KUALA LUMPUR, March 28 ― By maintaining silence, Pakatan Rakyat (PR) has proven its complicity with Barisan Nasional (BN) in the alleged persecution of religious minorities here, speakers at a faith symposium said last night.
According to the speakers, leaders from both sides of political divide are now locked in a religious auction, allowing religious authorities to run riot with their powers, while the certain segments of the public are held hostage by the extremist fringe.
“Now we’re basically facing this problem … We’re not only seeing persecution from the establishment but also silence from that we consider our comrades, like those in the opposition, the Pakatan for example,” said Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa, the chairman of think tank Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF).
Dr Farouk singled out the PR-led Selangor government, for its lagged response towards its own religious authority’s shocking raid on the Bible Society of Malaysia in January.
He pointed out that Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim took six days to respond to the incident, while Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had passed the buck to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak instead.
Another PR-led state, Penang, was also criticised by Dr Farouk for having a similar enactment to Selangor which prohibited the use of certain Islamic words by non-Muslims in their worship.
Meanwhile, he also claimed that Kedah, which used to be ruled by a PR state government, had gazetted an enactment which makes it illegal to challenge a fatwa, or a religious edict, in a court.
The academic was one of the panelist in the Path to Peace Symposium, organised jointly by IRF and Human Rights Committee (HRC), a London-based group linked with the Islamic sect of Ahmadiyya.
The Ahmadis, also called Qadianis here, adhere to the same beliefs as the Sunni branch of Islam, but also believe that their founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was the Imam Mahdi, Islam’s prophesied redeemer.
As a result, the community is maligned locally where only the Sunni branch is recognised, such as being forbidden to host Friday prayers in its central mosque in Selayang, Selangor.
This is despite Article 11 in the Federal Constitution which guarantees Malaysians freedom of religion
Fellow speaker Dr Azmi Sharom was perplexed at how the provision could still be misinterpreted to allow injustices.
He pointed out that the Ahmadis and the local Christians who uses the word “Allah” in their worship are the ones being targeted by the law for allegedly upsetting instigators, instead of the instigators themselves.
“What also troubles me is that we seem to be held hostage by extremists … Only in a mad world are the victims punished for being victims,” said the University of Malaya’s (UM) associate professor of law.
Azmi’s sentiment was echoed by another speaker, Khalid Jaafar, who claimed that the guardians and the interpreters of the Federal Constitution have failed the public by not following its original spirit.
The executive director of the Malaysian Institute of Policy Research suggested for the formation of public policies to address inter-faith relations, which will then support the provision of the freedom of religion in the Constitution.
“I think religious freedom is so important to be left to the theologian or the ulama,” said Khalid, using the Arabic word for religious scholars.
Other speakers in the symposium were Dr Wendy Yee, a UM senior lecture and Soka Gakkai member, secretary-general of the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship Eugene Yap, and Dr Iftikhar Ayaz, a diplomat and chairman of the HRC.
According to a report in January by Washington-based research organisation Pew Research Centre, Malaysia’s government sets “very high” restrictions on religion that are on par with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Afghanistan.
Although Malaysia’s Federal Constitution provides for “freedom of religion”, there is a “substantial contradiction” and only some religious practices are protected, the report said, adding that the government prohibits worship or religious practices of one or more religious groups as general policy.
Muslims make up 61.3 per cent of the Malaysian population, followed by Buddhists at 19.8 per cent, and Christians at 9.2 per cent, according to the latest census data from 2010.
Over the past year, the largely Sunni Muslim country has started a campaign against Shiah teachings.
A five-year-old court dispute over whether the Arabic word for God, “Allah” is exclusive to Muslims as over 60 per cent of the religion’s followers here believe has also drawn deep divisions in Malaysia, with the country’s dominant Malay-Muslims on one side and its sizeable Buddhists, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and Taoists on the other side.