Not for PM to say one religion superior to another

By John Malott

Bernama recently commented that I have “gone off the rails” because of my Feb 8 op-ed in the Asian Wall Street Journal.

To prove its point, the news agency gave just two examples. First, that I was wrong in saying that Malaysia’s needs to grow by eight percent annually over the coming decade to achieve Vision 2020 and higher income status.

In my defence (Who’s off the rails, Bernama? Part 1), I revealed the source of my ‘error’ – a speech and report from Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.

Bernama also took me to task for saying that racial and religious tensions in Malaysia are higher today than when Najib (right) took office and are worse than at any time since the riots of 1969.

It pointed out that one week after my article appeared, Najib attended a meeting of the Malaysia Interfaith Council to commemorate World Interfaith Harmony Week.

My crystal ball obviously was out of order, because I did not know that the prime minister would attend that meeting and express his support for the group’s work. Bernama is right; he should be praised for doing so.

But Bernama’s crystal ball also was out of order, because it did not know that just four days later, Najib would undercut his good deed when he warned against religious pluralism and said that other religions are not equal before Allah.

Asma Uddin, a Muslim attorney in Washington, who is the editor-in-chief of Altmuslimah, has pointed out that there are four different views of religious pluralism among Muslims.

A few, she says, see non-Muslims as the enemy. Others view non-Muslims as people to whom the message of Islam must be preached.

Still others see people of other faiths as deserving of tolerance and mutual respect, while still believing that Islam is superior to other religions. Another group goes beyond mere tolerance and believes that other faiths are equally valid theologically to Islam.

With his comments that other religions deserve respect but are not equal before Allah, Najib appears to hold the third view – that Islam is superior to other religions.

When Islamic scholars and a government think tank said the same thing last December, (Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department) Nazri Aziz (left) disagreed and said, “I cannot accept [that]. I believe Islam does not ask you to say things like that.”

Nazri told The Malaysian Insider, “You should have enough faith to be confident of your own beliefs and not belittle the beliefs of others. It all comes from inferiority complex.”

But it’s OK for the prime minister to say that Islam is superior, says Rev Thomas Phillips, president of the Malaysian Consultative Council for Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism. Followers of every faith believe that their religion is the best, he says, and the prime minister is just taking a theological stand.

Phillips is correct that the leaders and adherents of every religion believe that their faith is better than all others. In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI asserted that Christianity is superior to other faiths, and within Christianity, Catholicism is superior to Protestantism.

Even within Islam, there are disagreements. Malaysia recognises only the Sunni form of Islam, and last December religious police arrested over 200 Shiites who were praying on the Day of Ashura.

But the prime minister of 1Malaysia is not a theologian or religious figure. He is the leader of the government. The constitution simply says that “Islam is the religion of the federation;” the constitution does not say that Islam is superior to all other religions.

It says that other religions “may be practised in peace and harmony”. In asserting his views on what should be left to religious leaders as a theological issue, Najib, who says that 1Malaysia’s goal is to enhance the nation’s unity, has demeaned the religious beliefs of 40 percent of his fellow citizens who are not Muslim and told them that they are not equal before God.

Jakim to explain

The prime minister reportedly said that he will call on government Islamic agencies such as Jakim to explain the issue of religious pluralism to Muslims.

But even before it could try to explain the issue, Jakim has been told by the Prime Minister’s Office that its first act is to identify groups in Malaysia and overseas that are trying to promote pluralism, so it does not take root and “destabilise the country”.

Jakim, of course, is the agency that has been on a crusade against Valentine’s Day and issued the guidelines that Hardev Kaur enforced when she “recommended” that crosses be removed before the prime minister came to the Catholic archbishop’s Christmas Day open house.

Those guidelines even said that Muslims should not attend events where people wear “red costumes like Santa Claus or other garments that reflect religion”.

That is the first time I have heard that a Santa Claus suit is a religious garment.

As for Valentine’s Day, Jakim’s head Wan Mohamad Sheikh Abdul Aziz (right) said that it “is associated with elements of Christianity”, and “we just cannot get involved with other religions’ worshipping rituals”.

Here’s a message for Wan Mohamed: When I give my wife chocolate and roses on Valentine’s Day, it’s about my wife, not Jesus.

When Jakim – an arm of the Malaysian government and part of the Prime Minister’s Department – displays this level of ignorance, it casts doubt on their ability to provide guidance and educate Muslims about other peoples’ religions.

It also demonstrates the need for a genuine interfaith dialogue in Malaysia.

When he attended the Interfaith Council gathering, Najib said its discussions should be kept private because they are too sensitive for public debate.

Perhaps what is needed is the opposite. If religion is a sensitive issue, then why are people like Siti Nor Bahyah allowed on the airwaves to disparage other religions? Why does Wan Mohamed utter the words “Christianity and vice activities” in the same sentence?

Is it not possible to conduct an informed interfaith dialogue in public in order to strengthen understanding and reduce religious tensions in Malaysia?

Does Najib really believe that Islam is superior to all other religions? Would he really be offended if he entered a room where a crucifix is displayed?

In my Wall Street Journal op-ed, I said that Najib and his government are doing and saying these things to shore up their political base in the Malay community. And I stand by my opinion.


JOHN MALOTT is a former US ambassador to Malaysia.

  1. #1 by pulau_sibu on Monday, 21 February 2011 - 5:02 pm

    the prime ministers in bolehland think that they are above God. they can judge on anything and their word is final. this simply tells us about the mentality of boleh politicians. of course, only the stupid boleh people listened to them.

  2. #2 by Godfather on Monday, 21 February 2011 - 5:10 pm

    Najib’s kids, and most of the kids of Najib’s cabinet ministers, are sinners, for they partake in beer drinking, partying with scantily clad women, and go to throw some ill-gotten gains at casinos. Yes, they don’t do this in Malaysia, but they commit all these acts overseas.

    Which superior religion condones all these acts ?

  3. #3 by jus legitimum on Monday, 21 February 2011 - 5:30 pm

    It is because there are so many hypocrites and opportunists in Umno and they think they have the power to dictate this and that.If they insist that their religion is superior to others,a lot of people will just vomit and soon half of the country will be inundated.

  4. #4 by drngsc on Monday, 21 February 2011 - 5:52 pm

    When a group of people keep harping on how good they are, and how superior they are, and how great they are, they are just showing their


    Those who are good and great, just go about doing their job, self assured that they are what they are, good and great.

  5. #5 by undertaker888 on Monday, 21 February 2011 - 6:32 pm

    also, there’s one of his guy says Islam practice racism. hitler also practice racism. see how long he stands.

    also the Pharisees n sadducees, the hypocrites of that time proclaiming to be guardian of Gods law. see how they lost God’s favor and let the Romans butchered them in 70AD.

    if they are racist and hypocrites, how can their religion be superior? history has shown they all fall.

  6. #6 by yhsiew on Monday, 21 February 2011 - 6:38 pm

    ///Najib would undercut his good deed when he warned against religious pluralism and said that other religions are not equal before Allah.///

    Religious pluralism means worship more than one god. For example, a Christian worships both Jesus and Buddha. Why must politicians twist the term “religious pluralism” to mean one religion is greater than the other? They should stop politicizing the term to gain political advantage.

  7. #7 by DAP man on Monday, 21 February 2011 - 7:11 pm

    If Najib is a PM for all Malaysians and he bilives in his 1 Malaysia concept he would have also wished Kit happy birthday.
    But then he is a leader of the Malays in UMNO.

  8. #8 by Loh on Monday, 21 February 2011 - 7:34 pm

    ///But it’s OK for the prime minister to say that Islam is superior, says Rev Thomas Phillips, president of the Malaysian Consultative Council for Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism. Followers of every faith believe that their religion is the best, he says, and the prime minister is just taking a theological stand.///

    It is OK only if Najib spoke in his personal capacity; and why should we care how religious he was? It is not alright if he talked about religion in his capacity as Prime Minister because religion has been clearly spelt out in the constitution that every Malaysian is free to practice his religion and that Islam is the official religion of the country. That statement insinuates that it is because of the superiority of the Islamic religion that it is placed as official religion whereas the religion was recognized as official because the rulers practiced it.

  9. #9 by joehancl on Monday, 21 February 2011 - 7:34 pm

    Looking at the Club of Doom countries, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya etc najib thinks the mahdi who sent his sons and daughters is here already. So he better say islam is superior. When sons and daughters have visions dictators and govts. will fall. A new world is coming.

  10. #10 by good coolie on Monday, 21 February 2011 - 8:25 pm

    The superiority of a religion can be established as a “faith belief”: for example, Muslims and Christians each believe in the superiority of their religion based on their internal sources -scripture and carried-down beliefs (tradition). Others however, would (in the absence of direct revelation from God) only believe in the superiority of Islam (or Christianity) if it it is demonstrated to him in objective terms: does the religion contribute to humanity? Is it relevant to the development of human nature? Would it promote human rights? Would it promote peace, stability,and security? It has to be proven to the non-muslim/non-christian that this or that religion is the best!

  11. #11 by Thor on Monday, 21 February 2011 - 9:22 pm

    God created this world for us to live and learn and even made us superior among all living things on this land but human tend to make a fool of themselves by making god looked like an idiot.
    Human tend to create different religion among time as to lead and control the minorities just for selfish gain.

  12. #12 by ktteokt on Monday, 21 February 2011 - 9:55 pm

    Yes, Islam is such a SUPERIOR religion! It has the rights to do everything others are not allowed. Our morning calls, noon calls, afternoon calls, evening calls and night calls are all part of their SUPERIORITY and if you dare say anything on that, you end up like Teresa Kok!!!!

    By the way, I was wondering if NABI MOHAMMED had placed LOUDSPEAKERS on top of his mosque those day! But even if he did, they won’t work because electricity was not discovered yet!

    In this context, would our Muslims be DEVIATING from the teachings of Nabi Mohammed?

  13. #13 by pulau_sibu on Monday, 21 February 2011 - 11:57 pm

    Islam in Malaysia is hijacked by UMNO to be different, so that UMNO is above the God. Islam is not like that in other Islamic countries. We must not get Islam wrong

  14. #14 by pulau_sibu on Tuesday, 22 February 2011 - 12:42 am

    I wonder when will Malay and Iban change the naming practice by adopting a family name. muslims in many other countries have a family name, simply taking Turkey as an example. Name without a family name may end up with close relative marriage and it is confusing when people calling your father instead of you.

  15. #15 by ALtPJK on Tuesday, 22 February 2011 - 12:53 am

    “When he attended the Interfaith Council gathering, Najib said its discussions should be kept private because they are too sensitive for public debate.”

    So…on one hand he wants to be seen encouraging interfaith dialogue but on the other he does not want the public to know what gets discussed.

    Why bother have discussions then?? Does he think it is sufficient for the representatives only to have good relations with each other but not the general public??

    Yet, 4 days after attending the Interfaith Council gathering

    “Najib warned against religious pluralism and said that other religions are not equal before Allah”

    This is DUPLICITY coming from Mr 1Malaysia.

  16. #16 by boh-liao on Tuesday, 22 February 2011 - 2:10 am

    Basically, John just rubbished Najib n Bernama, n confirmed dat d blind is leading a’er blind
    Obviously, NR has not read what RZI wrote:

    “Going to church did not make me less of a Muslim when I was a young girl, and neither does saying “Merry Christmas” make me less of a Muslim now. My faith has not been shaken just because I wished some friends a time of joy with their families. Neither will I suddenly suffer from amnesia and forget what my religion is.

    We are now in the second decade of the 21st century. Surely, we should, now more than ever, be far more enlightened at a time when information of any sort and of all kinds are so readily available to us.

    What is most important is that we regard one another as fellow citizens and treat each other with respect, regardless of our race or religion.”

    Hear, hear! Fr a confident Muslim lady! So different fr NR, scared even of his own shadow

  17. #17 by k1980 on Tuesday, 22 February 2011 - 8:14 am

    They are of the same religion, but are using warplanes to wipe out demonstrators. Will this happen here?

  18. #18 by waterfrontcoolie on Tuesday, 22 February 2011 - 10:36 pm

    If you are indeed superior, you need not say it. It is with you. People will surely lerarn to respect you. Whereas when you need to shout out loud to proclaim that you are superior just because you think so or worse still you have to keep on shouting lest you yourself is afraid that you may not even believe it if you stop shouting! This is the begining of the problem. You have the Super Ego you will twist and turn between self proclaimed superiority and outright begging for handicaps then you realize the reality of the issue. At least character like Hitler or Stalin never change their position until their last day. Here you have people with little dignity which they tried to turn into superior complex grandeur but still find that the audience has not been indoctrinated. How could they succeed when the audience has alrteady made up its mind a few thousand of years earlier!!

  19. #19 by PoliticoKat on Thursday, 24 February 2011 - 12:02 pm

    I await the day that Jakin proclaims a crusade against the Easter Bunny, Halloween, and St. Patrick’s Day.

    I am sure all these “Christian” “religious” festivals are all evil. They must be cleansed! Let no chocolate rabbit darken your door. Chocolate leads to desire. Desire leads to hate. And hate leads to the Dark side of the Force.

    “That is the first time I have heard that a Santa Claus suit is a religious garment.” -John Mallot

    Well sir, now you know. I am sure it is stated somewhere that the red Santa suit is perhaps the most holy of holy of christian relics. It is amazing what one can learn every day.

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