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The Perception of Islam

Perak state mosque at night

Yin: “Islam is a religion of peace” proclaims the bill board at the State Mosque in Ipoh.

You don’t see this in churches and temples proclaiming that Christianity or Buddhism is a religion of peace.

It is not necessary to proclaim that one is peaceful unless one is not, or has an image problem.

I am not saying that Islam is not a religion of peace. But that is certainly not the perception of many.

12 people killed and 11 injured in the Charlie Hebdo incident in France. Or the calls for jihad in many Muslim countries because a Danish paper published 12 cartoons depicting Mohammed (the Jyllands-Posten Muhammed Cartoons).

You can say these Western liberals have provoked Muslims into doing what they did. But the same liberals mock Christianity or other religions too. They also mock the monarchy and the political establishment. Those they mock do not kill them – except the Islamist fundamentalists.

I believe Mohammed (pbuh) has a sense of humour and is above such trivialities. I think Allah has a great sense of humour too; why else he created us?

We must learn to laugh at ourselves.

My worry

And of course there is the Taliban; IS and Boko Haram which inflicted harm on fellow Muslims as well as non-Muslims. What about the sectarian killings as has happened against the Ahmadiyya in Pakistan in 1953 and more recently in Indonesia.

Can anyone fault Islamophobia when there is so much carnage carried out in the name of Islam?

Al-hamdu-lil-lah; to use an Arabic expression; we do not have religious killings in Malaysia . . . for now. But with the rise of religious extremism God knows when something will happen. With the Christchurch incident; non-Muslims are on tenterhooks.

My worry is not that there will be religious violence in Malaysia because that is not our way and probably because our police is doing a good job.

My concern is the insidious nature of Conservative Islam; what it will do (has done) to Malaysia. We were once a tolerant society where the races mixed freely.  Our men gossip in coffee shops. Our women discuss the cost of living in the pasar. Our children play with each other without the intrusion of religion or race. Food is exchanged; houses visited – everyday is ‘open house’.

Our football team was the best in the region; our badminton the best in the world; and we cheered them without any thought of race or religion; because they were our team.

We were progressive but no more! Now we languish behind countries who were once behind us.

Then and now

The Indians and Chinese still mix with each other but the Malays choose to stand apart from the others.

The ulamas and Malay politicians are locked in step in a symbiotic relationship which has taken Malaysia to the far right. Conservative Islam has infected every part of  government – from the armed forces to the civil service.

Our public education is heavily influenced by Islam. There are more religious schools today than ever before. There are even kindergartens which aspire to nurture child caliphs.

Politicians who fear they may lose their constituents have used religion (and race); and the ulamas are happy with the growing dependency of the Malay law-makers on them.

The ulamas and their politician partners is taking us down the slippery slope of racial division and conservative Islam. Calls to defend Islam and the Malay race is a kind of jihad which discriminates against the minority and divides our country.

This brings us back to the perception of Islam in Malaysia which while certainly not one of violence; it is nevertheless  one of intolerance; bigotry and belligerence.

Let the country heal

How much more it will help our country heal its racial divide, if the religious establishment practises an inclusive Islam instead of focusing on hudud and their political partners on race supremacy .

If the perception of Islam among the non-Muslims is to change, then Muslims themselves must not shy away from challenging the bigoted and narrow views of the ulamas.

Muslims must consider a broader humanity; stand up for what is right  and condemn what is wrong; not influenced by religion or race.  But when supposedly educated Muslims say it is better to employ a crooked Muslim rather than an honest kaffir, how can our country escape from bigotry and prejudices. When a Muslim ex-minister says non-Muslims must not hold important posts it reinforces the negative impression of Islam.

Is Islam a religion of peace?

Let’s say the non-Muslims do not have peace of mind the way things are going in Malaysia.

Don’t tell us ‘Islam is a religion of peace’, show us!

And also show us it is fair and just and does not discriminate against non-Muslims. That it is inclusive and tolerant and that we will be allowed to practise our religions and live,  without fear of a hudud that impinges on our lives – that we cannot sing carols at Christmas, or have a Beer Festival, or even go to the cinema (as in Kelantan).

Maybe then we will sleep a little better.

(The views expressed are those of the contributor)


By Yin

Letters from Ward 5, Tanjong Rambutan






Perak mosque: Credit Thomas Gasthuber

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