As the curtain draws to a close for the last year of the first decade in the third millennium, I wanted to just sit back and peruse the many edited writings and commentaries for my book “In Search of a Better Malaysia”. The indulgence was rather short-lived when it dawns on me that I have failed to provide any commentary on an equally troubling acrimonious debate that is raging dangerously in the nation. Yes, how could I miss that one?
Well, frankly I was neither excited nor felt provoked by it, when it came back on stage recently. My knee-jerk response was to evade and ignore it. I thought that the already-overloaded-and-overburdened Malaysian public could no longer stomach any more of such divisive issues. Truly, there has been an overdose of it of late.
But after thinking through and weighing the far-reaching implications, especially on the undiscerning citizenry, this writer could no longer allow it to fade into oblivion only to raise its ugly head again later.
Conscious of the fact that it could very well boomerang on me, I’m now willing to take the bull by the horn. As I embark this effort, a strange reminiscent of the discourse (read polemic) of past Muslim scholars haunted me.
Neither wanting to draw nor deserving of any intellectual parallel, I must say in all humility that I couldn’t help to be reminded of the great debate of the ‘Incoherence of the Incoherence’ (Tahaafut al-Tahaafut) of Ibn Rushd’s (Averroes) against the mighty Al-Ghazali’s Incoherence of the Philosophers (Tahaafut Al-Falaasifah). I honestly believe that this undertaking, at the expense of being crucified as ‘apostate’ is nonetheless equally noble, urgent and extremely pertinent in the bigger agenda of ‘In Search of a Better Malaysia”.
Yes if you are still wondering, I’m meaning the “The Religious Pluralism Debate”, organised by Muafakat, a Muslim NGO in the Federal Territory mosque a fortnight ago. For reasons only known to them, the forum was also supported by government agencies such as the Selangor Islamic Department (JAIS), Federal Territory Mufti Department, Federal Islamic Missionary Foundation (YADIM), Information Ministry’s Special Affairs Department (JASA) and the Institute of Islamic Understanding (IKIM).
In summary, the Muslim scholars and the newly-minted PhD holder Yusri Mohammad, an Islamic Law lecturer in the IIUM and the UKM’s Nur Fahana Abd Rahman included, asserted that Islam considers that not all religions are equal, and that the concept of ‘Religious Pluralism’ is antithetical to Islam as this belief stems from the idea that Islam is no more and no less equal to other religions ie promoting religious equality.
For the record, not only was Dato Seri Anwar Ibrhaim demonized for allegedly promoting ‘religious pluralism’ and undermining the Islamic faith, the Menteri Besar of Kelantan, Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, who also is the Mursyidul Am of PAS, did not escape from their criticism for having previously attended an official function at a Buddhist temple in Kelantan.
In all fairness, it must also be registered that the scholars at the forum also issued reminders to other Muslim leaders, the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak included, to refrain from attending other religious celebrations, claiming that it would threaten the position of Islam as a supreme religion.
Dr Muhammad ‘Uthman El-Muhammady, another panelist and a fellow at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC) also echoed the others and called on Muslims to fight against those who promote religious equality as this is dangerous and a threat to the Islamic faith.
More assertively, the UKM’s Nur Fahana Abd Rahman, has asked Federal Islamic Authorities (JAKIM) to issue a guideline to prevent Muslims from celebrating other religious celebrations, calling it an element of religious pluralism.