DECEMBER 27 — Let’s get this right.
There’s a difference between being sensitive and being intolerant. The former goes with respect, manners and forms the building blocks of a great country.
The latter, however, goes together with ignorance, stupidity and are, well, prerequisites to the creation of ISIS.
Not having the number 4 on lifts, floor levels, apartment addresses is being culturally sensitive. Not passing wind in public — that’s also being sensitive and respectful to those who have a sense of smell.
Similarly, not eating in front of fasting Muslims during Ramadan, or serving beef at functions attended by Malaysians.
Sensitivity and respect go together hand in hand. And you are allowed to talk about religious and cultural sensitivity if and when you observe others’ sensitivities. Others’ restrictions.
Not just your own.
But when you impose your sensitivities, your values and your expectations on others, when you expect others to recognise and observe them, it becomes intolerance.
A trait that doesn’t have a place in multi-racial, multi-cultural Malaysia.
Our country is becoming more conservative religiously. And with that often comes intolerance.
It is not me who draws the association between rising religious intolerance and conservatism in this country, but people like Zamihan.
And I worry.
Because one, if there is one “Zamihan” in Jakim, there certainly must be more. To be selected as part of a federal agency operating under the Prime Minister’s Office, with a budget in excess of RM800 million in 2018, must mean that his thinking, ideals and principles aren’t the exception.
But the accepted norm.
Two, to think there are more people like him, going around the country giving religious sermons and lectures on the taxpayers’ accounts, tantalising susceptible and idle minds through the misrepresentation, misquotation, misinterpretation of religious text to suit their purpose, is a travesty that is horrifying, terrifying and spine chilling.
What is even more petrifying is that these sermons are broadcast to the neighbourhood through loudspeakers.
So what do these people want? Generally for the government to adopt a more religious approach to governance. But there is none for them to showcase but the one state, which is religiously reclusive and conservative enough befitting their idea of what an Islamic state is like.
And there is nothing Islamic about Kelantan.
The Star published a report last year citing that Kelantan has the lowest average household income in the country. And a third of the income of an average household in KL.
Kelantan has the highest infant mortality rate in the country. A newborn child in Kelantan is twice as likely to die before the age of five compared to newborns in Kuala Lumpur.
As if the odds aren’t enough, 15 per cent of children in Kelantan live in poverty while at least 7 per cent are under-nourished.
In 2010, there were 28.2 Kelantanese with HIV for every 100,000. The national ratio at the same time was 12.9 for every 100,000 population.
Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi in 2014 said Kelantan also recorded the highest rate of methamphetamine distribution in the country.
So what was did the Kelantan state government have to say to all these issues?
Well, given that they don’t talk much about business, economics, finance or management, they answered that the reason behind the rise of HIV and AIDS cases in Kelantan is their proximity to Thailand.
Forget about them understanding and determining the causes behind the complex social economic relationship between unemployment, drug addiction, needle sharing, rampant incest and rape cases in the state. They don’t even know that they have failed.
Instead of focusing on these issues, they worry about beer fests. About concerts. About what stewardesses wear. Intolerance took their focus away from real governance.
From what matters to the people.
Which is why, intolerance, no matter which version and kind, in whatever universe, is not what we want for our Malaysia.
Religion does not promote intolerance. Men do.
If God is perfect, God’s law too must be perfect.
For anyone to assume absolute authority over religious matters without even a modicum of respect, humility and discussion — they can’t be men of God.
Because God says in Quran 31:18-19, “And do not turn your face away with pride, nor walk with insolence. Verily, God doesn’t like arrogance. And be moderate in your pace and lower your voice.”
In 16:125, “Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best. Indeed, your Lord is most knowing of who has strayed from His way, and He is most knowing of who is [rightly] guided.”
Men who claim to know of God obeys him, should not be arrogant nor insolent. They should be humble. Argue in a way that is best, not worst.
And if they can’t argue and debate in a good way, they are not ready to preach.
I was euphoric when the Sultan of Johor, and the Sultan of Selangor called for the Muslim only laundrette to open its doors to non-Muslims, and reprimanded Zamihan for his arrogance.
They spoke for many Malaysians when they revoked the credentials of a few preachers, and reviewed Jakim’s relevance with regards to religious affairs in their states. I hope the other states follow their cue and do the same.
One of our resolutions for 2018 must be to address ignorance and insensitivity to the foundation of a multi-cultural, multi-religious country. To prevent intolerance from setting in — in the guise of sensitivity. To avoid intolerance from destroying the foundation of this country.
The foundation that was built upon the freedom and the right of the people to live, speak and practise their beliefs no matter their religion and skin colour.
One that showcases the essence, the soul, the pride and joy of a country that is truly liberal, truly democratic, truly Merdeka. One that needs to be enviously guarded, preserved, by all who call themselves Malaysian.
To those who celebrate, Merry Christmas. And to all a splendid New Year.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.