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Saturday October 22, 2011

What is Himpun about?

AS several thousand Muslims from over a dozen NGOs will gather in Shah Alam for Himpunan Sejuta Umat (Himpun) today, many questions still remain unanswered.

The gathering is to protect the aqidah (creed) of Malaysian Muslims from the supposedly growing problem of conversion to Christianity.

But it is apparent that very little information is given to support those concerns.

For one, there has yet to be any well researched agreement on the actual number of apostates in Malaysia. The suggested numbers have ranged anywhere from 135 (according to Ustaz Ridhuan Tee) to 260,000 (according to Tan Sri Dr Harussani Zakaria).

Surprisingly, according to the latest population census released by the Statistics Department earlier this year, there has not been a single Malay convert or apostate.

Nor does there seem to be any reliable information on 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.

Ustaz Tee, for example, assumed that the Damansara Utama Methodist Church is Catholic.

Such a reductive attitude does not contribute to constructively formulating, nevermind, addressing the problem.

Different Christian churches have markedly different attitudes to evangelising. Indeed, much of the fervour leading up to Himpun seems to be founded on hunches and guesses.

Given the apparent lack of information to substantiate Himpun’s objective, it is all the more curious that there has yet to be any constructive conversation with organisations and members of other faiths about its concerns.

The prevalent message from Himpun is that this problem can be addressed only by Muslims, for Muslims; despite the fact that their concerns clearly involves the faiths of other communities in Malaysia.

There is a sense, that their dogged insistence to handle this on their own suggests unnecessary standoffishness.

Malaysia is a multiracial and multireligious country where peace and harmony depends on a genuine and amicable understanding between one another.

There are compelling facts and evidence to suggest that the powers that be are behind the movement, citing how the government-friendly media is playing it, how quick it is in getting the permit and the personalities involved.

There are also two important questions that the organisers of Himpun are not asking: 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.

The Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) takes the following views in regard to this matter:

Spiritually, as a Muslim organisation committed to democracy, freedom and justice, the IRF regards the freedom of conscience and belief as central Islamic values.

Freedom, that is the capacity to rationally deliberate on the merits of 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.

The notion of responsibility then 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 (al- Qur’an 2:256).

From a more legal perspective, the IRF 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.

In a modern, multiracial and multireligious society where people of different faiths live side by side, and cooperate 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.

Without proper dialogue across communities, the situation will only lead to defensiveness and a perpetuated sense of insecurity from all sides.

We would like to reiterate that the “battle cry” of Himpun to defend the faith will only show the vicious and intolearnt 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?

As an intellectual organisation that focuses on youth empowerment, the IRF insists that it is duly committed to the goal of Muslim solidarity.

However, it must be stressed in 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.

DR AHMAD FAROUK MUSA, MOHD RADZIQ JALALUDDIN, AHMAD FUAD RAHMAT, EDRY FAIZAL EDDY YUSUF

Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF)

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