslims. The question is how this identity is being shaped, and are these trends truly reflective of Islam. If not, what do we envision for it to be, what guiding principles can govern Malaysia?
Wan Saiful gave an excellent speech painting his experience as a minority religion living in the UK. Drawing from his experience, he encouraged his fellow Muslims to realise that overseas, Muslims are minority whereas in Malaysia, Buddhists, Christians and Hindus are the minority group. Minority groups will always demand for the same things: to be treated as equals, and stand up for their respective religious rights. In Malaysia, we complicate things because there are two layers to the problem: ethnicity and religion.
We should realise that they are two separate things, and that not all Malays are Muslim. Not all Muslims are Malay. Likewise, not all Chinese are Buddhists or Christians. Not all Indians are Hindu. Not all Hindus are Indians. Not all Christians are Chinese. Just take a trip abroad sometime and you’ll be warmly introduced to the variety of ways that religion is practiced. Religion (all, including Islam) is not monolithic and as a result of various interpretations, we get flourishing of different ideas.
He ended by saying that we should move away from arguments of race and religion. Rather, the discourse should focus more upon policy issues. For example, how do we translate Islamic values of choice, into religious education, trade and economics, NEP and other policies.
Why I took the initiative to invite Wan Saiful was because I have been truly impressed by his views, and was (still am) psyched about these ideas spreading to fellow Malaysians. While some panelists disagreed that religion should even be part of the picture, I understand where Muslims come from because I believe the same thing of Christianity.
We do not want to impose our religious views on others, but we both believe strongly that each of the faiths provide us with valid principles that govern our lives, both private and public. These principles do not have to be explicitly “tagged” as “Muslim” or “Christian”, but we both know that they are “Islamic” or “Christian” by nature. For example, standing up for justice and equality and fairness. These we all readily know are faith-based, but we don’t have to call it such. As long as they are equally translated into public policy. Yes, I am convinced of this.