THE rash of religious bigotry cases is simply a political ploy to make Muslims feel threatened and to secure their votes at the next elections, three former members of the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) said.
They blamed politicians and Islamic leaders who are always looking for ways to highlight and promote the differences in Malaysian society, rather than what the people have in common.
The three – Saifuddin Abdullah, Marina Mahathir and Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa – were among the 30 members of the NUCC, launched by Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2013 to address issues, such as racial and religious polarisation, disunity and discrimination, in an effort to achieve national unity.
Saifuddin said the Barisan Nasional ruling government is frightening Muslims into feeling unsafe and becoming suspicious of people of different race and faith.
“The fear syndrome makes Muslims feel that they are only secure with Barisan Nasional in power.
“It is even more unfortunate that most of these recent issues are created by Muslims themselves. It can make it look like Islam is exclusive and non-Muslims are citizens of a different class,” said Saifuddin, an Umno member when he was selected to sit on the NUCC board in 2013. He left the party in 2015.
He was commenting on the recent incidents involving the Muslim-only launderette in Johor, the ban on wearing shorts in public in Kelantan and the police report lodged against an old video alleging Christianisation taking place in the country.
The most recent incident involved a laundrette owner in Muar, who put up a “Muslims only” sign at his outlet, a move which incurred the wrath of the Johor palace.
The Muslim-only launderette was a symptom of this “larger problem”, Saifuddin said, like the case of a Hulu Langat school separating cups for Muslim and non-Muslim pupils last month.
“Scared Muslims are driven to ‘do things to save themselves’, causing Islam to become isolated and exclusive,” said Saifuddin, who is now the opposition Pakatan Harapan secretariat head.
Politics driving people apart
Marina said the divisive politics would drive Malaysia’s different races further apart.
“Our leaders – the politicians and the ulama (clerics) – are always promoting our differences rather than what we have in common, especially the non-Muslims who are not only different but (made to seem) lower in stature than Muslims,” she said.
The prominent social activist slammed leaders for their silence in the Muslim-only launderette issue.
If left alone, Marina said, the issue could lead to systematic discrimination in the country.
“I feel Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar of Johor did a great thing by telling off the launderette owner. But sadly, our political leaders have no courage to speak out.
“It is so clear that this issue is not one that leads us to a 1Malaysia, but towards apartheid,” she said, referring to South Africa’s institutionalised racial segregation and discrimination between 1948 and 1991.
Mujahid, who was a PAS member when he was in the NUCC, pointed to the recent incident in Penang where a police report was lodged by Malay groups with allegations of Christian conspiracies and agendas.
“These claims have been played repeatedly, making Muslims worried and afraid to the point that some feel threatened.
“Such actions have been causing disunity between Muslims and non-Muslims for several years now,” said the Amanah vice-president.
Mujahid said the allegations against Christians were not backed by evidence, only the Muslim groups picking a quote out of the video and claiming there was a Christian agenda in Muslim-majority Malaysia.
He also noted how the Malay group dragged DAP leaders into the police report.
Mujahid also felt that all these issues, including a man hauled up for wearing shorts in public in Kelantan, were politically motivated.
A political ploy for votes
“The next general election is coming nearer. They are also out to get Muslim votes.
“This is very dangerous, using religion for political gain. At the same time, they risk causing racial and religious prejudice and hatred,” the Parti Buntar MP said.
With the launderette fiasco, Mujahid said it was a “non-issue” to begin with, because Islam has no ruling about Muslims and non-Muslims sharing washing machines.
He said certain quarters have been using Islam to do things never taught by the religion.
“Many Muslim scholars are laughing at this. It is like the issue with the separate cups for Muslim and non-Muslim pupils.”
He also cited the Better Beer Festival, which was cancelled after the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) refused to issue the organiser a permit to hold the event early next month.
PAS had protested against the event, claiming that it would make Kuala Lumpur an Asian vice hub. Many social media users who opposed the event also said such events must not be allowed in a Muslim nation.
“These days, every non-Muslim issue is summed up as something insulting towards Islam. Certain quarters criticise and question the moral conduct of non-Muslims, all claiming to be in the name of Islam.
“Don’t try to prove you are more Islamic than others. You are only creating tension between Muslims and non-Muslims, and among Muslims.”
Saifuddin, Marina and Mujahid were also involved when the NUCC drafted the Racial and Religious Hate Crimes Bill to criminalise hate speech; the National Harmony and Reconciliation Bill to ban discrimination; and the National Harmony and Reconciliation Commission Bill in 2014.
The council was dissolved in mid-2016.