Alerted by the headmaster Jaya… found in The Sun.
In true spirit of Anak Bangsa Malaysia.
Believing in Malaysia
Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz
MY cousin who brazenly identifies herself as a staunch Malay-Muslim conservative remarked that half my Facebook friends seem to be non-Malay, non-Muslim and rather liberal. Well, I replied somewhat irksomely, I would have been living in a box if, after 12 years of merantau, I knew only Malay-Muslim conservatives.
I then went on to emphasise the demographic variety of my list: among my schoolmates there’s a Tibetan Buddhist, a Nigerian Catholic, an American Hindu, a Jew against Zionism (who would don orthodox Jewish robes and march against Israeli aggression), and a smattering who were confirmed into the Church of England. I pointed out that among my Muslim friends there is variety too: there’s my Canadian Ismaili colleague, my Iranian-English Twelver university mate, and my formerly Protestant friend who was so moved by Jalaluddin Rumi that she is now a Sufi.
As my cousin – our shared ancestor is Sultan Zainal Abidin III, who I am told included both Maliki and Shafie scholars in his court – was digesting this, I capped it off by revealing that one of my squash buddies is an atheist who quotes Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (not banned in Malaysia) in between points (he will now call me and scream that he is in fact an agnostic).
Speaking with such people about their faith, or lack thereof, is interesting and educational and not, despite the paranoia of “religious” authoritarians everywhere, scary or subversive.
But the tone of my Malaysian Presbyterian friend was rather urgent when, after the story of the Al-Islam reporters who had attended Catholic mass in an undercover investigation emerged, he confided that he too had seen a Muslim in his usual church, and he was worried about his motives. Apparently evidence had been seen confirming that this chap was a Muslim but he would not admit to it, despite the church literature stating “for non-Muslims only”. The concern was that either he was similarly an undercover journalist and thus desecrating the sanctity of the place of worship, or that he was bait who was gathering material that would implicate the church in propagating Christianity among Muslims. If this were successful it would be catastrophic for the church.
The level of distrust was palpable, and I wondered how have we come to this? Why are there Malaysians who are so completely inured with this fallacious “us” and “them” mindset where “their” group must treat the “other” with suspicion or outright hate? Indeed, we were given a nasty dose of such irrationality in the charges of racism following the awful death of Teoh Beng Hock, which was tragedy for all Malaysians.
Several conferences I’ve attended cite the political expediency of deliberately conflating race and religion which has led to a situation where many events in the public sphere are now ostentatiously tinged with division. But there’s more to it than that. It’s not merely that much of the public don’t trust the institutions of state, which is why the calls for a royal commission of inquiry were so loud (I doubt its establishment will satisfactorily assuage those who had great hope for the MACC). But it’s also that the institutions of state don’t trust non-state institutions.
On the fiftieth anniversary of St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Tunku Abdul Rahman, the future first secretary-general of the OIC, sent a note of congratulations thus: “All men of goodwill and peace must fight against poverty… so that the children of God may live in peace and share the fruits of prosperity and plenty. I know that St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church is doing all it can to spread the message among Malaysians in all corners of this country and I have no doubt it will succeed. May I wish the church in the coming years all success and the blessing of God.”
What is profound about this statement is not merely that it is a statement of hope but also an indication of trust that non-Muslim Malaysian congregations would contribute to the national cause. This is the same man who, after establishing Perkim, constantly stressed that “Malaysia must continue as a secular state with Islam as the official religion.”
In 1968, the then mentri besar of Negri Sembilan, Tan Sri Datuk Dr Mohd Said Mohamed, laid the foundation stone, blessed by a bishop, of St Mark’s Anglican Church in Seremban. It was being rebuilt after a fire had gutted it, and the federal and state governments made a donation to help in the construction work. That, surely, is what our first Rukun Negara is all about.
Tunku ’Abidin Muhriz is director of the Malaysia Think Tank. Comment:firstname.lastname@example.org.