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Thread: Religion: Freeing the Malays and Muslims from religious mind control

   
   
       
  1. #1
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    Religion: Freeing the Malays and Muslims from religious mind control

    Freeing the Malays and Muslims from religious mind control



    Written by Pak Sako

    Monday, 12 September 2011 14:22



    Contributors


    There appears to be a Malay-Islamic Inquisition in Malaysia.

    It does not involve burnings at the stake.

    It comes as ostracism at school, the workplace and in the community for failing to comply with rigid parameters. Not wearing a headscarf is frowned upon. Transgenders are institutional pariahs.

    Religious arrogance and zealotry are norms. Muslim leaders can assuredly rebuff equal partnership on inter-religious discussion panels. The Islamic moral police is free to raid churches and insult the Malay person’s dignity and autonomy.

    Refusal to play along with another community’s passion for its customs is condemned as chauvinistic or unconstitutional – the fate of elected representatives in Sarawak who chose the customary suit and tie over expensive uniforms and songkoks for a state assembly opening.

    Closing the gap with South Korea or Singapore at the top of quality-of-life indicators such as the UN Human Development Index is a minor national concern.

    We are prouder to have been ranked by the Pew Forum’s Government Restriction Index alongside Saudi Arabia and Iran as world champions in constricting religious freedoms and other civil rights.

    The time has come to face the facts. ‘Moderate Malaysia’ and ‘moderate Islam’ are as good as dead. If our interest is to revive moderateness, we do not flog dead hypes. We must address the causes of death.

    The problem

    Two pervasive mentalities stand out among the chief culprits. They are racial and religious supremacy.
    Racial supremacy expects non-Malay citizens to be eternally grateful to the Malay race for granting their forefathers citizenship at Independence. It demands from the non-Malays unquestionable deference to the Malays, their culture and arbitrary declarations of Malay rights or privileges.

    Religious supremacy is the conviction that the Islamic belief is superior to all other beliefs and that it is the only path to true spirituality. Its adherents must not compromise on officially stipulated Islamic ideas and practices and cannot opt-out of the religion. Non-believers are fodder for conversion.

    A set of underlying reasons drive these mentalities. Political motives aside, there is a historical fear of disenfranchisement; a concept of entitlement as an exclusive birthright; envy; low self-esteem; a craving for a source of self-pride; a fear of the new or alien; meekness; and narrow-mindedness.
    Supremacism is sold as the cure-all. But it only adds to the problem.

    The projection of cultural or religious might becomes a pretext for the powerful to impose conformity and thereby control upon a majority. Behind the false security of religious dogma or ethnic nationalism, it is spiritually and psychologically defeating. It turns what should be a happy bazaar of exchange between cultures into a cautious tightrope walk. It sabotages nation-building, whatever the unifying slogan or initiative devised.

    Consider how this plays out in Malay-non-Malay relations.

    The ordinary Malay in Malaysia is kept at a near constant state of anxiety by the tirade about the non-Malays seeking to usurp Malay political and economic rights. The Malays are repeatedly called on to be united in the name of race and religion to fend off this imagined strike. To alleviate his insecurities the Malay is offered:
    1. A political guarantee that national policy will be dictated by the Malays (or Muslims) and economic concessions in the form of government jobs for the unemployable etc. These are promised in exchange for support for certain political parties and obedience to hierarchy;
    2. Supposed spiritual salvation by thorough religious submission. This is codified in law, taught in religious education, enforced by religious bodies and reinforced by social and peer pressure; and
    3. Financial incentives such as easy loans and credit for material intoxication by retail therapy and a temporary relative wealth effect vis-à-vis the non-Malays.
    There is no commensurate effort to unleash the Malay mind and encourage the Malay person to seize the day, excel, question, take charge, propose or dissent. Political leaders and the religious bureaucracy do not favour this; an empowered people puts at stake their political influence and economic privilege.
    The outcome is a large class of Malays that is averse to thinking, recoils from taking responsibility and content with following instructions. Ennui, the deep weariness and dissatisfaction stemming from mindless satiety and boredom, is a common affliction.

    It is to this oppressive vacuity that the non-Malays are portrayed as ‘threats’. It is also implied that the non-Malay cultures and attitudes can weaken Malay religiosity or morals (see, for example, Jakim’s 'Guidelines for Muslims celebrating religious festivals of non-Muslims').

    The Malays, for their part, are seen by the non-Malays as being exclusive and hegemonic with their loudspeakers and educational and economic quotas.

    The result is isolation between the communities, the straining of social ties under the slightest provocation and the successful thwarting of real solidarity between the races.

    The usual prescription is for the non-Malays to toe the line, to adapt without protest, or— told more gently by a prominent Malay DAP member— to be “responsive” to the Malays’ “primordial sentiments of culture and religion”.

    This misguided paradigm must go.

    A proposal

    Since the primary point of attack is the Malay psyche, the remedy must as a matter of course focus on the Malays. Liberating the Malays from mind control is key to improving the Malay lot and normalising race relations.

    There is however a limited window of opportunity for action. This window is closing with the increasing Islamisation of Malaysia. A new way of seeing and doing is therefore urgent.

    It must culminate in new rules of engagement that redefine the attitudes of the Malays and non-Malays, the relations between these communities and the institutional setup encompassing these.

    A blueprint would read as follows:

    1. For the Malay individual:

    (a) To do what is necessary to be confident. Self-esteem must arise primarily from character and ability, not from external sources such as racial and religious hubris.

    (b) To be outgoing and socially inclusive. To expand one’s company beyond just one racial or religious community in as many settings as possible.

    (c) To take action instead of simply reacting. To not restrict oneself to old activities or ways of doing.

    (d) To be able to evaluate and decide a personal response to matters of custom and religion. To not capitulate under coercion and social pressure to conform to a fixed way or idea.

    (e) To be receptive to new information, ideas and values. To be able to reflect on them critically, and fairly (to give equal consideration to the pros and cons).

    (f) To be able to be critical of one’s own cherished ideas and beliefs. To be able to accept outside criticisms and see them as opportunities for learning and improvement, not as a call to war.

    (g) To be above viewing the world purely in black and white. To acquire the vantage that enables one to see that a diversity of ideas and beliefs can and do co-exist, and that this is natural and not wrong.

    2. For the Malay community:

    (a) To boldly review customs and belief systems that might function to enslave or disadvantage the community or its members. This would involve beliefs and practices that condone blind faith in an idea or decree and blind allegiance in a leader or a scholar.

    (b) To cultivate amongst its members the habit of questioning norms and authority. To not accept rules or statements out of fear or mere confidence in an authority. To be able to verify the rationales behind rules and remarks and judge whether they are just or not.

    (c) To accept the individual’s right to consider his practice of customs and religion as a personal matter; that advice or guidance may be provided by religious bodies for a community, but that these beliefs and practices should not be forced upon any member of the community. To encourage individuals to evaluate religious precepts and advice by reference to their intellect and own sense of what is right or wrong.

    3. For both the Malay and non-Malay communities:

    (a) The non-Malays must treat the Malays as fellow brothers and sisters, with dignity, understanding and compassion. Effort should be made to communicate and interact with, not shun, the Malay community.

    (b) The Malays must reciprocate. In addition, the Malays must rightfully regard their non-Malay brothers and sisters as equal citizens.

    (c) To overcome cultural hypersensitivity. To be tactful in making suggestions or be gracious in receiving suggestions pertaining to the so-called ‘sensitive issues’ (for example, matters relating to places of worship).

    (d) To cease to see the preferences or cultural particulars of another community as slights or threats. To cultivate instead an appreciation for the value of diversity. To be able to partake in the festivities of any community without excessive anxieties or scruples.

    4. For the progressive and liberal Malays:

    (a) To inspire their fellow Malays to break out of restrictive thinking and habits.

    (b) To take the initiative to speak out against policies, laws and actions which inhibit their people’s material and mental progress.

    (c) To support Malay or Islamic organisations and movements that are progressive.

    5. For political leaders, institutions and other authorities:

    (a) To refrain from speech and action that sow suspicion and division between the Malays and non-Malays or cause a community to feel excluded.

    (b) Religious bodies and leaders in particular may educate the public but should never engage in actions that humiliate their targets or compel them to do what is not in their hearts.

    (c) To ensure that religious laws and regulations do not discriminate against people by gender, sexual orientation or religious denomination. To disapprove biased interpretations of these laws and regulations.

    6. For political parties:

    (a) To resolutely uphold and espouse progressive living and thinking. To favour inclusive values and ideologies over narrow and exclusive ones.

    (b) To cease from propagating or condoning any form of religious chauvinism (the act of putting one religion ahead of or above all others) because of the political expediency of securing votes.

    7. The social environment:

    (a) To create an environment that allows cultural, intellectual and physical interaction between the races that is free from fear, prejudice and other obstructions.

    The foregoing is by no means complete, but it indicates the general spirit that any such 'social contract' must have.

    It must in essence motivate the Malays to take control of the wheels of their destiny. The immediate implications are for the Malays to free themselves from religious programming and assert their authority from the grassroots upward.

    The prospect may be scary. But the old way of being led by the nose is destructive. The Malays should no longer remain as feudalistic subjects of the political and religious elite. The elite owe the Malays that dignity.
    py

  2. #2
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    Will Malays be allowed to choose their religion?



    Written by Norani Abu BakarFriday, 18 November 2011 15:58


    E-Media
    Will there come a day in Malaysia when allMalays can proudly proclaim that he chose of his own free will to be a believer of Islam instead of just being born Muslim because the Constitution says so, and kept forever a Muslim because of our strict laws?


    Introduction by CPI
    The article below appeared yesterday in the New Mandala website. We’re reproducing it in CPI (with permission) in the public interest given recent developments where the Malay-Muslim community has appeared to be agitated by fears of Christian proselytization.

    In an illuminating commentary, the writer Norani Abu Bakar points to a reverse scenario where tens of thousands of Latino Americans and African Americans have freely chosen to embrace Islam and the number of converts is rapidly increasing each year.

    This has happened in a Christian majority country where their constitutional framework does not constrain religious freedom. It has led Norani to conclude that on the other side of the coin, “choice of religion is not antithetical to the Muslim faith and can in fact lead to a deep embrace of its teachings”.

    We will also be reproducing the initial article by Joshua Woo which has precipitated this response from Norani. We look forward to hearing from our readers on this key subject which is important not only to Muslims here but also in the Muslim world generally.
    *******************************
    Freedom of faith for Malaysian Malays


    by Norani Abu Bakar
    Although Joshua Woo Sze Zeng’s ‘Apostasy in Malaysia: The Hidden View,’ has showcased the scholarship of some renowned Muslim scholars and leaders, their perspective continues to be “hidden” to the majority Malaysians, Muslims and non-Muslims.

    Joshua Woo raised an important question, “Why do Muslim politicians tell us only one perspective?” Why indeed does the Malaysian government not strive to educate 1Malaysia, especially Malaysian Muslims, with progressive Islamic teachings that could promote not only faith and action, but also reason? Can’t Malays voluntarily give all – heart, hands, and head – to God? They can, and should be empowered to do so.

    Obviously, when Tun Ahmad Badawi launched his vision of ‘Civilizational Islam,’ the Malaysian government was partially convinced that progressive Islam could help the nation flourish. Now it would be to Malaysia’s advantage to further synchronize the classical and modernist Islamic teachings as ethically relevant in daily social life. Such a movement need not be de-Islamising but instead may foster a renaissance for Islam.

    Ignorance about what does and does not constitute Islam is hindering Malaysia’s goal of becoming a fully developed nation by 2020. What are the criteria that a majority Muslim country must have in order to be a developed world player? Tariq Ramadan of Oxford University, one of the most prominent Muslim scholars in this century, wrote in Globalisation Muslim Resistance:

    “To be the voice of the voiceless is a moral imperative today. To stand for the rights of those who have been forgotten … and of all the oppressed of the earth is the most explicit expression of our consistencies of our principles and our ethics.”

    These are values that Malaysia can offer on the world stage, but the effort must first begin within our own homeland. The current conflict about apostasy and proselytising, among other faith and cultural issues, must be urgently and purposefully addressed in a way that is consistent with the ethos of 1Malaysia, which insists that all citizens must be treated equally and with justice. In other words, we must move away from Malaysia’s previously ethnocentric model towards a more religio and ethno-relative nation.

    As society matures through discourse and debate on difficult issues, it will become more aware and more concerned about the impartiality and injustice of the laws relating to matters of faith, particularly in the harsh treatment of those deemed apostates. Meanwhile, the voices and writings of critical thinkers, grass roots activists and leaders are evidence of an increasing demand for nuance in conversation. 1Malaysia’s spirit of solidarity is modelled in the support of key change agents who, regardless of their ethnics and faiths background, stay united in the midst of resolving contentious issues; clearly, a hermeneutic change is on its way, and no government can avoid the momentum of this change.

    In general, the response to converts is articulated on three levels: the grass roots movements; the federal and state governments; and the scholars and strategic thinkers. Although this description is simple and does not represent voices of all citizens, it covers the voices of the majority of the population and key players and provides a reasonable starting point. Thus far, confusion and distress have arisen from a lack of experience and humility in handling this issue, the failure of current framework to allow “hidden” information to trickle down, and poor leadership in thriving towards reasoned and harmonious responses on apostasy. It also causes the Malaysian non-Muslims (40 percent), especially the converts from Islam – who love the country and contribute tremendously to its growth – to feel that they live in an “unsafe” environment. This “fear for own safety” is surely one of the contributing factors towards Malaysia’s brain drain problem.

    In tackling this issue systematically – all three groups need to move towards the same direction while sufficient space and time are graciously allocated for each to rub against each other until tension is eased. The foremost step is to “intentionally” draw insights on what is right according to Malaysia context in order to synchronize progress. Then, to study the current situation of each group, what went right and wrong, prior to developing proper and standard procedures and remedying what went wrong.

    At the grass roots level, ‘Christianophobia’ for example, can be mitigated through agreed-upon standard of dialogue discussing pressing issues, e.g. the etymologies and definitions of proselytizing, da’wa, and evangelism; differences, and boundaries. Dr Rick Love in his paper “Ethics of Da’wa and Evangelism – Respecting the Other and Freedom in Religion” presented two principles derived from his discussion with nine Egyptian Sheikhs and two Syrian muftis: first – da’wa and evangelism should focus on a positive presentation of what one believes, not on negative attacks on the other’s faith; second – converts should not be held as public “trophies” to humiliate the other faith community.

    Instead of harsh condemnation such as what was spoken against the evangelical Christians during Himpun, these are some constructive points that Muslims’ NGOs could have proposed to help Christians understand Muslims’ expectation on evangelism, and vice versa. Similarly, mutually respecting dialogue can be developed with the adherents of other faith traditions. Dialoguing with love with “others” is indeed a fundamental and common value among mankind, as advocated by the World Interfaith Harmony’s motto: “loving God, loving neighbours, and loving good.”

    In addition to the questions on boundaries in witnessing one’s faith to the other, some of the questions that the classical and modernist Islamic scholars and strategic thinkers need to address are: Shouldn’t Malays or/and “born Muslims” be treated equally in choosing their own religion? Does constitutional protection hinder the true essence of their spirituality? What would be the best pedagogical and religious content for 1Malaysia so that Malaysians can differentiate between faith and true spirituality from false piety and self-righteousness? And finally, is there a convergence on freedom of religion between Islamic values and Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? After all, the declaration asserts:

    “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

    Joshua Woo’s writing offers the answer to this last question. Change requires some restructuring at the governmental and grass roots levels, and although it is complex, it is possible. What matters is that the truth, that “there is no compulsion in religion,” (Surah 2:256) prevails. Treatment of converts from Islam must be consistent to Surah 8:61 “If they seek peace, then seek you peace. And trust in God for He is the One that heareth and knoweth all things.”

    Samuel Huntington in his book, Who are we? The Challenges to America’s National Identity, relates to Surah 2:256 when he characterizes voluntary decision as the “freedom for religion” and not “freedom from religion.” This is indeed the concept that benchmarks the shift towards an extraordinary expansion of religious institutions and religious life in the United States. The New York Times (22 Oct 2001) reported that “One expert estimates that 25,000 people a year become Muslims in the USA; some clerics say they have seen conversion rates quadruple since Sept. 11.”

    The Pluralism Project at Harvard University in 2003, for example, reported a surprising finding that tens of thousands of Latino Americans and African Americans have “chosen” Islam as faith. The number of converts from Islam in Malaysia is nothing compared to these numbers. Are there any lessons that can be learned from this Christian majority country where constitutional framework “born Muslim” is non-existing? Clearly, choice of religion is not antithetical to the Muslim faith and can in fact lead to a deep embrace of its teachings.

    The next 1Malaysia generation will look back to the day when this country first embraced the core essence of both civilized nationhood and true Islamic values, i.e. the day when all citizens have the “freedom for religion and faith.” This is the day when a Malay Muslim, like other Malaysians of any ethnic background, can proudly proclaim that he or she has chosen to be a believer of Islam instead of being born Muslim.

    It is now up to the current government to decide if it wants to benchmark what will be the most momentous moment in Malaysia’s history. This decision will be the determining factor in the Malaysian government’s ability to propagate the progressive and beautiful values that Islam possesses, which have been known among the enlightened but so long “hidden” from the masses.

    Norani Abu Bakar is a Post Graduate Fellow at Yale Centre for Faith and Culture (YCFR) and the Asia Project Director of Pathways for Mutual Respect (PFMR). She can be contacted at norani.abubakar@yale.edu and blogs at Loving God and Neighbors
    py

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