Self-censorship among non-Muslims ‘unhealthy’, say academics

by Gan Pei Ling, 13 Jan 2018 © The Malaysian Insight

A GROWING culture of self-censorship among non-Muslims in Malaysia to avoid offending subjective Muslim sensitivity is unhealthy, said social scientists.

“It has become ingrained in non-Muslims to respect Muslim sensitivity, but what is sensitive is often subjective,” Universiti Sains Malaysia political scientist Azmil Tayeb told The Malaysian Insight today.

He was commenting on the practice of non-Muslim business owners to avoid the depiction of dogs, animals considered unclean by Muslims, in shopping malls and stores as Chinese Malaysians prepare to usher in the Year of the Dog on February 16.

“It’s definitely not healthy. It’s ridiculous. The tolerance is one way. This is due to years of intimidation (from some authorities). It’s overboard.

“Because non-Muslims have been told so many times not to offend, they think this is the best way to be safe than sorry,” said the expert on Islamic politics in Southeast Asia.

Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association president Taufiq Yap Yun Hin said personally, he does not feel offended by canine images but he can understand other Muslims may not feel the same.

Wary of public backlash, businesses in Malaysia have often been careful not to offend Muslim sensitivities.

Earlier this month, the Giant Hypermarket courted controversy from netizens for selling a T-shirt of the 12 zodiac animals, but the dog and pig images were replaced with characters spelling out the animals’ names.

In October 2016, pretzel chain Auntie Anne’s was asked to rename its “Pretzel Dog” to “Pretzel Sausage” by the Malaysia Islamic Development Department (Jakim).

The same year, a half-man, half-pig character in the Chinese New Year blockbuster Monkey King 2 was removed from its original posters. The film distributor, Golden Screen Cinemas, said it modified the poster on its own initiative.

The book launch was jointly organised by independent book distributor Gerakbudaya and Institute of Malaysian & International Studies (Ikmas), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

In conjunction with the launch a panel discussion was held.

Azmil, Taufiq and International Islamic University Malaysia Islamic expert Maszlee Malik were part of the discussion panel on a book on Chinese Muslim cultures in Indonesia authored by Ikmas research fellow Hew Wai Weng.

Ikmas Associate Professor Helen Ting moderated the discussion.

Maszlee said the cultural dominance of Malay Muslims in Malaysia has prompted many Chinese Muslim converts to feel the need to assert their Chinese identity.

“A lot of them find Malay supremacy disturbing… The moment they become Muslims, they feel they have to show that they are still Chinese. I bet Taufiq never went around wearing a traditional Chinese shirt before he became a Muslim,” he quipped.

Maszlee added that he has observed Chinese converts here finding various ways to retain their ethnic culture, including learning Mandarin.

He said Malaysians need to respect and appreciate, and not just tolerate the cultural and religious diversity in the country and around the world.

For instance, he said Chinese Muslims in northern Thailand see themselves as distinct from the Muslims in Bangkok, southern Thailand and mainland China.

“The word tolerance is very dirty. It means you could dislike something or someone but you tolerate it. In your heart, there is still disgruntlement. That’s not the way forward.

“We must not neglect the basic essence of humanity, which is mutual respect. If you don’t respect others, people won’t respect you,” he said.

Malay Muslims need to speak up against extremism

by Gan Pei Ling, 22 October 2017 © The Malaysian Insight

MORE Malay Muslims must speak out against religious extremism and curtails on intellectual freedom, say panelists at a forum on reason and faith in society today.

Citing the ongoing debate over the Muslim-only launderette as an example, social activist Marina Mahathir said it would have been akin to the beginning of apartheid.

“It’s about dividing the Muslims and non-Muslims. It’s the beginning of apartheid. Therefore we have a right to say stop,” she said to a packed room at the University of Nottingham Malaysia teaching centre in Kuala Lumpur.

She added that the royal backlash against preacher Zamihan Mat Zin, who supported the establishment of Muslim-only launderette, was unusual.

“When it comes to religion, people are quite afraid to speak up because they have seen what happen to people who speak out like the late Kassim Ahmad.

“Not everyone agree with what’s going on. It’s a culture of fear. We need more people to speak up, not just us the usual lot (on the panel), to say enough is enough,” said Marina.

Beside the culture of fear, Zaharom Nain from University of Nottingham Malaysia believes an insular siege mentality among Malay Muslims also restrict them from speaking their minds freely about religion.

“Some of the polls that have been done indicate that. Media like Utusan Malaysia, Berita Harian and TV3 that is the dominant media in rural areas provide a skewed picture of Malaysia,” said Zaharom.

Universiti Malaya law lecturer Azmi Sharom added that few political parties with a Malay Muslim majority dared to speak up against the growing extremism.

“What we need are the people from Amanah and Bersatu to say no we cannot allow this to continue,” he said.

He added that none of these political parties have been brave enough to openly oppose PAS president Hadi Awang’s proposal to amend the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act to implement hudud.

“They think it’s political suicide, that they will be accused of being a murtad if they don’t support it,” said Azmi.

He added that it is up to Malay Muslims on the ground to make intellectual freedom a political issue otherwise politicians will not care.

Azmi was referring to the recent ban on a book authored by a US-based Turkish journalist Mustafa Akyol and Mustafa’s detention by Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department (Jawi).

Isham Pawan Ahmad from the International Islamic University Malaysia said Malay Muslims must be more discerning between man-made and divine ideas.

“It’s your right to listen to different ideas and make a decision for yourself.

“When the Prophet said something, his followers would ask: Is that a revelation or your opinion? If it’s your opinion, we can discuss it. Islam values shura (mutual consultation),” he said.