Fostering the true spirit of Merdeka in resolving differences — Denison Jayasooria

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AUG 30 — I reviewed the various media write ups on what Pasir Puteh  Member of Parliament YB Datuk Nik Muhammad Zawawi Salleh said in parliament and outside on the matters pertaining to drink driving, religious views on alcohol consumption and his views on Christianity if it is a distorted version of the original.

The context of this discussion is the tabling of Road Transport (Amendment) Bill 2020 to propose heavier fines for drink driving offenders on August 26. In justifying the reason for this the YB indicated that all religions are against drinking. In this context a reference was made to Christianity which has sparked criticism and there is a call for an apology for his conclusions on Christianity with reference that the current version is a distortion.

Let us break up the topics objectively so we can discuss the matters one by one:-

The first is the bill on driving under the influence of alcohol. This is a serious issue and most developed nations too have very strick laws pertaining to this matter. This new law does not prevent one from drinking but if one has consumed alcohol then that individual just cannot drive.  There is sufficient evidence on driving under the influence of alcohol and the dangers. Some have further called for Government to address other causes and this too must be reviewed.

The second is in justification of this new law on driving under the influence of alcohol by using a religious argument. Actually there is no need for a religious justification as the safety and health justification is sufficient to justify such as law and the stiffer penalties imposed.

The third is facts that are needed to substantiate one’s arguments. Here one must make reference to some standard authority or research- study or a reputed scholar. This is needed especially when Members of Parliament speaks. They must be well prepared and address policy issues with well researched or thought through position as opposed to speaking ‘off the cuff’ statements which often lands them into trouble.

On the matter of religion, all Malaysians know this is a very sensitive matter and especially for an MP from PAS whose party aspires to be a party based on religious values. Therefore any one speaking on religion could adopt a sociology of religion approach where you have undertaken inter-faith or inter religious studies and the other approach is from a position of a believer in a religious tradition where you have attended formal religious instructions. Using any one of these approaches, we must not misrepresent the other person’s religion. All tend to get upset if their religions are misquoted or misinterpreted. In religious matters, some humility is also required in the conversations, as we are all in a journey towards greater understanding of faith experiences.

In this context two matters need further discussion:-

Is Christianity against alcohol consumption? All though I have adopted total abstinence from alcohol as a lifestyle principle as a Christian, my reading of the Bible does not prohibit the consumption of alcohol but there are clear Biblical teaching on drunkenness and its abuse. Many might be surprised that the first miracle by Jesus was turning water into wine. This is a cultural aspect in the Palestine culture of the time, consumption of wine was associated as a normal drink and especially during festive times. However, certain traditions of the Church has imposed strict rule on this matter. As a Methodist Christian we were taught from early age not to consume alcohol and this was one of the disciplines I have adopted as a personal vow. However other Christians do drink especially western and urban Christians which is more culturally accepted. It will be difficult to dogmatically say that Christianity prohibits as in Christianity there is also individual freedom on this matter, But drunkenness and abuse is prohibited.

The next issue is a more serious accusation namely is the kind of Christianity practiced and believed in Malaysia is a distortion of the original and the way of Jesus. This is a more complex matter. On making a value judgment or even to generalise on this aspect, one must apply great caution on the principle of mutual respect.

In Malaysia the Federal Constitution protects the right of “every person to profess and practice his religion” (Article 11:1). This right also includes the right of every religious group to manage its own religious affairs” (Article 11:3 a). This Constitutional reference implies that it is that religious group which will determine its own religious belief and manage its own affairs especially the religious leadership. Therefore it will be wrong for any outside the faith or religion to make a judgment call or even define if the teachings as right or wrong.

Unfortunately in the case of YB Datuk Nik Muhammad Zawawi Salleh he has crossed the line when he insisted his view are based on facts, disregarding the views of Christians and Christian religious leaders from Christian tradition. This is a serious matter and as the first reference on this was in Parliament, the Speaker of Parliament could review this matter and address this issue in the next sitting.

It would be good for YB Datuk Nik Muhammad Zawawi Salleh to adopt a more reconciliatory approach and visit the Christian leaders and draw a conclusion in the Malaysian spirt of harmony. I visited both Kedah and Kelantan recently and spent some time with local community leaders some who were from Islamic religious and Malay political communities, I was really impressed with their kindness and friendship they showed me and our visiting team. They exhibited humility, compassion and these Muslim leaders were very appreciative of multi-cultural Malaysia.

This is yet another occasion for the need for a Community Mediation Commission where communities that might differ in public could seek an approach through community mediation to address their differences in a spirit of harmony and mutual respect. This ideas of a Community mediation commission was first proposed by the National Unity Consultative Council. Therefore in a spirit of Merdeka and in building a nation, let us foster a spirit of reconciliation and harmony. This is yet another occasion calling us to resolve in a spirit of humility and friendship with a deep sense of God’s peace in our hearts and communities

*Prof Datuk Denison Jayasooria is Associate Fellow at the Institute of Ethnic Studies, UKM.

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

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