The Government is the ‘culprit’ for our religious insensitivity !

For umpteen years after independence, Malaysians were proud of their religious tolerance and racial harmony.

But a string of religiously insensitive incidents that occurred in recent years and voluminous bigotry statements blurted out from leaders of political parties and non-government organizations cast dark shadow upon an otherwise harmonious society. The ban on the word ‘Allah’ in a Catholic periodical was the most glaring stigma on religious intolerance. The petty advice against festive greetings to non Muslims had left many jittery and dumbfounded in bewilderment. Caution, the world is watching us !

Islam is one of the greatest religions on earth. I have always been impressed and admired an ancient case where an Arabic Judge had boldly ruled in favour of a Jew litigant against an Arabic litigant, which demonstrated the highest degree of justice and nobility in Islamic jurisprudence. However the uncultured and unreasonable conduct of a handful Muslim extremists had marred the image of this great religion in people’s mind.

Three latest incidents pitted with religious insensitivity had irked Malaysians with rational minds.

On April 21, Subang Municipal Council enforcement units issued summonses and forcefully pulled down restaurant signboards with beer advertisements. Apparently it was because alcohol is a taboo in Islam.

Also on April 21, the Department of Islamic Development brushed aside and usurped upon the powers of other governmental authorities, came out with the so-called (legally non-binding) ‘latest entertainment guidelines’ to regulate the concert organizers and artists who plan to perform in Malaysia, infringing upon their personalities such as their hairstyles and attire, thinking that it would ensure people will not be confused of their gender; and spectators of the two opposite sexes are to be seated separately (but one wonders where would the ‘pondans’ be seated) and entertainers must make sure that their performances would not draw excessive laughters from the audience. Apparently, again it was because of Islamic taboos.  

A week ago, the conduct of about 50 people at Taman Medan in Petaling Jaya, protested against the placement of a cross on the façade of a church had shocked the entire nation. Apparently, again it was because of Islamic taboo.

These incidences demonstrated the increasing signs of rising religious intolerance in our society.

The anti-cross incident had drawn the wrath of sensible Malaysians; many moderate Muslims even boldly condemned it. Former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad blamed the current prime minister Najib for the incident. But, it is not fair to blame Najib and it is also not fair to solely blame the cross protestors. The reason is, Mahathir was the main ‘culprit’ of religious intolerance today !


As a teenager growing up in the rural areas i.e. the rubber estates in Pahang with neighbouring Malay kampungs, the writer witnessed the Malay, Indian and Chinese continued to freely mingle around with not the slightest strain among the Pahangites even during the unfortunate May 13 incident.

One of the most common scenes of thick and cordial relationship amongst the people, in particular, the Malays or Muslims and the non-Muslims were their frequent casual visits to each others homes, besides “lepak-ing” together, ‘minum kopi’ and chatting away in Chinese coffee shops.

Today, the young Muslims seemingly shy away and dread to walk into the Chinese coffee shops. 

No thanks to Mahathir.

It all started with Mahathir’s overzealous policy of instilling common Islamic value into the government administration which prompted many administrative measures and actions by local authorities and the Department of Islamic Development; resulting to many religiously insensitive incidents that made the non-Muslims uneasy. To quote a few instances at random.

In the early 80s, DBKL once came out with the ruling that hawkers must cover roasted pork which they were selling with a white cloth. Reason, Muslims may be passing by the stalls.

The Kuantan municipal council ordered hotels to stop their practice of placing bibles in hotel rooms.

In wet markets across west Malaysia, pork stalls were often pushed to quiet or dark corners separated by cement walls with small entrances. In the supermarkets, pork and pork related foodstuff were sold in isolated area with the signboard ‘TIDAK HALAL’; inevitably creating the impression that non-Muslims were treated with disdain as they had to ‘curi-curi buying’ the ‘unclean’ meat. Why can’t pork or pork related food be simply described as ‘non-Muslim food’ instead of ‘TIDAK HALAL’ or ‘unclean’ food ?

State banquets, restaurants or stalls in government buildings; and the national type schools’ canteens, pork is banned and the non-Muslim pupils were not allowed to pack ‘TIDAK HALAL’ food to schools.

Beef, which is the taboo for the Hindus, Buddhist or Kuan Yin disciples continued to be served publicly, whereas pork is banned. It appeared that there are no mutual respect in that regard. In passing, the writer sincerely urges the government to ban beef together with pork for religious reason so as to reflect mutual respect to all religions.

Food stalls along the highways only ‘allowed’ to cater Muslim food. This is outright religious intolerance.

There seemed to be no mutual religious respect under Mahathir’s ‘Islam is utmost supreme’ policy which had nurtured a handful swollen headed Muslims who become religious ‘bullies’ or hooligans, for example the anti-cross residents.

All Malaysians respect the fact that Islam is the official religion of the nation and Islam is in an unchallengeable supreme position enshrined by the constitution.

But, Mahathir regime which projected Islam and anything related to Islam as utmost supreme to the extent that in 2001 he had openly declared Malaysia an Islamic state, may be the ‘root’ cause of religious intolerance in Malaysia.

Mahathir seemed to base on the fact that Muslims were the majority to justify his contention that Malaysia was an Islamic state. But when one mix black coffee with milk, they naturally become the blend with the ingredients of both coffee and milk, irrespective of their ratio. It would be irrational to claim that the mixture is coffee only because coffee forms a larger portion of the two.

On June 19, 2014, Mahathir changed his stance saying that Malaysia is neither an Islamic nor a secular state, but an ‘ordinary state’ with Islam as the official religion. The writer hopes Mahathir would be honest enough to admit that he had blundered by declaring Malaysia as an Islamic state.

Mahathir’s religious ‘legacy’ had rendered UMNO leaders after his regime, including Najib’s administration, facing incredibly uphill tasks of containing Islamic extremism.

Bluntly put, Mahathir was the main ‘culprit’ which caused the religious intolerance today.

When non-Muslims can bear the amplifying sound of morning prayers as well as the daily calls for prayers, that's religious tolerance! But the 50 odd anti-cross residents who could not even bear the sight of the cross and staged protest to pull it down, that is definitely religious intolerance and in fact barbaric, which must be condemned to the highest degree in order to preserve the spirit and culture of religious tolerance.

The day when Malaysians of different religious backgrounds truly respect each others’ eating or drinking habits and appreciate that ‘one man’s meat is another man’s poison’; sitting and eating meals together and drinking on the same table where one is eating his meat and the other is eating or drinking his ‘poison’ and vice versa (which is a common scene in east Malaysia), and accept and appreciate each others habits and culture; then, and only then, we have truly achieved religious tolerance and harmony.

Mutual respect is the key.

That said; we can take consolation that Islam is a peace loving and tolerant religion, which is practised by majority of the Malaysian Muslim society.