Put Islamophobia on ice By Commander (Rtd) S THAYAPARAN Royal Malaysian Navy
Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Malaysiakini : “We see no colonialism, racism, or so-called ‘Islamophobia’ in
submitting Islamic practices to criticism or condemnation when they
violate human reason or rights.”
- The St Petersburg Declaration (March 2007), quoted in Paul Cliteur's ‘The Secular Outlook: In Defense of Moral and Political Secularism’ (2010), p 276.
COMMENT | There is no such thing
as “Islamophobia”. There are of course racists, bigots and other cretins
who disparage Muslims and Islam around the world but unfortunately, the
world is filled with racists and bigoted people who disparage all sorts
of people, their religion and culture. This is not solely a Muslim
What is solely a Muslim issue is this idea that any criticisms of
Muslims is an attack on Islam or that acknowledging empirical evidence
of the way how “Islamic” states operate is anathema to freedoms and
rights enjoyed in the progressive world is verboten in "civilised"
company. That any contrary narratives to the acceptable
politically-correct discourse is an attack on a peaceful, peace-loving
people who have always been at the mercy of colonialism or other forms
of “Western” imperial ambitions. This is Islamophobia in a nutshell.
So, these Malaysian students in the United Kingdom gave out ice lollies
in exchange for messages of peace. Apparently, they did this because
they were deeply affected by the Manchester attack and wanted people not
to hate Muslims. In other words, people had to sign messages of peace
on their boards to show how there was no animosity towards Muslims
instead of these Muslim students demonstrating that they disavowed the
violent Islamists who preach hate against anything Western, secular or
Christian. Muslim victimhood became the focus of the tragedy instead of
the carnage of children and women who were the victims of violent
University of Essex student Muhammad Fariq Bukhari Samsudin said that
he planned “to introduce Ramadan to his non-Muslim friends so they can
break fast together”, which is really painful to read because I wonder
how Fariq would react if his Christian friends introduced him to Lent
and perhaps together they could appreciate the spiritual harmony that
religious observances supposedly bring. Fariq also claimed that "I think the root of the problem is that most
of the people don't even understand Islam”, which is again something of
a misdirection because some Muslims are always deflecting and saying
that they would leave the interpretation of dogma to religious scholars
1) When it suits their purposes to educate people on their religion. 2) When attacking critics, especially when said critics abandon the
Abrahamic theological discourse in favour of rationality and empiricism.
Religious discourse that revolves around dogma is self-serving. I made this point in another piece
- “Intelligent discourse in the Abrahamic faith revolves around the
concept of doubt. They revolve around this concept because of the
influence of the secular world. Rational Christians, Jews and Muslims
who have shed their religion’s extremist impulses engage in conversation
and not dogma. They attempt to reconcile their doubt with what the
secular world has to offer.”
Whenever someone makes the claim that people do not understand their
religion, it most often means that their religion has a lot to answer
for. All religions have commonalities. Those positive commonalities make
it possible for people of diverse religious faiths to play well with
others. Call it evolutionary or spiritual but the result is the same,
the receding of religious dogma and the acceptance of plurality of
However, when people insist on pontificating about their faith or
when the state defines religion, that is when the trouble starts. That
is when people start claiming that their faith is misunderstood or that
god made them the person to lead the faithful or there is some divine
plan for all of us, even those who do not want to be subjected to any
plan from up above.
This last part is made worse by the fact that those mortals who claim
to understand god’s plan make the worst administrators on earth, not to
mention the most bigoted, petty and hypocritical messengers that any
divine being would be unlucky to have. This is, again, not solely a
Muslim issue. More importantly, is the claim that people do not understand Islam.
Here is a fact. People who live in Muslim-majority countries understand
Islam very well. Muslims who live in Western secular countries do not
have to worry about people not understanding Islam. The importance of
understanding a religion only comes into play when the religion has an
overt impact on the social and political landscape of a country.
While demagogues will of course use Islam and Muslims as scapegoats,
Muslims in Western secular countries have more institutional protections
than religious minorities in Muslim-dominated countries. Non-Muslim
minorities in Muslim-dominated countries are told to be followers. Here
is PAS leader Abdul Hadi Awang’s variation of this theme - “Islam has to
be the leader and ruler, those who are not of Islam must be followers (pak turut).”
I helpfully defined
what it meant by “followers” - "And this is the crux of the matter.
Non-Muslims must be ‘followers’. Followers who do not believe. Followers
who are forced to submit. Followers who can never lead because they are
not Muslims. Followers who have to submit to the religious observances
of Muslims even though they have their own religious beliefs, which are
not observed by Muslims but in some cases restricted because they cause
offence to Muslims.”
Which brings me to what DAP leader Lim Kit Siang recently said,
“(We can succeed if) Malaysians adhere to the Constitution and
Rukunegara principles to be good Malaysians by being good Muslims, good
Buddhists, good Christians, good Hindus, good Sikhs and good Taoists.
Hannah's journey as a good Christian cannot threaten, but only fulfil,
her journey as a good Malaysian, just as how adherents of other
religions aspire to be good Malaysians."
Concerning Yeoh’s journey as a "good Malaysian", I am curious. Does
Yeoh consider herself a Malaysian first or a Christian first? You see,
this is the type of questions that arise, when people pontificate about
their faith and make a fresh batch of Bangsa Malaysia kool aid whenever
the need arises. We do not need more faith in this country. What we need
is people who want to create an egalitarian system that people will
have faith in.
We can only succeed as a multicultural/religious society if we have
politicians who check their religion at the door and commit themselves
to secular principles and policies all the while keeping their faith
private. Who defines what a “good” Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu,
Sikh or Taoist, is?
The state and its actors should not be in the business of defining
religion, what they should be doing is ensuring that religion does not
define the business of the state.