Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but when a supposedly learned religious man makes an ‘incorrect’ analysis of another faith, the damage he causes is worse than if the remarks had come from an ignorant oaf.
Of all the muftis in Malaysia, the one from Perlis, Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin (Maza), was considered the most progressive and respected, whose insights resonated with many Malaysians.
His views on Act 355 were applauded when he said that this ruse was just another political ploy by PAS and Umno Baru. He disagreed with the use of khalwat squads to test people’s morality. He said that non-Muslims had a right to use the word ‘Allah’.
Maza opposed forced conversions of children, when one parent decided to convert to Islam. He blasted the syariah courts for taking years to reach a decision on divorce cases. He courted controversy when he said that religion should not be forced on Muslims.
Whilst Maza’s reputation soared, that of other muftis plummeted. The respect Maza enjoyed ended when he published his poem on Facebook last week. He allegedly claimed the Hindus worshipped cows and practised ‘suttee’.
Maza exposed his poor understanding of Hinduism and its practices. Hindus do not worship cows and suttee has been outlawed for almost two centuries. We cannot say the same about some ‘Muslim’ practices, like female genital mutilation.
Maza’s back-pedalling did not help him. First he said that his poem was directed at Narendra Modi, the nationalist prime minister of India. That simply exacerbated the problem, so he said that Malaysian Hindus should ignore his remarks, because they did not apply to them.
He also alluded to “our preacher” being handed over to a tyrannical government. Was he referring to Zakir Naik, the controversial Muslim preacher who is purportedly seeking refuge in Malaysia to escape two arrest warrants issued by the Indian authorities? Why does Maza harbour a soft spot for Zakir, who seemingly likes to stoke religious fires amongst Malaysians?
Maza’s work and opinions are highly valued and sought after. He is also human and it is possible he made a mistake, and should apologise. The only positive aspect of Maza’s debacle is that he has put the spotlight on Malaysia’s marginalised Indian community.
When government-linked companies (GLCs) took over British rubber estates, they converted land into housing developments, golf courses and oil palm plantations. The displaced Indians drifted to urban areas to form Indian ghettos, which became breeding grounds for gangsters.
Bumiputra policies and quotas denied Indians access to education and work opportunities. Places in local universities were limited and Indian graduates claimed they face discrimination when applying for jobs...