Thursday, April 24, 2014
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Parties colluding with growth of religious intolerance


hudud In the years that I have been to Indonesia I have seen it change from a fairly tolerant society, especially after Suharto, to a less tolerant one in a relatively short time. This growing intolerance is not racial but religious. Sometimes it is between Muslims and Christians but increasingly it is between one Muslim sect and another.

While the Indonesian government did not create the problem, it did not help to stamp it out either.

The impasse in Bogor between the mayor and a church continues. The mayor despite a High Court order has refused to let the church open for service. President Susilo Bambang Yudoyono would not intervene when the police refused to implement the court order. The congregation now worships by the side of the road outside the church.

This is the most high profile example of the authorities taking sides. There are others.

Last year several Ahmadists were killed by the majority Sunnis in one town. The perpetrator – surprisingly only one was caught – was found guilty. Sentence: Six months! With good behaviour taken into consideration and because he had been in remand, he practically walked free. The whole community cheered.

Lately more Ahmadists have been attacked.

And just recently members of the Shia sect have also been attacked and their houses burned to the ground.

In all these cases instead of protecting the minority, the government’s response was that these ‘minorities’ should undergo counselling and then convert to the majority belief – Sunni.

Where is the Pancasila? What happened to Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity)?

Discrimination against minorities in Malaysia

Can this happen across the straits?

Not in those terms . . . NOT YET!

But the persecution of the other religions, especially Christianity, has been going on a long time in Malaysia.

The difference between Indonesia and Malaysia is that in the former the persecution is community initiated albeit abetted by a government unwilling to implement the law and affording scant protection for the minorities. While in the latter, it is the government that discriminates against the non-Muslims by subtle and not so subtle methods while appeasing the fundamentalist Muslims.

Religious intolerance is manifested in many ways in Malaysia. While there have been no outright attacks on non-Muslims, things are made difficult for them by the government.

Burial land lacking

For a long time now, non-Muslims have been complaining about the existing burial land running out. Yet the authorities refuse to alienate land for this purpose and in the master plan of new townships, there is often no allocation is made for burial land for other faiths besides Islam.

If the minorities use their respective ethnic parties such as MIC and MCA or other component parties in the BN coalition to push for the land, they have a chance, particularly when elections are around the corner. So it becomes a bribe – burial ground for votes.

So in a manner of speaking, the interests of dead are an election carrot too.

Land to bury your loved ones should be made available for all citizens.

It is not just the dead who are deprived.

Church and temple construction blocked

In the allocation of land for places of worship, Muslims are allocated a ratio of 1:800 in the population with a spatial requirement of 0.4 hectare for a mosque, and 1:250 and 0.1 hectare for a surau.

With non-Muslims the ratio is 1:4000 with a spatial requirement “suitable for a church or temple”. In other words the bureaucrats will decide what you get – not what you need.

Even if you have the land to build your place of worship you are made to jump through hoops to get what you want and only if you are lucky.

In response to the Sultan of Selangor’s criticism that no land has been allocated for places of worship for non-Muslims in the Shah Alam master plan, the municipality allocated and sold to the Catholic Church a 1.116 acre site. Bear in mind the church had applied for land since 1977.

Construction began in 1993 but soon stopped because certain Islamic organisations said the church would “challenge the sanctity of Islam as the country’s official religion and the position of Muslims as a whole” (The Journey of The Catholic Church – Maureen K.C. Chew IJ).

The building approval was rescinded and construction stopped. To cut through the tedium of the tos and fros between church and government, let’s just say it took a long time before the church was finished after complying with many building restrictions imposed by the municipal council so that it does not look conspicuous.


“Except for the silver-plated sign at the left corner of its main gate, no one would expect that the walled building along Jalan Pemaju in Section U1/15 . . . is actually a church . . . But every Sunday morning . . . the Catholic faithful have been travelling at least 15 to 20 minutes from various parts of Shah Alam to the secluded industrial area where the church has finally found a home – 28 years after the Kuala Lumpur Archdiocese first applied with the Selangor state government to acquire a piece of land on which to build a church . . . “ (Allen V. Estabillo – Southeast Asia Press Alliance – 12 May 2010).

 (Note: The Church of the Divine Mercy opened its doors in 2005).

Such difficulties were not confined to the Peninsula or only to the church.

Muslims objected to the building of the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Kota Kinabalu.

The deputy Chief Minister of Sabah Chong Kah Kiat resigned in protest when the Mazu sea goddess was prevented from being built at the Kudat waterfront.

In Kuching the Sikh community’s erection of a temple came under attack.

And lately, Orang Asli churches were pulled down by the authorities claiming the villagers did not have building permit.

The state also discriminates against other religions in other ways – some blatant like not allowing Christians the use of ‘Allah’, conversion of non-Muslim minors in the face of strong parental objections, and some in more insidious ways like the control of mission schools and the introduction of Islamic Civilisation as a compulsory course in universities.

Our federal constitution guarantees freedom of worship but are we really free to worship?

It wasn’t always like that

The different religions used to coexist side by side and no one was worried that one would “challenge the sanctity” of the other. In Penang in the heart of Georgetown you have a church on the same road as a Buddhist temple, a mosque and a Hindu temple. All within a stone’s throw of the other. Such examples of old architecture can be found throughout the country.

So what has changed?

The government in Malaysia seems to have decided that their staying in power depends on appeasing the ‘majority’. This is a misreading because in fact those they pander to are in fact the minority.

But only because they speak louder and are prepared to use extreme measures to further their agenda, they are given an ear when they should have been put in their place. The true majority (of Muslims) in Malaysia are tolerant and peace-loving. The problem is they are frightened of the radical minority, so they keep quiet. Their silence means they are ignored.

The authorities also refuse to implement the law to curb the hate-mongering of the fanatical fringe. On the other hand, laws are used against those who dare protest the actions of the extremists. Those who protest extremism are instead accused of “stirring up racial and/or religious sentiments”.

And should the minority stand up for their rights they are labeled “confrontational”.

This is not a problem just of the non-Muslims. This problem affects also the Muslims in Malaysia.

Becoming like Indonesia

The day will come when Malaysian Muslims face a situation like that in Indonesia where anyone not conforming to the majority belief is branded heretic, persecuted or even killed.

The logic seems to be “if you do not believe exactly as I do”, you are practising heresy.

Who is to say that an Ahmadist or Shiite is less of a Muslim than a Sunni?

And where is this “no force in Islam” that Prophet Mohammed taught?

Christianity has gone through its Spanish Inquisition and Reformation where anyone holding a different belief to that of the Roman Catholic Church was branded heretic, tortured, drawn and quartered.

In Indonesia today, ordinary Indonesians are forced by the Muslim fundamentalists to conform. But in Indonesia at least I see the public reacting strongly against this radicalism and they are fighting back, despite their government’s inaction. The press too condemn these acts of intolerance.

and political parties (including those in the government) have castigated the Minister for Religion and the President for their refusal to carry out the law.

However I don’t see the press in Malaysia condemning the extremists. I don’t see the component parties in BN condemning Umno’s manipulation of these extremist groups that stir up racial hatred and religious tensions.

But more than that, unless the tolerant, liberal Muslims in Malaysia stand up to the radicals in their midst and unless they force the government to deal with the extremists, there will be bigger trouble further down the road for all of us – both Muslims and non-Muslims.

The majority of Malays cannot stay silent much longer. They have as much to lose as the religious minorities if the Islamic radicals have their way. It’s not about party politics – everyone loses!


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