Pluralism is not a dirty word

by Azrul Mohd Khalib
The Malay Mail Online
Aug 12, 2013

AUG 12 — While I was listening to the Hari Raya Aidilfitri sermon at the National Mosque the other day, I was struck by its gloomy, depressing and combative tone. Rather than a message of celebration and rejoicing at the achievements represented by the conclusion of the holy month of Ramadan, the sermon was one which spoke in strident tones about the enemies of the faith, and attacks and threats to the ummah.

One of the elements identified in the sermon as being a threat to Islam (along with secularism and feminism, strangely enough) was pluralism.

Somehow, in less than 10 years, pluralism has become from being a proud attribute of multicultural and multi-ethnic Malaysia to one that has been vilified and has left certain people trembling in their boots.

In case anyone is unsure, the Oxford dictionary defines pluralism as being a condition or system in which two or more states, groups, principles, sources of authority, etc., co-exist. In the context of Malaysia, a condition in which numerous distinct ethnic, religious or cultural groups are present and tolerated within a society. Somehow, someone, somewhere has deemed pluralism to be the equivalent of a four-letter word.

Pluralism lives and breathes in Islam. It is embedded in the rich traditions of Islamic academia where from antiquity the religion prides itself in the diversity of views and the value of rigorous academic discourse and dialogue. Thus, the discourses and arguments of Muslim jurists and scholars of the likes of Al Kindi, Al Biruni, Ibn Sina are spoken in the same breath as the Greek and Roman philosophers such as Socrates, Cicero and Marcus Aurelius.

The best example of religious pluralism in Islam comes from the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself who offered a delegation of Christians from the kingdom of Najran his own mosque, Al-Masjid al-Nabawi, for their prayers. What is this gesture if not recognition of the plurality of religion by the Prophet? Didn’t other religions not only survive but also flourish under early Islam? What does it say to others that pluralism is now considered a bad thing?

As I sat listening to this rather gloomy sermon, I was struck by how successfully pluralistic Islam has been and still is. Consider the fact that the congregation that morning was from all walks of life, composed of peoples of different ethnicity and from many countries, spoke at least a dozen different languages, and were all gathered together in one faith. This is what Islam and any of the other world’s religions are about: the diversity of their congregations is their strength. There is much to be proud of. Yet we have a sermon preaching that plurality is bad.

We do not live in a bubble. To deny pluralism in Islam is to deny what makes the faith one of the great religions of the world. The beauty of these religions is marked by the fact that they open their arms to all but bar their doors to none.

It’s strange that everywhere else in the world, the pluralism of Islam is a source of pride. Mike Ghouse of the think-tank World Muslim Congress recently highlighted this very issue in his article “One Ramadan Many Celebrations; Islamic Pluralism in Action” published in the Huffington Post. Yet, in our country, we are running down the very strength of this great religion. Why? What are we so scared about?

We seem to be scared of shadows and terrified of change. It struck me that it could be as simple as the powers-that-be had little or no comprehension as to the meaning of the word. Perhaps an officer had included the term and it has stuck there ever since. To any right-minded person, It just doesn’t make sense. And because we are ignorant and are unwilling to learn, we strike out at what we do not know. Ignorance breeds fear. What does that say about us?

There is a bunch of people promoting monism by virtue of disparaging and demonising pluralism. Monism is a state of mind which argues that the variety of existing things can be explained in terms of a single reality or substance. They insist that their perspectives, opinions and judgments are the only acceptable reality for all and may not be questioned. This arrogance is not what our faith is about. Neither is it about being rigid, regressive, dominant, tyrannical nor authoritarian. These are the antithesis of what Islam should and is all about. Oh, and these people often sound like children scared of the unseen bogeyman who lurks underneath the bed.

I later heard from someone who was watching the Raya prayers on television and who listened to the sermons. She decided midway to switch the channel to something a lot more festive and appropriate for the day. The tone of the sermon just felt wrong and depressing.

So the next time the label “pluralism” is hurled at our feet as if it were something to be ashamed of, or something dirty and something to run away from, we should pick it up and wear it as a badge of honour and pride.

Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Maaf Zahir dan Batin!-mohd-khalib/article/pluralism-is-not-a-dirty-word#sthash.BlDTmdvd.dpuf

  1. #1 by silat88 on Monday, 12 August 2013 - 4:20 pm

    when you have narrow minded individuals running the show there leads to this type of behavior. only they can say this or that yet imply that they are fair at the same time.
    is it a wonder why no one outside of that country takes them seriously much like the senile doctor who thinks 2020 wll come through.
    his vision is not 20/20 for sure.

    • #2 by cemerlang on Monday, 12 August 2013 - 10:54 pm

      It is an issue of power rather than being narrow mindedness. Power comes with it a unique identity.

  2. #3 by Bigjoe on Monday, 12 August 2013 - 5:14 pm

    Like it or not, if you are hard core Islamist, you are against pluralism.. You can make all the quotes in Guran, but if its something that does not say outright, then these people will grab hold of the other texts and won’t let go no matter what arguments you make..That is how the whole business of dog got really out of hand..

    But its good to remind everyone that this Malay land, this Malaysia was originally a pluralistic Muslim society – so was much of the the region for HUNDREDS OF YEARS.. The anti-pluralism thing was not even most of the 20th century. It pretty much only started likely in the 1970s only when materialism became popular. The idea that anti-pluralism is religious and spiritual is bogus. Its materialism and power-hungry that led it..

    • #4 by cemerlang on Monday, 12 August 2013 - 10:58 pm

      Hard core Islamists like those in Afghanistan, Southern Philippines, Southern Thailand and wherever they are but race wise they are all different; Afghans, Filipinos, Thais of Islamic faith and that is pluralism. In Malaysia, it is pluralism when a chinese gets converted to muslim and becomes a chinese muslim, then an indian muslim, iban muslim, kadazan muslim etc. and even for malays; exactly what makes a malay ?

  3. #5 by sheriff singh on Monday, 12 August 2013 - 5:27 pm

    ‘ … The best example of religious pluralism in Islam comes from the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself who offered a delegation of Christians from the kingdom of Najran his own mosque, Al-Masjid al-Nabawi, for their prayers. … ‘

    It is OK for the prophet (pbuh) but not OK for the religious authorities and personnel over here in 1 Malaysia.

    See this latest controversy that has got them all ‘insulted’ and ‘furious’ :

    • #6 by cemerlang on Monday, 12 August 2013 - 11:00 pm

      Try applying the Malaysia muslim way in Saudi Arabia. See how the Arab muslims will react. It is become an ego thing rather than embracing the religion with all sincerity.

  4. #7 by sheriff singh on Monday, 12 August 2013 - 5:36 pm

    ‘ … I was struck by its gloomy, depressing and combative tone. Rather than a message of celebration and rejoicing … ‘.

    Just who is the person(s) writing these sermons ? Does he (they) have their sermons vetted first ? Who sets the topics or agendas ?

    This is not the first time the sermon(s) have been given particular slants and caused uneasiness and unhappiness among the congregations.

    • #8 by cemerlang on Monday, 12 August 2013 - 11:01 pm

      Are all mosques or suraus under the government ? Are all sermons screened by the government ? What you get are government regulated sermons.

  5. #9 by sheriff singh on Monday, 12 August 2013 - 6:42 pm

    ‘ … Pluralism is not a dirty word … ‘.

    But is

    Singularism a dirty word ?

  6. #10 by yhsiew on Monday, 12 August 2013 - 10:28 pm

    “Don’t be smug, Malaysia with skyscrapers and monorail, and wealthy trappings. Deep inside, no different from Taliban country,” Zaid tweeted.

  7. #11 by good coolie on Tuesday, 13 August 2013 - 12:14 am

    They are hunting down “relativism”, not pluralism. The guys got the wrong term blacklisted.

  8. #12 by yhsiew on Tuesday, 13 August 2013 - 6:29 am

    In spite of its modern skyscrapers, express highways and state-of-the-art transportation system, Malaysia is no different from a Taliban state.

  9. #13 by tuahpekkong on Tuesday, 13 August 2013 - 12:42 pm

    In politics they talked about the Chinese grabbing power and in religion they talked about enemies of the faith. It seems these people could see enemies lurking around them and waiting to pounce on them. Or perhaps they have an agenda. In Singapore, Indians hold some very important positions in Government but the majority race are not worried that the Indians may one day grab power from them. Where is 1Malaysia?

  10. #14 by sotong on Tuesday, 13 August 2013 - 5:14 pm

    Many are misguided over the decades in the name of religion.

    This is one of the greatest threat to a multi religious country.

  11. #15 by undertaker888 on Tuesday, 13 August 2013 - 5:49 pm

    Inferior people dislike pluralism. That’s the only way to thrive among themselves and if the numbers are high enough they would force their ways unto others. Just by sheer number minus the intelligence.

You must be logged in to post a comment.