The argument between co-religionists - Mahdar Tahir and Dr Syed Alwi Ahmad - has been heartfelt, healthy and necessary. Everyone has an opinion but to expect everyone to have the same opinion is illogical. I am not a Muslim but I do agree with Syed Alwi's insistence on freedom of choice and conscience.
When the state insists that you believe what they want you to believe, it defeats the whole purpose of seeking for truth. When coercion is used, it prevents true belief, and perverts the individual quest for God.
We are individually answerable to God therefore we must be free to make our own decisions as thinking adults. I believe any conscionable person would know that being detained for months in religious rehabilitation centres is morally wrong. Ditto for bulldozing temples built on private property. Ditto for banning bible translations for tribal rainforest peoples.
I should clarify what I feel are practical guidelines and rules for civilised dialogue for honest thinking adults. The rules are designed to promote understanding and constructive criticism for all interested parties, and therefore reduce feelings of resentment and conflict on the path to resolving disagreements.
Everyone should be allowed the rights to freedom of speech, conscience, and religious practice and beliefs as inscribed in the UN Charter for Human Rights.
In a serious dialogue, we are obligated to listen to the other person, to honestly try to understand, and not shut them out even if it is uncomfortable to hear what they have to say.
- No one has to agree with anybody else.
- No violence to self or others will be allowed.
- Suicide, homicide, and torture is strictly prohibited.
- No threats of violence, aggression, imprisonment, fines or torture.
- No obscenities, no shouting, no ultimatums, no coercion, no blackmail, no censorship.
- No topic should be considered taboo.
You are responsible for your own feelings, and if you get upset in the course of an honest open debate, don't blame anyone else for your pain.
The truth is truth and it sometimes hurts, and this is no reason to break the rules so if you have a character defect, and often feel out of control, and feel you have to threaten violence whenever someone disagrees with you, then you should not be taking part in any of these emotive debates (neither should you get married unless to a robot).
A dialogue should be strictly egalitarian as if between equals.
Arguments should be strictly meritocractic, and judged according to personal virtues of the respective speakers, (honesty, integrity, intelligence), and technical expertise (academic and professional qualifications) as well as the merits of the acutal arguments used.
The gender, culture, race and ethnic origins of a debater should not be used to discriminate or prejudice against him or her in the course of a debate (we should not pander to racists and supremacists, at least not in everything, not even if we are an apartheid nation).
In matters of faith, there are a million and one things we can disagree on. How we handle our disagreements and differences on religious issues will probably decide to a large extent if we can remain a free, open and civilised society.
If we leave these issues in the hands of our holier-than-thou Umno-PAS ethnic politicians who gleefully pervert our better instincts to play divide and rule, then the future looks bleak unless you like being a citizen of an impoverished, illiterate, violence-wracked, repressive, undemocratic government.
Not everyone will have what it takes to follow the rules. Not everyone wants to. But we hope that enough people in Malaysia will want to in order to ensure a better future.