Malaysiakini Letter

In true democracy, state is neutral on religion

Ronald Benjamin  |  Published:  |  Modified:

The invitation by the Umno Youth Leader Khairy Jamaludin to PAS leaders to join hands to fight for Islam after the rally protesting against a film that insulted Islam produced in the United States is another example of how faith is articulated and practice purely in terms of ethnicity, symbols and emotions, instead of reason and authentic living.

The Umno Youth leader has not specified clearly what the end results would be for the survival of multiethnic Malaysia, through fighting for Islam.

To my understanding the unity call is ethnically and politically motivated, because honest Muslims would testify, that there is no such thing as ethnic or religious unity in the philosophy of Islam that can be construed as exclusive.

There is such a thing as unity of ummah that transcends and precedes ethnicity and sectarianism.

The invitation of Umno Youth leader comes in the context where Umno is aggressively courting the majority of Malays to vote it by portraying itself ethnically a true defender of Islam, by accusing the Democratic Action Party of being anti Islam and the ulama-controlled PAS which tries to distinguish itself from Umno by presenting a hudud type Islamic state.

The question that comes to many discerning Malaysians is what would happen few years from now in a ethnically divided society if ethno-religious emotions are going to be used as a political tool for survival?

In a genuinely democratic society it is vital for the state to be neutral in terms of religious belief so that it could play an effective role in creating an inclusive society.

In Malaysia, Islam has been linked to Malayness and legitimised by the constitution.

This does not augur well for the future of the nation because as long as an ethnic party like Umno is strong there is stability.

The moment its power its threatened it would resort to kindling the emotions of Malay Muslim electorate that non-Muslims would usurp power and the Malay Muslim community would lose privileges'.

This type of political reasoning has a long-term damaging effect to the country.

Religion should play a public role in forming the conscience of political leaders and the people so that the sense of right and wrong that respects universal truths would lead to greater collaboration among political groups of diverse beliefs.

This would lead to common interest on certain issues which could help in nation building.

On the other hand if a religion is politicised or linked to ethnicity as in Malaysia, it would create a dichotomy between ethnic groups because the major political parties are basically championing their respective religion or ethnic group for political survival, where the sense of truth that comes from authentic religious faith is sometimes compromised for political expediency.

In the long term we can see another Iraq or Pakistan in the making where intense rivalry among sectarian religious politicians for power has led to senseless violence, and the minority targeted because they are regarded as a hindrance to ethno-religious hegemony.

Therefore it's time for Malaysians to take a serious look at political candidates that are ethnically and religiously inclined and reject them at the ballot box.

To be fair there are politicians in Umno and PAS that look at the nation inclusively, but the core ideologies of their political parties are geared towards ethno religiosity in different shades.

The future of Malaysia should be determined by progressive political parties that are religiously concerned, expressed by not fighting for religion but rather living spiritually by articulating and practicing faith that embraces love, compassion justice and reconciliation.

Common good and citizenship should take precedence over communalised religion.

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