The call by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, in Shah Alam yesterday for unity between followers of Islam’s two biggest schools, Sunni and Shia, is probably the first good news not only for Muslims but also for Malaysians in this year’s Ramadan as the past 12 days of the holy month in the Muslim calender have been dominated by negative voices of unreason – raucous, divisive and extremist – threatening the very fabric of Malaysia’s multi-racial and multi-religious nationhood.
Najib’s message to the Muslim world to learn to set aside whatever differences among the different denominations and coexist peacefully if it intends to guarantee its own future applies equally true and pertinent to the diverse races, religions and cultures in Malaysia if the Malaysian nation is to fulfil its Merdeka promise in 1957 to be “a beacon of light in a disturbed and distracted world” and not to become a basket case instead in the international arena.
Najib ‘s call for the unity of Sunni and Shia is particularly welcome as Middle and Moderate Malaysia, both Muslim and non-Muslim, had been most upset by a campaign of persecution and vilification of Shia Muslims, with calls at the UMNO General Assembly last December to spell out the definition of Islam as “Sunna waL Jamaah” in the Federal Constitution as well as recent developments in Syria and Iraq.
Najib said that continued antagonism between the two competing ideologies is the single biggest reason Muslims are fighting each other in the Middle East, despite the fact that they all believe in the same fundamental struggle for Islam.
“The simplest analogy I would use is that both the Shia and Sunni are on the same highway. The only difference is that they are on different lanes. Even the destination is the same.
“So long as we don’t switch lanes and push others, accidents would not happen and if there are no accidents, everyone will arrive safely at our destination.”
This highway analogy applies not only to Sunni and Shia Muslims, but also to the different religions as the Federal Constitution has guaranteed freedom of religion in Malaysia.
If this highway analogy had been strictly adhered to, there would not have been a crackdown on Shia Muslims in the country or the incessant stoking and incitement of racial and religious hatred, conflict and tensions in the past year.
The question is whether Najib is prepared to provide leadership as Prime Minister, both in the country and internationally, be a voice of moderation advocating not only peaceful and harmonious co-existence among Sunni and Shia but also among all religions to fulfil the aspiration of our 1957 Merdeka Proclamation to make Malaysia “a beacon of light for a disturbed and distracted world”?
Does Najib have a Cabinet who is prepared to give him full backing to be such a voice of moderation?