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Promote greater religious tolerance

  • The Malaysian society is becoming increasingly intolerant as the status of Islam is accorded undue priority.

Sin Chew Daily

The US Department of State said in a recent report that the Malaysian society is becoming increasingly intolerant, as the status of Islam is given undue priority.

The International Religious Freedom Report for 2016 has been inspecting the status of religious freedom in Malaysia from government and social aspects.

Although the report cannot fully reflect the actual situation in this country, and we do not actually need to accept in totality the viewpoints of the Americans, it nevertheless highlights the alarming trend of religionization that warrants some serious concern among Malaysians.

Malaysia is a multiracial, multireligious country with Islam as its official religion. However, other religions are allowed to be practised and developed freely here.

Unfortunately, we have seen a spate of controversial issues involving religious factors in recent years that not only worry us but will also pose potential threats to the harmony of our multicultural society and is unfavorable to the promotion of national unity.

Among the incidents that have caught our attention is the tabling of the private member's bill to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 (RUU355) in the Parliament by PAS.

It has been generally believed that the bill is meant to expand the jurisdiction of the syariah courts in paving the way for the ultimate implementation of hudud laws.

The bill was allowed to be tabled in Dewan Rakyat on April 6, but has yet to go into the debate stage as of today. Follow-up developments of this issue could leave an indelible mark on the country's religionization agenda and is therefore closely watched by the entire Malaysian society.

In addition to the tabling of the private member's bill on RUU355, PAS is also stepping up its religionization effort in Kelantan, raising much concern among non-Muslims in the state.

Generally speaking, non-Muslims should not be subjected to such religious policies under the principle of mutual respect for our cultural diversity. Nevertheless, non-Muslim female hairdressers in the state have been slapped with summons tickets for offering their services to male customers, while a watch shop run by a non-Muslim has been fined for putting up "indecent" posters.

Down to the street level, there is an evident trend of religious issues becoming increasingly sensitive. Two years ago, a Langkawi housing estate found itself at the center of a controversy owing to a roof structure that resembled a cross seen from afar. The Kedah state government subsequently ordered the developer to have the structure modified.

More recently, a statue in a Kulim park has been removed as it allegedly touched on "religious sensitivity".

All these point to the fact that indeed Malaysia is moving down the path of religionization. But luckily, we have also seen a large number of people willing to stand up in defense of our secular system and prevent the country from cruising down the road of conservatism.

Malaysia is a multicultural country and all ethnic groups and religions here must demonstrate a greater dose of tolerance towards one another. Religionization will never be the way for a multiracial society like ours.


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