Liberalism not incompatible with religion, whether Islam or Christianity, forum told

Minoves (second from left) said he was surprised at the antagonism against liberals in Malaysia. — Picture by Ida Lim
Minoves (second from left) said he was surprised at the antagonism against liberals in Malaysia. — Picture by Ida Lim

KUALA LUMPUR, July 4 — Amid fear mongering over liberalism in the country, an international advocate insisted today the ideology is not against any established religious doctrine or law.

Juli Minoves, president of Liberal International, said he was surprised at the antagonism against liberals in Malaysia, saying the values seen as “controversial” here were ones he had cherished since childhood — including the right to elect a government and express one's thoughts.

"Liberalism is not against any religion, be it Islam or Christianity," he told a public forum here.

The diplomat, a former foreign minister of the European principality of Andorra was responding to a remark from an audience member who claimed that liberalism is against Islam and Malaysia’s Federal Constitution.

Earlier on, Minoves pointed out that many of the members from global network of over 115 liberal political parties include those from various faiths such as Islam.

"I don't see incompatibility between one's religious faith and one sharing principles of liberalism. Unless you equate belonging to a religion to living in a country that is not democratic, then of course there is a difference," said Minoves, who professed to be Catholic.

"There's absolutely no problem in sharing or having some religious faith and actually believing in human rights for everybody, 'live and let live', especially in a country like Malaysia that is so diverse.

"If some members of the country were to impose their beliefs or values on others, this country would be unlivable. You thrive on democracy, you thrive on living together, allowing each other some space for the other's own faith and religion and ideas," he added.

PAS's Dzulkefly Ahmad, who maintained that he is an Islamist democrat instead of a liberal, similarly said that liberalism is not necessarily against Islam or any other religion.

He viewed religion as being more of a personal affair and personal convictions, suggesting that those who oppose liberalism are against the extreme end of this ideology, citing same-sex marriage as an example.

"I think what they are against is not being liberal perhaps, but being hyperliberal and that's where the LGBT and same-sex marriage which are regarded as taboo in all religions," he said, referring to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Dzulkefly said it would be positive to move away from ethnic-based politics and patronage-based politics, if "hyperliberalism tendencies" were to be set aside.

"You may think you have the right to do it, if you ask me, I would not condone, but the fact that you exist, we got to engage. We can't ostracise you, we can't drive you into the sea, kill you. That would be very illiberal," he said.

When responding to a scenario of Muslims coming into power and imposing their beliefs on the homosexual community, Dzulkefly said that policies would have to go through the democratic and legislative process.

"We would certainly not impose Islam on Muslims or others. The way Islam should be for a democrat is to always engage in contestation on our political offerings, policies and programmes," he said.

He added that such laws that are passed would be democratic and would have achieved justice if the minorities are taken care of at the same time.

Today’s forum was organised by local think tank Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, and titled: "Is Malaysia ready for a liberal party?"

The forum was moderated by its chief executive Wan Saiful Wan Jan and also featured think-tank Institute for Policy Research executive director Khalid Jaafar as a speaker.

In May, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said that Islam and its followers are still being tested by the threat of liberalism, citing as example the case of Nur Fitri Azmeer Nordin, the Malaysian math scholar recently convicted for possession of child pornography in the UK.

“This threat will ruin the Muslim identity because the liberal ones will take the easy route in matters of religious principles, and from there, groups such as liberal Muslims, LGBT, human rightism and many more will be born,” he said in his speech at the launch of the Malaysia Wasatiyyah Institute.

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