The difficult choices of non-Muslim Malaysians

SEPT 20 — To be non-Muslim in Malaysia is both difficult and not difficult, depending on who you talk to.

As Malays in Malaysia are not allowed to not choose Islam, being non-Muslim automatically makes you non-Malay and having that label is reductive. 

Painting Malaysia as only occupied by Malays and the people they “allow” to stay — which is everyone else — is a problematic and fundamentally flawed perception of the country.

We are a confused and confusing nation. We need public holidays to remind us that Malaya’s independence and Malaysia’s formation are fundamentally different dates.

There are some who scoff at Malaysia Day — why make a big deal about the distinction? If Malaya never gained independence, there would be no Malaysia, no? 

But Malaysia wouldn’t exist either if Indonesia and the Philippines had their way. If things had gone differently, Sabahans and Sarawakians would call themselves either Filipinos or Indonesians. But history decided differently.

There are times when I wonder if Malaysians are just idiots. Is it really all that difficult to call yourself Malaysian, and also want to have your unique background also accepted? 

I find it stupidly annoying when people keep talking about “erasing” race and go around saying “we’re all Malaysian.”

I can be Malaysian and Dusun too, you know. My culture is something I like and erasing it for some notion of false unity is ridiculous. 

The problem now is that we have politicians who would like to erase both the history and the significance of non-Malays, for the sake of winning votes in the heartland.

It is a dangerous, horrible ploy to tell the majority race that they are entitled and better than anyone else, while reality shows that so much disenfranchisement exists in the Malay community. 

If we need to unite, we should probably unite in calling out divisive policies and inflammatory rhetoric. The constant flip-flopping in describing our country is ridiculous; today Malaysia is the country for all Malaysians, tomorrow it is only the real country of the majority and the rest should just go back to their ancestral lands. Can politicians just make up their minds?

As to Malaysian non-Muslims, they have to start making up their minds. Once upon a time, too many considered just leaving as their best bet and their only option. 

We now live in the world where conservative politics has won over most of the Western world; there is no running to the US, the UK, Australia for a lot of people. Not unless they’re rich or are proven experts in their respective fields.

Malaysian liberals who think everything can be fixed by just throwing everything out and practising liberal, secular governance need to be a lot more realistic. 

The reality of Islamophobia among non-Muslims is there — they see Islam as the problem, when the religion is not so much a problem as much as it has been used as a political tool. 

Non-Muslims need to get over their Islamophobia and instead start learning to build bridges; to stop hiding behind their own race-based and religious-based associations, to fight for that middle ground before it is lost forever.

The British divided us; silly politics distract us; but what Malaysians really need is to learn to be a lot less selfish and insular. 

If you want a better country, make it a better one for everyone and not just your housing area.

God can look after himself, but the country needs more than politicians. It has become obvious that we can’t just leave it to the government — Malaysians need to be louder, more demanding and competent at doing more than making anonymous Facebook comments.

We do have champions among us; people who are fighting for various causes — children, foreign workers, migrants, the homeless. 

Choose your champion, find a cause. Do more than sit in your car complaining about those darn migrants protesting and causing traffic jams.

If you want to be called a real Malaysian, then maybe start acting like one. And not expect the government, the law or some politician to declare that you’re real. 

 * This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

Related Articles

Up Next