Civil society group: If free Qurans for education ok, let non-Muslims do the same

Gan Ping Sieu

(Malay Mail Online) – Non-Muslims should also be allowed to freely give out their holy books like the Muslims to help educate and ultimately free Malaysians from religious prejudice, a civil society group Centre for a Better Tomorrow (Cenbet) said today.

Gan Ping Sieu (pic), Cenbet co-president, stressed that such distribution of religious texts should be allowed to help strip off the long-standing ignorance of Malaysians about each other’s faiths.

“The recent efforts by some non-governmental organisations to distribute free copies of the translated Al Quran should, in principle, be accepted as a gesture to promote cross-cultural understanding that can help in enhancing unity.

“However, by the same token, and to uphold the principle of mutuality, other bodies must also be allowed and encouraged to distribute copies of their holy books or religious literature, for educational purposes (as opposed to propagation),” the former deputy minister of youth and sports said in a statement.

Gan, who is also a lawyer, said that any distribution efforts would have to be according to the Federal Constitution’s Article 11 (4) to “avoid any misunderstanding”, suggesting that the government lawyers draw up a guideline for such activities.

“That being the case, the Attorney-General’s Chambers can come up with a guideline, after consultation with various religious bodies, on the dos and don’ts of such educational efforts,including the respectable manner in handling holy books. This way, no one can claim ignorance on where the line between “educational” and “proselytising” is drawn,” the MCA man said.

Article 11 of the country’s highest law guarantees religious freedom for all, but Article 11 (4) allows state laws to impose restrictions on the propagation of religious doctrine or belief among Muslims.

In Malaysia, the proselytisation of non-Islamic religions to Muslims is an offence, but not vice-versa.

In pushing for greater interfaith understanding, Gan pointed out that ignorance of the religious beliefs of others “breeds contempt and suspicion” and would cause Malaysians to be “susceptible to fear-mongers and those who fan religious hatred.”

“But if we are grounded on basic knowledge of others’ beliefs and traditions, we are less likely to develop prejudice against those who are different from us. On the contrary, we may learn to appreciate the beauty in other faiths, which is useful in helping peel off layers of suspicion or prejudice some of us have built up over the years,” he said.

He urged federal and state government agencies to educate Malaysians on all major faiths in the country, including the “equal teaching” of the main religion here and their histories in schools.

“Jakim and other religious authorities should also, for good governance purpose, hold structured dialogues with the Malaysian Consultative Council for Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism,” he said.

He also urged for dialogue with other religious bodies to iron out other interfaith wrinkles before they became too large, noting that a blanket ban in various state laws on non-Muslims’ use of “Islamic words” even in situations that did not involve religious propagation was unhelpful for interfaith understanding.

Gan’s statement comes amid a recent controversy on a project to distribute one million copies of the Quran.

Last month, the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) claimed that the project is a concerted effort to persuade non-Muslims to abandon their faith, and urged non-Muslims not to accept the translations of the Islamic holy text in Tamil, Chinese, English and Malay languages.

The interfaith group also dismissed the project’s purported objective to remove misconceptions of Islam, and labelled it a disguised propagation of Islam and in “bad faith”.

The group further said the Quran should not be distributed so freely as the copies might be disrespected, and some Muslims might find it blasphemous to see non-Muslims owning those translated copies of Quran.

On January 9, former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad reportedly launched the Islamic Information and Services Foundation’s project called “One Soul, One Quran”, reportedly saying the public distribution of the Muslims’ holy text is meant to combat allegedly misleading interpretations of Islam as a cruel religion.

IIS has since defended its project as an attempt to help non-Muslims understand Islam, and demanded MCCBCHST issue a public apology.

Another Muslim group, Multiracial Reverted Muslims has also denied its involvement in the project, as well as other claims that it has been covertly amending the official religious records of those receiving the free copies of the holy text.