Little Napoleons behind religious clubs episode

As a Muslim, I am dismayed that this issue of non-Muslim school clubs has arisen. It is incidents like these that fuel the negative perception that some quarters have with Muslims.

By Farah Fahmy (The Malaysian Insider)

We pride ourselves in being a multiracial and multireligious country. Yet we don’t always appear to believe in what we preach. What is the harm in having non-Muslim clubs in schools? We are not a country where religion is expressly banned in public life (unlike certain other countries in the world).

The signs of religious worship abound everywhere in our country, from the grandest mosques to tiny Buddhist shrines. Our children grow up instinctively knowing the most important celebrations for the major religions in our country. It’s not as if religions other than Islam are a big secret, one that Muslim parents need to hide from their children. So why have non-Muslim clubs become an issue?

Sometimes I despair at the actions of my fellow Muslims. Are we not taught to treat others well? Have we forgotten that we are supposed to protect the rights of the minorities in our midst? What message are we sending out to our non-Muslim friends if we allow the authorities to ban clubs that would help their children learn about their religion in schools?

I’m glad that Tan Sri Muhyiddin has clarified that non-Muslim clubs formed before 2000 can continue to exist. Presumably that means clubs formed since then will have to seek permission to continue, which begs the question: why only those formed before 2000? Why do non-Muslim clubs formed since then have to seek the permission of the state education department?

Surely the formation of school clubs is, well, a school matter? If I, as a teacher or a student, wanted to form a Kelab Silat, would I have to seek permission from my state education department? Or is this “special permission” only applicable to non-Muslim clubs? (I assume Muslim clubs have no such hurdle to climb.)

If the “special permission” only applies to non-Muslim clubs, then why so? What is the difference between a club that was formed last year to one formed 20 years ago? What, in fact, is the point of this rule? Don’t the education departments have better things to do than to monitor the clubs set up by schools and students?

What’s more, even as our prime minister tirelessly promotes his 1 Malaysia vision, he is slowly being undermined by petty bureaucrats who enforce rules according to their own blinkered views, and it is these types of people who are harmful to our country. A few years ago in Britain, a woman was told to take down her Christmas lights in case her (non-Christian) neighbours were offended.  The neighbours were not offended, of course — no one had actually made a complaint, but an over-zealous official decided to act.  Although this matter actually had nothing to do with Muslims, it fed the growing perception amongst certain people in the UK that Muslims were beginning to “take over” the country.

I mention the incident above as an example of what could happen when over-zealous officials misinterpret rules and bring about actions that can result in one group viewing another with suspicion.

As a Muslim, I am dismayed that this issue of non-Muslim school clubs has arisen. The whole issue is unnecessary as I firmly believe that these clubs have the right to exist alongside Islamic ones without having to incur any petty bureaucracies at the state department or ministry level.

We should also not have allowed this to become an issue in the first place because it is incidents like these that fuel the negative perception that some quarters have with Muslims.

As far as I can tell, no one has seen fit to explain why this issue came about in the first place. Is it because some people are so insecure about Islam and Muslims that they cannot stomach the presence of clubs that support other religions?

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