On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Protect our plural makeup

Following a public outcry, the Ipoh City Hall retracted a controversial invitation card with a ‘no saree’ directive issued to staff for a special Hari Raya Aidilfitri gathering.

WE are in danger of being perceived as a half-baked country if we are not careful. Malaysia is getting international news coverage for the wrong reasons and unfortunately, this is getting pretty regular.

For instance, in this day and age, why would anyone use age-old terms, coined thousands of years ago during the age of warfare, where violence is the only answer to any dispute?

But yes, it has happened.

It dragged on for almost a week before Pahang Mufti Datuk Seri Dr Abdul Rahman Osman, who uttered the now controversial kafir harbi (non-believers who opposed Islam) term, explained that he has never condoned any killing of those he labelled as kafir harbi.

Neither did he bother to point out that in the press interview, he did not talk about drawing the blood of those who opposed Islam was unacceptable.

All he cared about was that he would not apologise or retract his statement, deemed by many to be dangerous.

The impression most Malaysians got was that pride was more important to this man than anything.

Well, he may not have used the words “blood is halal”, which somehow found itself into social media but the point is that the kafir harbi term he used essentially fits the bill.

The police have said the mufti would now be investigated for sedition and this is rightly so. The other question is whether anything would come out of it.

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) put out the fire by saying that the Cabinet was of the view that Dr Abdul Rahman’s statement on kafir harbi was just an opinion, and not a fatwa.

Recently, the mufti, in an Utusan Malaysia report, likened DAP to kafir harbi, a term for non-Muslims who wage war against Islam. The PMO said that the mufti’s statement actually meant that the kafir harbi group should be resisted and not be fought against.

“His statement was also not a fatwa (edict). This is because an official fatwa must first go through the fatwa committee for determination,” the PMO said, adding that in the context of Islam, the term kafir harbi referred to non-Muslims based on conditions stipulated in the religion and those who were prepared to fight the rulers.

“In this context, non-Muslim Malaysians cannot be categorised as kafir harbi as they are citizens of this country, are protected by the country’s laws and are not at war with the Government.

“Therefore, the Government stresses that any party giving views on the term kafir harbi must exercise due care so as not to create uneasiness among members of society, especially the non-Muslims,” it said.

It also noted that it had been proven that since the nation’s independence, the Malaysian society, which comprises people of different races and political ideology, was able to live in peace, based on the principles of democracy while their rights as Malaysian citizens were protected by the Federal Constitution.

The PMO’s statement cleared the air but what disturbed many Malaysians, especially the non-Muslims, was the lack of Muslim leaders, especially ministers, who were prepared to condemn the mufti’s statement swiftly.

Religious figures may be well-versed in religion (and here, we are talking about all religions) but this certainly doesn’t mean they are always right. Our move in challenging, criticising and correcting any one of them should not be seen as questioning or ridiculing a certain religion.

In fact, it is our duty to correct these figures if their opinions are wrong. More importantly, they should be aware that our society places great respect on religious figures and so, what they say have a serious impact on the country and all its communities.

Using terms which seemingly imply that it is permissible to draw blood (kill) of non-Muslims or others who have differing views on Islam, is highly dangerous.

There will be some misguided ones who would think that this is religiously allowed, after all, in their simplistic and warped thinking, since this was uttered by a learned person in Islam.

The mufti’s remarks is worrying because he is a man who holds the highest religious post in Pahang.

This comes not long after the Ipoh City Council got fried for sending out an invitation for a Hari Raya gathering with the words that “the Malays should wear ‘national clothes’ while those of other communities are to wear traditional clothes except saree”.

The instruction was very specific and even a newly landed Bangladeshi or Nepalese would know the meaning of “kecuali” or except.

To carry out damage control, the council had to clarify that its employees were not disallowed from wearing saree at its special Aidilfitri gathering on July 1.

In a statement, it said there had been a misinterpretation of the dress code in the invitation sent out to staff.

“The confusion arose due to a misunderstanding. When it says ‘except saree’, it means the staff can wear a suitable saree and those who work in the field can choose to wear a saree, office wear, or anything that is appropriate for the ceremony,” the council said.

A copy of the invitation, which is being circulated on social media, drew flak from many, saying it was discriminatory.

The issue ended well, however, as Mayor Datuk Zamri Man stepped up and apologised. Many staff turned up at the happy event in saree.

Now, Deputy Health Minister Dr Hilmi Yahaya reportedly said that the Government plans to allow only female doctors to assist in childbirth at public hospitals.

He quickly clarified, saying that “however, the plan is on hold because there are not enough female doctors in the obstetrics and gynaecology line.”

“So we have to wait until there are more trained female doctors in this area,” Bernama reported.

And all this came from a petition the Health Ministry received in 2013 from a group of people to only allow female doctors and nurses to work in the labour room and maternity ward, in the interest of aurat (modesty) of Muslim patients.

The petition, signed by 6,880 people, urged the ministry to encourage more women to take up obstetrics and gynaecology, and raise awareness among medical professionals about aurat requirements during childbirth.

It is really mind-boggling. This is a country of 32 million people and the Health Ministry is letting 6,880 people decide for it?

If we allow this, next, we will have gender segregation in hospitals – doctors and nurses for a particular gender.

We cannot allow this madness to grow, all in the name of religious requirements. Our leaders must step up and stop all these and not look the other way.

The shape of this country, with its multi-culturalism, will disappear and Malaysia is in danger of becoming another Arab town, if we dare not stop and oppose these minority elements, set to kill our plural makeup.

Can moderate Malaysians be blamed if we believe that powerful and influential forces, in our institutions and administration, are effectively but quietly, carrying out their agenda to reach their objective?

The voices of moderation must prevail. We need to speak up against the minority who want to impose their narrow interpretation of religion on us.

The time to do it is now.