My Say: Repudiating racism and bigotry

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This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on January 16 - 22, 2017.


Admittedly, many rejoiced when Kuala Lumpur’s mufti reaffirmed that it is permissible for Muslims to wish Christians “Merry Christmas”.

While Parti Amanah Negara has long agreed with this sentiment, we believe that religious scholars should go beyond khilafiah issues or jurisprudence (fiqh) disputes.

Religious scholars should now be bold enough to address the outright racism and bigotry that have impeded the nation’s progress. Going by recent events, one shudders at the thought of what lies ahead. It is too painful to enumerate.

Rather than embodying Islam’s inclusive teaching of being truly Rahmatan lil Aalamin or A Mercy to the Universe, overzealous and ignorant Muslims have indeed rendered a great disservice to the religion.

In view of the total absence of a public national conversation that will help foster mutual racial and religious understanding, this writer shares Amanah’s narrative of nation rebuilding, premised on the politics of mutual understanding or the “politics of Li-Ta’arafu”.

Revisiting the Holy Quran, one comes to some axiomatic verses that expound progressive and inclusive Islamic views. These verses provide a sound foundation for nation rebuilding, addressing racism and bigotry, in particular.

Firstly, Allah makes it crystal clear that diversity, not unity, is the divine wisdom in the entire creation of humanity. Verse 48 of Surah Al-Ma’idah categorically pronounces: “Had Allah so willed, He would have made you all one community or ummah (united in religion) ...” Verse 99 of Surah Yunus explicitly explains: “And if thy Lord has desired, all mankind would have believed in Him ...”

Diversity and not unity is the purpose and goal of the creation of human beings. More specifically, also in verse 48 of Surah Al-Ma’idah, Allah provides the rationale for such diversity: “To test you in the many graces that He has given you, so vie and race to (all that is) good.”

In verse 13 of Surah al-Hujurat, after Allah explains the origin of the human race from Adam and Eve who are later made into tribes and nations, the underpinning purpose is to know one another (Li-Ta’arafa) and not despise or hate one another (Li Tanafasu).

The verse concludes by emphasising the criterion of righteousness or at-Taqwa as being the noblest in the eyes of The Almighty. More important is the fact that righteousness is hereby qualified with respect to the ability to manage the diversity of humanity and its multifaceted constraints and often times, mutually exclusive demands.

Needless to say, this underscores the need for a leadership that truly understands and grasps the demands of multiculturalism while always remaining principle-centred, just and truthful.

Besides, Allah exalted the progeny of Adam and recognises the “Dignity of All Humanity” (Surah al-Isra: 70). Islam recognises several levels of brotherhood — human brotherhood (humanity), the brotherhood of wataniyyah (nation) and the brotherhood of race and ethnicity — all applicable to the context and historicity and these are not mutually exclusive.

Meanwhile, the brotherhood of religion (faith) shall never be a source of enmity. On the contrary, it strengthens and consolidates further the foundation of nation rebuilding. Islam has never viewed adherents of other faiths as the other enemy in a siege mentality of sorts and in a zero-sum relationship.

This brings us to the subject of fiqh of coexistence (Fiqh Ta’ayyush). This was amply exemplified by the wisdom of the Prophet in his governance of the cosmopolitan of the early Madinah society through the social contract of the Sahifah Madinah (Medina constitution).

Among others, the bedrock of the social contract is inclusivity for the attainment of social harmony. This cohesive integration and relations between adherents of different religions, ethnicities and cultures is contained in the jurisprudence of citizenship (Fiqh Al-Mawatanah).

Islam advocates the principle of equity (al-Musaawa) as being cardinal in determining the rights and responsibilities of citizens, assuming everyone to be a first-class citizen, neither relativised nor reduced and relegated.

Such a sociopolitical construct would prevent prejudicial and hostile perceptions between the different religious and racial communities. In fact, it endears and enhances both civilisational and multicultural dialogues.

The hideous politics of race and religion becomes even more emotive when presented under the rubric of dismantling unending economic disparity of wealth and income based on race or ethnicity. Yet the real causative factors of inequality — the greed and dishonesty of the super-rich and the corrupt politicians — never get to be addressed and debunked.

Thus, Allah’s reprimand in verse 8 of Surah Al-Ma’idah: “Be steadfast witnesses for Allah for Justice. Let not hatred of any people seduce you that you deal not justly. Deal justly, that is nearer to righteousness.”

It is our fervent hope that there is a better understanding of Islam in Malaysia and an appreciation that faith can bring our society together rather than divide us. We urge religious scholars to boldly repudiate the hostile politics of race and religion, and to reaffirm the ideas of community, inclusiveness, mutual respect and justice.

It is time for Islam to be seen as a faith that brings Malaysians together, making us stronger.

Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad is strategy director at Parti Amanah Negara