Food consumption and belief systems in Malaysia, the benchmark for co-existence ― JD Lovrenciear

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JUNE 29 ― The breakout news that is being widely-shared and debated now i.e. the claims, allegations and counter defences surrounding a non-Muslim canteen operator of a local polytechnic, indeed offers a last opportunity for the government to measure up once and for all.

In this age when political and socio religious sensitivities are heightened to critical bars, the Malaysian government must seize upon this opportunity arising from yet another case of religious/racial sensitivities as in this case of Gopi the canteen operator who was seemingly deemed non-shariah compliant.

Several ‘Moments of Truth’ are confronting our policy makers and leaders from all quarters of governance and segments of society. Will they seize upon it or compound it like the deputy Education Minister is yet to be seen.

Firstly, we need to have the honest courage to ask: Are we respecting the beliefs of every citizen as per their religious dictates?

Do we ensure that we can give a guarantee to non Muslims just like how we give that guarantee to Muslims through the ‘Halal’ certification and Shariah compliances?

Secondly, in all civilised, mature democracies, the majority have taken upon themselves the consecrated obligation to protect the minorities. Do we, here in Malaysia belong to this same league?

To answer these two critical questions that certainly can give the government of the day an impetus to gain back the hearts of its people and showcase an affirmative policy to the world, here are some soul-searching pointers for open, healthy discussion guided with a will to build humanity and not just divide and thrive.

Are our eateries, especially in government premises and institutions of learning where in-house canteens are the only available places for meals respecting all patrons’ belief systems and requirements?

Further, today, it is not uncommon for people to even live by a strictly vegan diet owing to religious obligations or personal choice.

Hindus in Malaysia do not consume beef. Hence are we visibly and in earnest respecting this fundamental requirement of the minority’s faith by ensuring that Muslim operators are governed by the same forces as how non-Muslim operators must comply with the ‘Halal’ requirement?

Can we guarantee that even beef stocks and beef related food enhancers and flavours are not used in the cooking? Can we go the distance to ensure that we do demonstrate our respect by even using separate spoons and ladles when serving beef dishes in such canteens where people of all faiths have to eat?

Do have policies in place to govern our moderate actions?

Yes, Malaysians are capable of demonstrating their respect and honour for each other’s belief systems. But we need policy makers and leaders to emphasise that we are not just a tolerant nation of diverse religions, but one that has grown to respect and protect each community’s belief systems.

If we cannot see such opportunities for growth and capability but instead shut down people with stern warnings of “stop making and raising sensitive issues”, then we are certain to go down faster this perilous path that we are already carving where suspicion, despair and discrimination rear their ugly heads.

The benchmark is, as much as the majority Muslims have a sacred right to practice according to the calling of their religion, so too for others from the minority segments. And if we cannot demonstrate this fundamental understanding in food matters then we will not do any better in other areas of religious sensitivities and needs.

It is time to do an honest-to-God and humanity national appraisal. If we do not correct the shortcomings (intentional or innocent), then let us not kid ourselves with all kinds of admonishments or even playing the three monkeys game of see no evil, say no evil, hear no evil.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

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