Published: Sunday October 12, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday October 15, 2014 MYT 12:48:52 PM

Moderate Malaysians?

The Prime Minister wants Malaysia to lead the moderate movement. But whose idea of moderate is up for debate.

In his recent Aidil Adha message, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said that Malaysia would continue to hold tightly to the moderation approach as outlined by the Islamic religion. It got me wondering what exactly was meant.

He made reference to a speech he made earlier at the General Debate of the 69th United Nations General Assembly.

There, the Prime Minister had unambiguously laid down Malaysia’s stance against the perceived rise of Islamic fundamentalism, as manifested by the Islamic State (previously known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Isis, or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Isil): “We reject this so-called Islamic State. We reject this state defined by extremism. And we condemn the violence being committed in the name of Islam.”

He was very clear that the Islamic State had nothing to do with the Islam that he embraced. “The actions of these militants are beyond conscience and belief. They violate the teachings of Islam, the example set by the Prophet Muhammad, and the principles of Islamic law.”

He concluded by espousing the moderation movement, a concept he has championed for several years now. “By practising moderation in religion, we can marginalise the extremists.”

Which of course begs the question, where is the line between the moderates and the extremists? When we say “moderate”, we must either mean an average stance taken on a global basis; or we find a community who we think is moderate, and use that as a benchmark.

The Prime Minister in his speech implied that our own country should be the exemplar: “Malaysia stands ready to share its experience of marginalising extremism; maintaining a multi-religious country where different faiths coexist and prosper; and showing that Islam can not only succeed, but drive progress and development in a pluralistic society.”

There is some logic to that. When people talk about moderate Islamic countries, Malaysia is almost always included. There are about 17 million Muslims in Malaysia, who constitute about 60% of the population – a majority, but not overwhelmingly so.

As a result, there is much interaction between people of different faiths, and it all seems to have gone smoothly.

Yet even among ourselves, we disagree. Some Muslim Malaysians feel that celebrating Valentine’s Day or Oktoberfest openly is an affront, while others stand up for other communities’ right to self-expression, even when at odds with Islamic culture. Which side of the argument would a moderate be on?

In 2013, the Pew Research Center – a non-partisan US think tank – published a report entitled The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics And Society. It surveyed Muslims from around the world about their social and political views.

Some results supported the idea that Malaysia was a moderate Islamic country, with 92% of Malaysian Muslims saying non-Muslims are “free” or “very free” to practise their religion, and three-quarters of them saying this was “a good thing”.

The report, however, also showed that 86% of Malaysians favoured making syariah law the official law of the land, with 36% of those also saying that non-Muslims should be included under its ambit.

Admittedly, I don’t think it makes you an extremist just because you want syariah law. But a non-Muslim may not think it is very “moderate” to force someone to follow the laws of a different religion.

Some other results stand out: 58% of Malaysian Muslims favour the death penalty for Muslims who leave Islam (apostasy). 61% favour whippings or amputations as punishments for those who steal. 54% favour stoning of adulterers.

Perhaps the most surprising of all (for me at least), is that only 64% of Malaysian Muslims said that suicide bombing is never justifiable; 28% said it could be justified under various circumstances. To put this in context, the proportion of Malaysian Muslims who support this inhumane, irresponsible act of violence outnumber those in countries like Indonesia, Pakistan and Iraq.

When I first came across the figures, I wondered if the sample taken was truly representative of Malaysian Muslims. However, Pew specialises in empirical social science research, and has experts in the field. In Malaysia, it interviewed 1,244 individuals, who were representative of the adult population and could answer in Mandarin, English or Bahasa Malaysia. The margin of error is reportedly +/- 4.4% (at a confidence level of 95%).

With these facts before us, can Malaysia truly stand and say it is moderate? We may be seen as moderate by other Muslims (even then, not in all facets). But I also think non-Muslims looking in from the outside would hesitate to agree straight away.

Perhaps the struggle is not so much to find the right path, but to accept that each finds his own path and struggles to find what is right.

I do not believe you should kill those who turn away from you, but help them find a way that benefits all.

Nor should you stone those unfaithful to you, but recognise relationships are between two people – some are poisonous while others are a catalyst for good.

And the ultimate self-sacrifice is not to lose your young life for an ideal, but to live as long as possible and struggle through the one you have so that others close to you are better for it, and that they too can help others.

But then, perhaps I’m just a moderate and those are just my opinions.

Tags / Keywords: ModerateMY, Opinion, Contradictheory, Dzof Azmi, moderate Malaysia, syariah law, Pew Research Center, moderation, brave views bold ideas

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At the recent General Debate of the 69th United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak laid down Malaysia's stance against the perceived rise of Islamic fundamentalism, as manifested by the Islamic State. - Bernama

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