In disservice to religion

Opinion  |  S Thayaparan
Published:  |  Modified:

“We keep on being told that religion, whatever its imperfections, at least instils morality. On every side, there is conclusive evidence that the contrary is the case and that faith causes people to be more mean, more selfish, and perhaps above all, more stupid.”

- Christopher Hitchens

COMMENT | Before I begin, I throw a great Garrison Keillor quote out there whenever people ask me what I think about religion. “Anyone who thinks sitting in church can make you a Christian must also think that sitting in a garage can make you a car”; replace the words “church” and “Christian” with your preferred place of worship and religion, and you get exactly what I think about religion.

This brings me to two interesting Malaysiakini comment pieces by two authors, which neatly illustrates the disconnect in the religious discourse in this country. In a piece highlighting the complete failure of the MIC to dispel the perception that a canteen operator was told to cease operation was a racial issue, Stephen Ng turns the issue into a religious issue. This, of course, is understandable.

(Just to be clear, apparently the three other operators were Malay, hence the MIC operative's claims that this was not a racial issue and the administration's claim that syariah compliance was not the reason why this Malaysian of Indian descent was asked to cease operating.)

Race and religion are not mutually exclusive in this country; hence Ng is making a perfectly sensible argument when he asks, “Is there a need for the Indian operator, who may be a Hindu, to also be syariah compliant, since the stall has its own clients?”

The problem with this question is that the answer may not be what Ng hopes for. The answer is yes, this Indian operator has to be syariah compliant (if that was indeed the reason he was asked to cease operating), even though he had his own clients because he is operating in an educational establishment that been infused with religious dogma.

The real issue that the MIC cannot face is the issue that the opposition cannot face either. The real issue here is that there can never be (in Ng’s words) “mutual respect between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities” as long as political parties embrace the notion that religion will always be a factor in garnering Malay votes.

Has there ever been any Malaysian political coalition that promises to take religion out from education? Is there any political alliance that has not funded religious institutions even if it meant sacrificing “Malay” votes? Has there been any political alliance whose platform is to maintain a strict separation between mosque and state?

In another piece, I wrote of my disdain for the word “tolerate” - “Mind you, the word ‘tolerance’ is in itself a loathsome word. It is a word lacking empathy, simpatico, goodwill or camaraderie. The word implies, ‘enduring’ instead of ‘accepting’ and ‘understanding’ - all those sentiments that denote a sense of belonging.”

There is no point blaming the MIC for anything to do with Islam in this country because the reality is that when it comes to Islam and the Umno state, there is very little anyone can do about it because nobody wants to offer an alternative...

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