Why even bother with religious dialogue?

Opinion  |  S Thayaparan
Published:  |  Modified:

“One good schoolmaster is of more use than a hundred priests.”

― Thomas Paine, ‘The Age of Reason’

COMMENT | An irate Malaysiakini subscriber emailed me about Abdul Hadi Awang’s call for Christian priests and Christians to have a dialogue with Muslim preachers like Zakir Naik to find the “truth” instead of distributing Christian literature.

I have no idea what having a dialogue has to do with proselytisation, which is illegal to do to Muslims in Malaysia anyway.

It is easy to caricature someone like Hadi – I have done it a couple of times. But what Hadi said is calling for an SOP (standard operating procedure) for the Islamists in this country. I am also talking about the Islamists within Pakatan Harapan and political operatives (including non-Muslims) who profit from sustaining a particular narrative of Islam in this country.

What Hadi said is exactly the kind of rhetoric coming out from New Malaysia politicians. Every time when a question of religious policy or trespass crops up, the federal government makes a big show and dance about how they will consult with religious scholars to determine the best Muslim outcome available.

Never mind that religious policy should be set forward by the political body and enforced by the religious bureaucracy. To argue that nominal heads of religion set religious policy is disingenuous considering the way how the legislative body has set the religious agenda in this country.

This normally means caving into the “group think” that purports to be the sole Islamic narrative in this country. This also means that the so-called moderate, liberal or whatever else kind of Muslim in this country is left out in the cold. I have often argued that the Harapan government is not setting the Islamic agenda in this country but instead allowing the Umno-PAS combo to define the narrative.

To understand the kind of flip-flopping that goes on in the establishment when it comes to Islam in this country, consider the brouhaha that erupted when Islamic Affairs Minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa was offended by headline in The Star that (gasp!) implied that the Harapan regime was, by implication, a moderate Islamic entity because it would cease intruding into the private sphere of Muslims.

I said this earlier: “The prime minister backing up Mujahid's stance that the federal government will not intrude into the private sphere of Muslims in this country is a good first step. Reading the old maverick's rather forceful defence of Mujahid policy intent and the kind of Islam Harapan wants to promote is a positive indication that (perhaps) this was really a new-ish Malaysia.”

The above is important for various reasons but the most important of which is that the prime minister was actually attempting to change the narrative – even though there is ample evidence when he was prime minister the first time around, he played footsie with Islamists – and this opportunity was lost when a supposed moderate Muslim (with federal power) decided it was better singing an Umno-PAS tune instead of coming up with another one...

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