BFM89.9 – MAKING WAY FOR MUSLIM MINORITIES?
Dr. Ahmad Farouk Musa, Chairman and Director, Islamic Renaissance Front | Dr. Mohd Faizal Musa, Research Fellow, Malay World and Civilization
In Malaysia Baru, newly-minted religious minister, Datuk Mujahid Yusof Rawa, says he’s up for an open dialogue with Muslim minorities. But what does that mean, exactly?
Produced by: Tasha Fusil
Presented by: Caroline Oh, Umapagan Ampikaipakan
Transcribed by: Saifullah Qamar, Fellow, IRF
Tags: Evening edition, Religious Authority, Religious Minorities, LGBT, Politics, News, Current Affairs
Uma: BFM 8.9. This is the evening edition – Caroline and Uma with you. This one, another story from today: the Malaysian Religious Affairs Minister has pledged to hear out the grouses of the country’s sexual and Muslims minorities. However, with a caveat. Right? Datuk Mujahid Yusuf Rawa said that this should not be construed as overt support for the LGBT communities, the Shi’a or the Ahmadiya communities, right?
Caroline: He also said all people are free to come and discuss it with him: dialog opens the doors for understanding. Does not mean that he submits to the theories that support the ideas. He argues that while the Federal Constitution protects the rights of these communities, their aspects of beliefs and practices – practices that may not be acceptable to Muslims and by extension Malaysians. He said that there is a perception that there are groups among Muslims who see the LGBT as a menace to society who have encroached into the normal lives of Muslims and so he says that when it translates or encroaches into the public sphere then it becomes an issue.
Uma: So my philosophy, and this is somewhat, I guess the opposite to his belief in that… then I suppose the education has to be on those who are seemingly offended lah. I mean, there are the ones who need to educate themselves and maybe broaden their minds a little bit it to understand what is happening right? That being said, this seems like a step in the right direction because now we have a minister that is willing to sit down and talk to them which is something new.
Caroline: Okay so I think you are right there. So, it is important to note that he recognises that the Federal Constitution protects the rights of these minorities. Dialog will open the doors to greater understanding. He is willing to have that discussion even if he does not support the cause. You know, just from the get go it is important to establish the ground rules, I think if you will. But, there are practical difficulties as in his example of alcohol consumption. So, it was reported he said for example drinking alcohol among Muslims is prohibited but we cannot control people who do it privately but when you drink in public you challenge this, you challenge the system, it is against my religion then if it is against my religion then there is an issue. So, it is an interpretation of the issue in a very literal sense because I think as with this and many other issues is – you know – what is a sin may not necessarily be a crime. And, I mean if you drink alcohol at home we have no control he said but if you drink alcohol in public, we do have control and can be punished. But if you go back to the Constitution, is it then okay to impose piety?
Uma: Yes, so imposing piety is one question but then also there is another issue at hand in that you create this, I guess, a false double standard, right? Because you are not policing things in private, you’re saying you can do whatever you want in private but you cannot in public. So it then creates a society and a community that is at constant odds with another and with themselves.
Caroline: Well I think those odds exist right because I think it is fair to say society has not come a consensus on these issues and I think it is right to point that out that it is an issue for some is also true. But, there is also the issue of how practical it is to let these sensitivities sort of dictate the game. Because if you think about how we are doing on an international front we have a brand new Foreign Minister who has just recently said that… pledged… to push for ratification of six international human rights conventions. And I would assume that the ideas to act in accordance with universal standards are for human rights. So, the plights of sexual and religious minorities are absolutely human rights contestations. So, how does it square off?
Uma: There is also the one extra notion that people always forget to bring up which is we are not a theocracy. We still are a democracy, we still, for the most part according to the Federal Constitution, are a secular State and these are debates that we need to constantly have and talk about especially from forces that seek to push us in the other direction.
Caroline: Yeah, I think if we just go with the very narrow and literal definition it is going to be tricky territory.
Uma: Yeah, very, very tricky territory but to help us navigate that territory, we’re going to be speaking to Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa – the Chairman and Director of the Islamic Renaissance Front. Farouk, thank you so much for joining us on the program. As far as your knowledge goes, is Mujahid the first Religious Affairs Minister to publicly say that he is open to a dialog with Muslim minorities?
Dr. Farouk: Yes. As far as my knowledge is concerned, then I believe that this is the first time that a religious minister is talking about this – about minorities – whether religious minorities and also the sexual minorities as well.
Caroline: Right. What have attempts in the past been like to establish dialog with the religious department of the Prime Minister’s Office?
Dr. Farouk: I think they did not make any attempt at all. As far as I am concerned, the one-way kind of thing like whatever that they wanted to do then they would definitely come up with a verdict or something like that. You know, like labelling Shiites as deviants, labelling liberals as deviants, labelling gays or homosexuals as deviants – a threat to the country – and so on and so forth. So, I do not think that they have been any effort at all. In fact, to put into perspective, few of our books were banned and they did not even try to engage with us – you know they just came out just like that – they decided by themselves. And when our lawyers wrote to them, the Home Minister at that time, Zahid Hamidi, I think he replied and he quoted that his decision was based on recommendations made by JAKIM. So, you know, the Home Minister made his decision based on JAKIM and there was no dialog or no discussion at all.
Uma: So it is still in the early days, but what impact do you think this will have on the ground – to have Mujahid extend this invitation for dialog with all quarters of the Muslim community?
Dr. Farouk: To be honest, I know Mujahid personally. Basically, he is my friend and he is my junior at Penang Free School. And, I have known him for a long time. And, I believe in his sincerity. I contacted him recently when yesterday there was an article by one Fellow at YaPEIM, who basically uttered the same thing that was uttered in the regime before about Shiites are deviants and so forth. And, I said that I did not expect this to happen in this new Government. And, he replied to me and he said “Well, I have not touched YaPEIM yet”. (laughs). So yeah, that is the situation. And, I believe in his sincerity in trying to solve this issue.
Caroline: Right. So, he was quick to say that although he is open to dialog, it does not mean that he submits obviously to the theories or support their ideas. Is there an element of, perhaps, public perception management there? As in, why was it important, you think, for him to emphasise that fact?
Dr. Farouk: Well I personally think he has to qualify his statement. He has to do that because this is a very sensitive issue. You know, whether you like it or not definitely there is going to be backlash to this. And, as you know that he was ousted from PAS before because he was labelled as a ‘liberal’. So, you know the label is still there – not that people still believe in this label or something like that. So, he has to qualify his statement and I think, you know, he was justified.
Uma: So being in a Muslim-majority country seems like there are severe limitations to what can be done to progress the rights of LGBT Muslims in Malaysia. But what are the basics that absolutely need to be discussed and agreed upon?
Dr. Farouk: I believe this is one of the most sensitive issues facing Muslims. But, whether we like it or not, almost all world religions be it Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism or even Christianity forbid homosexuality. But, the question is not whether one agrees with the religious texts but the beliefs and convictions of individuals. But, is to determine what is the perfect behaviour in societies in which we live together. We must avoid condemning or rejecting individuals or homosexuals. And, I think it is quite possible to disagree with a person’s behaviour. But, we must respect that person as an individual. And, if that person engages in homosexual practices, I do not think that anyone has the right to drive him or her out of Islam. And that is the thing we have to reiterate now.
I believe that some people think that they have a higher moral ground. But unless we respect individuals as an individual, then I do not think we will be able to solve this problem. We have to accept people are different. Even in Islam itself, there are so many denominations in Islam. We are living in a new Malaysia. We cannot be like the old regime where there is only one interpretation of Islam that is the JAKIM’s interpretation. We cannot do that – every single one of us, we are basically servants of God. It is not JAKIM who is going to answer for us. We as individuals, we have to answer to God. So, it is us, up to our own convictions. And, I think that we have to be consistent in this aspect.
Caroline: Right. Another area of concern is the reported proliferation of extremism and deviant teachings in the country. Does this area fall under Mujahid’s purview?
Dr. Farouk: Well, I do not think that it is under his purview. I think that is under the Ministry of Home Affairs. Now, what he could do is just to, basically to explain that Islam is the religion of peace and not to go back to the old idea of, you know, wasatiyah and whatever because it is a very nice term… terminology but it did not really reflect the content of it. Someone who was preaching for wasatiyah – for moderation, in another instance he was saying that we should emulate ISIS. You know, it is a total contradiction. I just think that it is not right, you know, but the thing to go forward now is to explain to people that Islam is tolerant – a tolerant religion that Islam can accept diversity. That’s the most important thing – to be able to accept diversity.
Uma: What do you think is the direction that the new Government should take to promote this idea that Islam is indeed a tolerant religion?
Dr. Farouk: I think the most important thing is to allow freedom. While people respect Christianity, respect Buddhism, respect Hinduism, but in actual fact, people do not respect some minority sects in Islam itself such as Wahhabis or Shiites or Ahmadis. So, that is the real problem. The real problem is within Islam. So, if you talk about the freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, it must be freedom to believe what we believe. And, I believe, you know, that faith is something private. And, you know, something private should be between you and God. And, I think State has no jurisdiction in whatever way to enforce their interpretation of faith to other people. That is the most important thing of freedom of religion. Because, as I said many times before, that you know, faith is made of the same fabric as love. You cannot force faith as much as you cannot force love because it is made of the same fabric.
Uma: Beautifully said, Farouk. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective that was Dato’ Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa, the Chairman and Director of the Islamic Renaissance Front with his thoughts on the Religious Affairs Minister’s invitation for dialog with Muslims minorities in Malaysia. Now, we have also got Dr Mohd Faizal Musa, research fellow at the Malay World and Civilisation (ATMA) to give his take. Faizal, thank you so much for holding the line. What were your takeaways from the statement made by our Religious Affairs Minister that he is open to dialog with religious minorities? Can we be cautiously optimistic?
Dr. Faizal: I am not sure what he means by open to dialog with religious minorities. You know, it is very tricky because for example, for the Shi’a, for them to admit themselves, is an offence. You are not allowed to declare as a Shi’a because if you recognise as a Shi’a, that means that you are actually admitting that you are doing a Sharia crime, you see because it is under enactment in every State. Being Shi’a is a deviant and also against the fatwa. All the States have gazetted fatwas that Shi’as are deviants, you see. That is my first point. Second, this is actually quite positive but, I am not sure, coming back to the first point, whether it is going to lead to anywhere. If the minister has a closed-door meeting with the religious minorities – so with the Shi’as, with the Ahmadis, I think this is something that need to ponder you see, strategically for them.
Caroline: Right. And, what do you think is the minister’s biggest challenge now? I mean, he has mentioned that all 14 of the country’s Islamic agencies will undergo organisational restructuring. Any thoughts on how he can do that in a sustainable, acceptable manner?
Dr. Faizal: I think first of all; his first challenge is he needs to reform the fatwa institution. He needs to inform Islamic institution, he needs to start looking at, you know, rigidity. I mean, since the past administration, Malaysia has actually embraced hard line kind of Islam. And, it is not good because we have been under severely attacked. In UPR, there was a credited review, last 4 years, and we are going to face another cycle of universal review this year. So, I think he needs to help to reform and bring good image of Islam. I think this is the first challenge that he needs to overcome and this is very difficult because, you know, there are varieties out there. And, anything you do to reform Islam will be attacked; he will be criticised and be charged as you are attacking Islam or attacking the Muslims, attacking Malay. So this is the, I think, the biggest challenge.
Uma: Now, our previous guest, Ahmad Farouk Musa called for the new Government to take a strong position on religious tolerance. What other reforms would you consider to be progressive?
Dr. Faizal: Not just progressive because “progressive” is being tolerant. Being tolerant is not enough in this country. Because tolerance is still a negative word, you know. I can tolerate you, although I do not like you. Something like that, you see. What we need to do is we need to sit and discuss and to understand each other. And, this has not been happening since ages. And, to me, Mujahid should lead this. There is always guidelines in human rights, for example, Rabat Plan of Action in order how to determine whether it is a hate speech or not. Or, is it a free speech? So, we have guidelines in our human rights and covenants, and I think this is what Mujahid need to do and he should, I feel, work with the Foreign Minister because I think the Foreign Minister has stated that Malaysia going to ratify other conventions and this is important especially the ICERD and the ICCPR will sort of like recognising other faiths, other minorities be it religious and also sexual.
Uma: Thank you Faizal for weighing in. That was Dr Mohd Faizal Musa, Research Fellow at the Malay World and Civilization, the National University of Malaysia. We put the news coming your way after these messages.