On October 22, several hundred members from over a dozen NGOs will gather in Shah Alam for Himpunan Sejuta Umat (Himpun). The gathering is supposedly defensive: it aims to protect the aqidah (creed) of Malaysian Muslims from the supposedly growing problem of apostasy, namely to Christianity.
Additionally, it also seeks to stress the centrality of Islam in the Malaysian constitution while reiterating the importance of Muslim unity and the crucial role of the royal families as the protector of Islam and the Malay race in Malaysia.
It is curious that very little information is given to support those concerns. We are not told how many apostates there are, or which church or churches are the ones actively seeking to convert Muslims, or if Christians are the only non-Muslims who are most actively evangelising. Much of the fervour seems to be founded on hunches and guesses.
In this there are two outstanding questions that should occur to any sincere and concerned Muslim. If it is true that apostasy is as serious a problem as it is claimed, then we must ask, what is it about Muslim culture and education in Malaysia that is compelling many Muslims to leave the faith? In addition, what can Malaysian Muslims do as a community to reform that culture to further enlighten, rather than alienate, its own members?
To ignore these questions, and to react in such frenzy and haste, is to neglect the responsibility of introspection that Islam demands from Muslims. In our eagerness to blame others, we are forgetting our own possible shortcomings in the very problems we are aiming to address.
It is also problematic that there has yet to be any constructive conversation with organisations and members of other faiths about this problem. The prevalent message from Himpun is that this problem can be addressed only by Muslims, for Muslims; despite the fact that Malaysia is a multiracial and multireligious country whereby peace and harmony depends on a genuine and amicable understanding between one another.
As a Muslim organisation committed to democracy, freedom and justice, the Islamic Renaissance Front regards the freedom of conscience and belief as central Islamic values. Freedom, that is the capacity to explore our options, is the core of faith and ethics. No action from any individual can be regarded as right or wrong unless the individual has the free will to choose that act in the first place.
Hence we cannot lay blame on someone for something he or she did not wilfully choose to do. The notion of responsibility is only meaningful and valuable upon the assumption that the person was free to accept it. This is the insight that is embedded in the often-cited claim that there shall be no coercion in matters of faith. [Refer Quran 2:256]
The Islamic Renaissance Front also recognises that Article 11 of the Federal Constitution ensures that every Malaysian has the right to profess and practice his or her religion of choice. However there is a jurisdiction granted by Article 11(4) of the federal constitution to permit the state to control or restrict the propagation of religion among people professing to be Muslims. More importantly, this must be read in the context of the article itself that fundamentally provides for every person the freedom to profess, practice and propagate his religion.
While Selangor may have an enactment which involves control of propagation amongst Muslims, which was enacted in 1988, this enactment requires serious reviews considering that we’re in a new age where human rights, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion are considered as fundamental issues of liberty.
Such enactment was not cast in stone hence it is debatable. The review of such enactment is pertinent in a developing society that aspires to respect individual freedom and fundamentals of liberty.
One of the core concepts of Islamic justice is the principle of reciprocity. We can find numerous injunctions in the Quran to reciprocate good for good and evil for evil. The principle of reciprocity, central to all religious and secular ethics, lies at the core of the Islamic concept of justice. The Quran is pervaded with injunctions that encourage Muslims to reciprocate good for good and evil for evil.
The principle is similarly expressed by Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher, in his Formula of Universal Law in which he expresses categorically: “Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law.”
In a modern, multiracial and multireligious society where people of different faiths live side by side, and co-operate under a system of law that recognises their equal dignity, due attention must be given to the principle of reciprocity as the essence of justice. Any attempt by a religious community to place sanctions and apply coercion on its members who choose to convert to another religious group will place a moral obligation on the latter to defend the new comers who choose to join their faith.
We would like to reiterate that the “battle cry” of Himpun to defend the faith will only show the vicious and intolerant face of Islam as a religion that always speaks to reason. Hence the question that has to be answered: what positive outcome does Himpun expect out of such a ferocious outburst of fiery rhetoric from this gathering? Quo vadis Himpun — whither goest thou?
As an intellectual organisation that focuses on youth empowerment, the Islamic Renaissance Front insists that it is duly committed to the goal of Muslim solidarity. However it must be stressed at no uncertain terms that such solidarity is meaningless if it is not founded on principles of liberty and democracy, human rights and the equal dignity of every individuals, Muslims and non-Muslims alike; principles which are obviously and consistently expressed throughout the Muslim canon.
* This view carries the names of Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa, Mohd Radziq Jalaluddin, Ahmad Fuad Rahmat and Edry Faizal Eddy Yusuf of the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF).