I received an SMS from a friend last Wednesday expressing concern over The Star’s news coverage of the Thaipusam celebration.
It first come across as something similar to a no-Valentine-for-Muslim fatwa debate. Then I realised that it implies Malaysians have little knowledge of races and religions in this country other than their own, thus the tendencies to have perceptive than factual views and opinion of interfaith and inter-racial issues. There is insufficient interaction between the different races and religions that Muhibbah tend to be more form rather than substance.
I wish to express an honest personal view with the hope that it will ignite an honest and friendly discussion on inter-racial integration on the Internet. Subsequently, I would tag (memetag) others, and hope it will snowball into a beneficial discussion. Here goes …
The said The Star news written by Florence A. Samy and Fazleena Aziz reported the Muhibbah musical beat - kompang, bhangra, and lion dance and urimi melam - accompanying the procession carrying Lord Murugam diety to Batu Caves.
The accompaniment was arranged by the Selangor and Wilayah Persekutuan News Vendors Association. As Association chairman Datuk N. Muneandy puts it: “This is our show of support to the devotees and Indian community.”
The Star and the Association believed that it has done a great service to nation building to promote Muhibbah or togetherness. Instead it had inadvertently touched my religious sensitivity.
I am obliged to highlight that the act by the Kampung Batu kompang group can be construed as sacrilegious. Off course, I am assuming the kompang group comprise of Malay Muslims.
The non-Muslim is not at fault for I level blame only on the Muslim reporter for not successfully highlighting to her superior and the ignorance of the kompang group. And, I wouldn’t hold back blame on some politicians’ over exuberance to appease the Indian voters, consequent to the negative political impact of the Hindraf demonstrations.
Thaipusam is purely a religious Hindu affair, thus it is strictly forbidden for Muslims to participate. It is deemed as collusion with deification, an act strictly inconsistent with the monotheistic nature of Islam and the act is syirik or sin of polytheism.
Syirik is the biggest sin in Islam. To quote the Quran, "He forgives all sins, except disbelieving in God". On issues of faith or aqeedah, Muslims are in no position to compromise. When it comes to religion, I rely on the learned and not liberal self interpretation.
The religious implication of the Thaipusam act has far more theological implication than consumption of chiuk (pork) and tani (alcohol)by Muslims. Apart from this Thaipusam report, the New Straits Times had put up a distorted Muhibbah image for last Christmas. It displayed a more controversial picture of a Muslim Malay women doing Christmas shopping with a Christian spouse.
These news reports by our English mainstream newspapers – media to the middle to upper class Malaysian - reflect the sad state of racial integration in the country. They promote a liberal view of racial integration and occasionally express critical view of Islamic practices, but the newspapers have a poor understanding in the “religion of the Federation” and tend to based it on their personal perception and judgment.
How could this happen to mainstream newspaper? It could be either negligent or lackadaisical attitude or just plain ignorance. I sure hope there is no cynical intention behind it.
Although Muslim has been unfairly and insensitively stereotyped as myopic or militant in post 9-11, it is not my intention to get even. I do acknowledge that my fellow Muslims can be particular about having non-halal food on their table, but could be negligent in serving beef or meat to non-beef eating or vegetarian Hindu and Buddhist.
The point is Non Muslims and more so Muslims should learn, sensitized and accept each other’s boundaries, even being tolerable is not sufficient. To quote the Yusof Ali translation of the Holy Quran from Sura Kafirun (Sura CIX):
“Say: O ye That reject Faith! I worship not that Which ye worship, Nor will ye worship That which I worship, And I will not worship That which ye have been Wont to worship, Nor will ye worship That which I worship, To you be your Way, And to me mine.”Muhibbah Perspective
Thats the back"brown" bit and now on Muhibbah ...
Although there is no room for compromise on issue of aqeedah, it does not mean that Muslims do not practise the spirit of Muhibbah with those of the other faith. The spirit of Muhibbah can transcend the boundaries and diversity.
To shed a different light to The Star’s interpretation to the word Muhibbah as togetherness, the Kamus Lengkap described it as goodwill, friendly feeling, feeling of friendship and love. It makes no mention of togetherness.
Article 11 of the Malaysian Constitution guarantees non-Muslims the freedom to practise their religion with the only provision for it to be done in peace and harmony. What religion does not promote peace and harmony? This is a goodwill that we, as a nation and community, have already upheld. Perhaps the PM’s recent announcement of Thaipusam as a public holiday is politically motivated, but it is a friendly support.
Even if Muslims can’t enjoin other Malaysian to celebrate Thaipusam or Wesak, there are other race-based festivals like Chinese New Years to participate. Although it is beyond Muslims to join other Malaysians for prayers at temple and churches, I believe it is fine to make friendly visits for the more cultural and family aspect of the Deepavali and Christmas festivals.
The reality is, after 50 years of Independence and more than 150 years or so of co-existence, that many Malaysians hardly know much of Malaysians of other races and religions. What has happened to the song "Muhibbah" taught in schools post Mei 13th, 1969? This underscores the need to promote Muhibbah, beyond politics and government for solution and action, and beyond lip service sloganeering, and rhetorics.
There must be more serious opportunity and effort at the individual level for inter-racial interaction. Yes ... to do more than Jabatan Perpaduan Negara dan Integrasi Nasional.
I am reminded of my parent’s racially mixed residential area back in my hometown and there was interaction for Muhibbah to flourish. In the evening, neighbours intermingle to chat with one another. With that there was cooperation like sharing the burden of sending the children to school and tuition, keeping an eye on each other's children and home, and in cases of emergencies. We were even settling neighbourly frictions.
I remembered of one situation during the Sikh and Indian encounter in India in the '80s. The excitement spread to our neighbourhood. My father and our Chinese neighbours came forward to calm and convince the feuding Indians and single Sikh family to leave their motherland affair behind. They are now Malayians and not Indian nationals.
In one situation that I personally got involved, one Malay neighbour of Arab descendents was burning firecrackers beyond midnight on Hari Raya night. I figured he was doing a tit-for-tat to his next door Chinese neighbour for their customary midnight firecracker on CNY. I requested them to quit for it is not our culture. And, I reminded them that we should give the Chinese neighbours leeway to practise their culture and they have been reasonable, just a token 5 minutes.
Come any festivals, my mother would be preparing muruku or cookies for her close neighbours. In return, they would chip in for our Hari Raya. Before relatives come to visit, our non Muslim neighbours are the earliest to pay respect on Hari Raya. For any wedding and function, we ensure there are non beef and vegetarian dishes for them.
While Muhibbah starts by the form of the many races celebrating festivities together and neighbourly niceties, it needs more inter-racial interactions. Generally, there is racial interaction at the middle to higher echelon of society but it has not translated sufficiently enough down to the masses.
To provide substance to the spirit of Muhibbah, segregation and stereotyping by occupation, schools, residential area, sports, recreation, and work place must be minimised. For instance, hiring Malay should not be restricted only to procure Government jobs.
In addition, we should remove any prejudicial stereotyping of other races. The common one being Malay as lazy, Chinese as self-centred cheats and Indians as untrustworthy.
The common grouse among non Bumiputera that seemed to be the stumbling block in Bumi-non Bumi integration is the "NEP"-type policies. I'm not oblivious to the complains. However, it is more complex and too long drawn for individuals to take up. What do we do in the mean time?
I heard "him" promised a fairer and more equitable "NEP" formula but after more than four years, why am I waiting? Lets's ponder over what we can do as individuals.
The first and most effective place to promote Muhibbah must be in schools. From the first day children get out of their home, they must be exposed to multiracialism and build personal interaction with other races. There must be a political will to break this barrier among children.
Personally, I like to see the end of vernacular language schools, Islamic religious-type school (actually teaching mainstream syllabus), and limit the number of Government boarding schools. For religious/theological schools, I guess it is theoretically multiracial and thats a boundary we have to accept.
For a start, boarding schools must be strictly for social elevation for the lower economic class through education. Middle-class urban Malays have abused this facility. They must begin to take charge in the up-bringing of their teenage children. Too much money is spent building residential schools. I strongly suggest a fair quota for poor non-Malays.
For communications, we must improve and encourage the use of the National language for it is THE language to unite ALL Malaysians. One set-back is the insecurity of non Malay races. My simplistic solution is to have the languages of non-Malays seriously taught as elective. I would have enrolled if I am still in school. Then, it is the reluctance of the middle to upper class Malaysians, usually English or western educated. That we have to awake them from their anglophilic fantasy.
The part involving the school system needs Government's political will but we can, at the individual level, actually begin to do something about it. If anyone saw the recent documentary of the campaign by the Naked Chef to change the diet of school canteens in Britain on Astro's Travel Channel, we can emulate that. We do not need to take the political avenue all the time. Remember Nurin Alert?
In summary, I have touched and proposed to promote Muhibbah at the individual level by promoting Malaysians to learn more of Malaysian from other races and religions, respect the boundaries, and celebrate the diversity. I believe we need to do more at the school level and promote the use of National language. There must be a serious attempt by Malaysians to remove segregation and stereotyping, promote interaction, develop inter-racial friendship, and remove prejudice.
To promote a discussion on this subject, I like to tag Nuraina, Galadriel, Bakaq, Desi and Soon Li Tsin. They could discuss an aspect of Muhibbah – what and why – and offer how we as individuals can promote Muhibbah. Try not to be too political and blame Government mode.
From there on, they could tag at least 2 others. Be sure to alert the bloggers you have tagged. Whoever participate, drop me a comment so we could keep track of the tag.