THROUGHOUT its thousands of years of history, Islam has experienced many challenges from and confrontations with people of other faiths and political ideology. Islam has, however, remained resilient. It has prevailed despite all these challenges and threats to its existence.
As a religion of peace and compassion, it has always opted for peaceful resolutions to any conflicts. It has absorbed all nonviolent threats in like manner. There are many verses in the Quran that advocates for a peaceful solution only resorting to equal measures of violence when its existence is threatened, and only as a measure of last resort when efforts at peaceful settlement failed. It has met violence with violence but not to the point that seeks vengeance.
The violent so-called Islamic movements or Caliphates such as Al-Queda, Isis, Abu Sayaf and others, which the West label as terrorists, do not represent the true Islamic faith, which is based on peace, patience and compassion. These groups propagate political and tribal interests, not an Islamic agenda. Islam does not condone senseless killings or torture as perpetrated by these groups, and does not promote its faith through force but through exemplary deeds and its quest for justice for all and sundry, irrespective of creed, colour or religion.
Opposition to Islam from both within and without is an ongoing challenge. Muslims have been persecuted, as in the cases of the Rohingya of the Rakhine State in Myanmar and the Uyghurs of Turkish descent in Xinyang Province in China, as well as in Palestine. This intolerance of Islam is based on both a political and religious agenda that denies coexistence among peoples of differing faiths.
On the other hand, Malaysia is a shining example of the coexistence of the adherents of major faiths. Though there are times when this plurality of beliefs breeds antagonism due to real or perceived insults to each other’s beliefs. And, of course, the situation is exacerbated when politicians exploit these incidents to serve their vested interests.
Islam in Malaysia has never been threatened; in fact, it has flourished, even though there have been times when the religion was exploited to serve a political agenda. And there were also groups propagating deviant teachings they claimed to be Islamic. But none of these incidents has challenged the position of Islam as enshrined in the Constitution.
Last month, there was that incident of a caricature of Prophet Muhammad that was uploaded on Facebook. We do not actually know the reason behind his action; perhaps it was just a prank, though in bad taste, done in the spur of the moment. We need to view this incident from the true perspective of Islam rather than through a prismatic view of distorted threat.
One or two caricatures that deride the Prophet and Islam, though it provokes angst among Muslims, will not undermine the bastion of Islamic faith, nor will it cause tension or friction among peoples of different religions. We should not overreact, and any punitive action taken against perpetrators should be tempered with compassion and understanding, with the objective of counselling and correcting wrong perceptions of Islam rather than being vengeful.
It would not be in the interest of Islam to mete out punishment that signals vindictiveness rather than mercy and compassion.
MOHAMED GHOUSE NASURUDDIN
Centre for Policy Research and International Studies
Universiti Sains Malaysia