Bigotry wrapped in prayer is still bigotry

Azrul Mohd Khalib
The Malay Mail Online
December 18, 2015

DECEMBER 18 ― When I first heard of last week’s seminar “Ancaman gerakan pemurtadan Kristianisasi” (Threat of the Christianisation movement), my first reaction wasn’t to sigh in exasperation at the wanton abuse by the administrators of the Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Lendu campus of the trust and mandate to educate young minds.

It wasn’t my outrage that this is yet another example of how ignorant and misinformed dogma and bigotry have somehow percolated and seeped into the minds of our educators at one of our institutions of higher learning.

I was dismayed that the Police DiRaja Malaysia (PDRM) saw fit to attend and present at this seminar. Our women and men in dark blue are supposed to enforce the law, keep the peace and protect the lives and property of all Malaysians.

PDRM’s presence and participation at such an event, while not ― as the IGP rightly points out ― unlawful, sends the wrong message and provides legitimacy and credibility to something that is more suited to the fringe, paranoid and crazy-eyed crowd.

PDRM’s participation in this kind of seminar by virtue of its presence, provides support and endorsement to the idea that Christians, their faith and their actions could, or in this case, should be considered and viewed as national security threats.

I cannot emphasise enough that this viewpoint is not only wrong and malicious, but also that this is actually religious bigotry disguised as righteousness.

Religious bigotry is a virus that is immune to rationality, reason, logic and sense. Indeed, the cornerstone of those who preach such attitudes is that they demand unquestioning compliance and obedience. They tolerate no dissenting or contrarian opinions. They tell you that you are not allowed to use your mind or akal to reason or rationalise issues related to religion. If that sounds wrong to you, that’s because it is wrong.

A whole book of Quranic text is rendered meaningless if it is misused and abused to justify such views. Bigotry wrapped in prayer is still bigotry.

When you believe that it is necessary to deliberately belittle, instil fear or threaten the religion of others in the belief that it would strengthen your own, then your iman or faith must be very weak indeed. What does it then say about us Muslims?

It is unfortunate that UiTM seems to have a particular obsession and zealousness when it comes to this supposed threat of Christian proselytisation. This is the second time in two years that it has organised such an event.

Let’s not forget that this is a university that stands to receive an allocation of almost RM2 billion under next year’s federal budget. The largest allocation for a public university by a massive margin. Most of the other 19 public institutions of higher learning are only receiving between RM100–550 million. Mind you, this is money from taxpayers who are both Muslims and non-Muslim. Why are they using our money to provoke religious hatred, suspicion and fear of other Malaysians?

Nevertheless, I am heartened by the many responses of rejection and revulsion from decent, right-minded religious Muslims who have been appalled at the abuses represented by this UiTM seminar. Some of the students who attended the event reportedly left with expressions of disgust and condemnation similar to the recent statements of Council of Churches Malaysia general secretary Reverend Dr Hermen Shastri and DAP’s Dyana Sofya.

How can we tolerate people educating our children to point their fingers at a group of people of a different faith and say that, because of who they are and based on often wild and unsubstantiated accusations of proselytization and conversations, they are a threat?

Under the aegis of academic discourse and debate, it might actually be good to have an honest-to-god discussion about these issues to address realities, misconceptions and provide clarity to where there are only assumptions, suspicions and fear.

But I notice that rarely do organisers of such discussions invite representatives from those they are busy vilifying. It’s a cowardly approach and it is a form of oppression, especially when it is state sanctioned.

Conservative Muslim group Isma recently pointed to the existence of Christmas trees in shopping malls as proof positive that Christians in Malaysia are not oppressed. This is the kind of shallow, insipid and jaw-dropping banality that we have come to expect from this group.

But you know what? For once, I found myself agreeing with them. Ya lah, it could be worse.

We could be like Brunei, where the Grinch successfully robbed Christmas on the basis that it would lead Muslims astray. Where public celebration of this day such as wearing a Santa hat, reindeer headbands and having Christmas trees openly displayed could get you fined BND20,000, a five-year imprisonment or both. Imagine people dressed up and walking about as old St. Nick in the distinctive red and white fur-trim getting arrested, thrown facedown onto a patrol car, hands twisted behind and put into handcuffs by religious authorities. The top song on Brunei’s Christmas playlist this year? Silent Night.

As usual, we pride ourselves in measuring against the lowest possible denominator. Syabas dan bersyukurlah.

Once again, we hear nothing from our religious authorities who seem to condone and even encourage such thinking and excesses related to Christianity in Malaysia. There are so many who speak of the practices of the Prophet but very few seem to believe in them when it comes to inter-religious dialogue and co-existence.

I know that it all sounds like a broken record. That we have said it all before. I have since realised that there is often just no reasoning with such people. If individual Muslims persist to wallow and revel in their ignorance and support of events such as the one organised by UiTM, there seems to be no way of stopping them.

What we can start doing is to hold such organisations and institutions accountable for promoting religious bigotry and hate, especially when they use public money to do so.

We cannot ignore this bigotry nor pretend that it does not exist. We have done that for far too long believing that by doing so, we would not inflame the situation further. Tolerating this prejudice risks inuring us to its presence. We must speak out and reject such bigotry. Our tolerance simply enables it, while our silence allows it to grow.

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