MALAYSIA is on a menacing downward spiral fuelled by religious bigotry. We are a growing polarised nation at war with ourselves. The recent years have been marred by reports that show us just how badly divided we are becoming.
Some of us feel as though the damage is already done and our society has reached the peak of desolation where most of us are left feeling despondent about our nation’s future.
Malaysian society has devolved in one way or another; allowing rage, oppression and polarisation to reign supreme and replace societal dogma. Our loyalties and sanities are frequently put to the test. Malaysians are no longer encouraged to have different legitimate opinions and asking the wrong questions could get you in trouble.
The shockingly disgraceful overzealousness portrayed by Islamic authorities and accepted by the majority has made a mockery over something so beautiful, just and peaceful. There are now Muslim-only laundromats, tahfiz schools exempted from safety regulations by default of piety, futsal-playing Muslim men barred from wearing shorts, and the never-ending moral policing of clothes, where we eat, what utensils we use and what animals to blur out during prime time television. All these because Muslims are often reminded that we are easily confused and that there is an ominous threat looming above us that endangers our values.
The recent detention of prominent Turkish writer Mustafa Akyol is a prime example of this: Akyol, whose book “Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty” addresses the concerns and problems present day Muslims face.
Most of his writings centre on Islamophobia, violent extremism, religious bigotry and presents the perfect discourse needed for us to understand how the true teachings of Islam embrace universal humanist values that are often demonised by overzealous preachers of the far, far right.
His detention exposes the hypocrisy our society has succumbed to and just how arbitrary our system has become.
One stark contrast is how local religious authorities treated Indian Islamic preacher Zakir Naik. Despite being banned in India, Bangladesh, Canada and the United Kingdom, Naik was allowed to enter Malaysia and conduct a series of public talks of questionable content.
To the rest of the world, Zakir Naik is known for being a televangelist who spreads Wahhabism; where he justifies revealing Western attire as one of the main causes of rape, supports domestic violence and sexual slavery.
Surely, given his track record, it is clear to see that between the two intellectuals, who actually poses a greater threat to Malaysian democracy and our constitution.
Islam is one of the world’s great religions but because of the pre-existing vacuum of knowledge and differing interpretations of Holy Scriptures, our society is at risk of increasing fundamentalism. Those in key authoritative positions may have little knowledge and intellect, whilst those who put them there may do so for political mileage.
A dangerous game that takes advantage of our insecurities triggered by globalisation and deep-rooted in hypocrisy. A dumb nation is easier to control but bear in mind, ignorance can breed fear, which too easily can turn to hatred and this can mark the absolute destruction of democracy, where there will be no victors from either sides.
And this is where we are right now: Malaysians are held hostage by repulsive religious bigotry sanctioned by the very same political elites who are free to carry on with their hedonistic way of life.
As we lament over the sad state of religious liberty and think of ways to rise above the ashes of hate, it’s worth remembering Akyol’s parting words in a statement he issued shortly after his release.
“The practice of Islam must be on the basis of freedom, not coercion, and governments shouldn’t police religion or morality.”
Malaysians must be able to define, differentiate and separate between extreme theology and ideology in Islam and muster the courage to challenge this. It is essential for us to denounce the brand of Islam that idolises violence and intolerance.
Fighting hate-filled doctrines must be done through civil discourse and sensible actions because only the overzealous self-righteous cry out judgments against others as a way to conceal the skeletons kept hidden in their own closets.
There is a dire need to fortify our democratic and diverse society; and to restore all hope, respect and civility; remaining silent in the ugly face of religious intolerance, insecurity and hypocrisy is not an option.