Tolerance, open letters and political change management


Not just the oil price and economic matters to worry about

Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid, The Star

THE past year had seen a number of tragedies.

Two airline tragedies involving Malaysia Airlines and a recent one involving AirAsia. The most devastating floods in decades. Strong undercurrents of great political disquiet. The economy performed well, but this too is threatened in the new year by – not exhaustively – effect on national revenue of the fall in the price of oil, a likely rise in interest rates, possible inflationary pressures, a weaker currency – countered no doubt by large accumulated reserves, a growing American economy and a good record of economic management.

The government tends to concentrate and talk of the economy. This is not surprising as this is where Malaysia’s performance has been best. However, there are clear developments in the past year which indicate or portend this is not enough. There are many things not just economic which could upset the applecart.

There are fundamental issues which have to be addressed by strong leadership. A committed and thoroughly planned and preemptive maintenance culture is sorely needed. We cannot continue to work on the basis of having all hands on deck AFTER tragedies and devastation. We need standards and enforcement of best practice BEFORE calamities.

This applies equally in the political management of the country. It is not the ephemeral alone that must be attended to, but also more importantly the existential.

Today we celebrate the birthday of Prophet Mohamed (s.a.w.). We call it Maulidur-Rasul in Malaysia and usually mark the day with processions and speeches recalling the great Prophet’s achievements and good deeds.


It is called by different names in different Muslim countries but the date for Sunnis is the 12th day of Rabi’ul-awwal, although Shias recognise it on the 17th day.

There are however Muslims who do not celebrate it. Their view is the celebration of birthdays is forbidden. They may fast or spend the day reading the Quran, not participating in any get-together or communitarian activity.

It is perfectly all right for them to have that view and nobody drags them to join the processions. Such differences among Muslims elsewhere, however, not infrequently lead to violence and bloodshed, but not in Malaysia.

But we must guard against such intolerance and bloody violence becoming part of the Malaysian DNA between Muslims or against non-Muslims.

Ten days ago Christians celebrated Christmas. There was someone from ISMA who said Muslims must not extend to Christians their best wishes, let alone join them in the celebration. To be fair, the ISMA person claimed this was the classical position and conceded there was also a more engaging and friendly contemporary view.

While I know of no classical text that disallows friendly greeting, except in time of war, the ISMA chap is entitled to his view, if only he would go sit in the corner and not bother anybody else (the overwhelming number of Malaysian Muslims top down from what I can see) who takes the different view. But that is not what ISMA has been doing. It has been eating into the centre in sharp wholesome bites.

The great – and main – contribution of the 25 prominent Malays who wrote that open letter calling for rational dialogue on the application of Islamic laws in the country, is to highlight there is a serious existential problem over the political system to which Malaysia subscribes – which is being loudly and evidentially challenged. It cannot any longer be avoided or swept under the carpet. It could lead to violence and violent change. It needs management through strong political leadership.