Will Sabah go the way of Semenanjung in extremism and intolerance?

AS I sat in the Hyatt Centric Hotel watching the boats streak across the sea to several islands in the distance, I recalled the night’s conversation with Sabahan friends who hosted a dinner wanting to ply me with questions on Islam, the Malays and how Sabah would be affected from the craziness in Semenanjung (Peninsular Malaysia).

As usual, with all the talking I had to do, I had to tapau my dinner lah. I never liked dinner meetings, lunch talks and anything that combines eating while talking because I can only talk or eat and not both! Susah lah, ini macam!

I was in Sabah awaiting the first launch of my latest book, "Resetting Malaysia", on Monday (March 20) afternoon at the state library with a forum on Sabah’s future in the midst of the volatile race and religious discourses across the South China Sea.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is set to partner with Perikatan Nasional to light the fires of hatred and mistrust as per his usual strategy of confusion and rule. My Semenanjung book launch will be after Hari Raya Aidilfitri with a former Speaker of Parliament and a forum set to take place with a few of my Malay intellectuals who dare to speak like me against the norm of Ketuanan Melayu or Islam.

At last night's dinner, Sabahan friends extolled the wonderful diversity of their culture in ethnic and religious heritage and surmised that the heat of Semenanjung fires will never reach its shores.

I was sorry to be the bearer of bad news but I disagreed with their take on the issue. Yes, Sabah is safe...now and perhaps 10 years down the road, but I predict the fallout from the religious war between Malays and Malays and Malays and everybody else will eventually smoulder this heaven of tolerance and diversity with religious hatred and racial mistrust. What is my explanation for this?

How could Sabah avert this future scenario of one tragedy?

Sabah's people have always been diverse to the sum of more than 40 ethnic groups. Islam that came to this part of the world, as I understand from friends, is what I term as "administrative and cultural Islam". Sabah has not yet experienced the Reformist Islam that initially looks good on paper but that is now the fuel for extremism and social devastation in Malaysia.

In Semenanjung, if a cleric or a minister proclaims a group of film director, producer and actors as "sesat", then these poor souls will be subjected to threats of rape and murder on themselves and their family members.

In Semenanjung, if you put out a campaign to be kind to dogs, you had better take leave for a year in Australia and avoid the acid or filth being thrown at your car...if you were lucky.

In Semenanjung, my friend (Datuk) Noor Farida (Mohd Ariffin) of G25 was threatened with rape just because her group published a book on Islam.

In Semenanjung, a Malay man was said by some stupid Internet users to be insulting Islam and was attacked by vigilantes and had his face bashed and bloodied.

Our wonderful police force took the bloodied man into custody while I don’t know what happened to the attackers.

If you are accused of insulting Islam in Semenanjung, don’t wait for justice, just go live in Sabah or Sarawak for a while, the only safe haven left in this mad country.

The fact is, Sabah cannot stop the wave of ignorant "Islamic Reform" to its shores.

Matured Islamic Reform began with the likes of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in his civilising Islam or Madani Islam but unfortunately, it ends with the likes of Tan Sri Abdul Hadi Awang and his zeal of total domination of other faiths making them irrelevant.

The social media posts of Abdul Hadi, Azhar Idrus, Kazim Elias and Zakir Naik will eventually reach the ears of the young Muslims and with Islamic NGOs that seem moderate at first, these then will be the stepping stone for eventual extremism.

I have participated in the Islamic Reform movement for 35 years and I have seen its birth, maturity and decay from the United States, Scotland and in Semenanjung.

I may not have the academic research to back up my prediction but who can challenge my 35 years of participant observation?

What can Sabah do to avert this?

Firstly, send the young people of Sabah to private universities and not to public universities in Malaysia. The Kongres Maruah Melayu is proof that public universities have a race and religious supremacy narrative in their administration.

Anwar’s Madani Islam has still not penetrated this bastion of narrow mindedness. Secondly, bring Sabahans back to work on a new Sabah economy of tourism, sustainability, agriculture, fishery and a global service networking.

As much as possible, Sabah must be self-sufficient and independent economically.

Thirdly, avoid Semenanjung political players like the plague. Forming coalitions at the federal level is ok but not home-grown Semenanjung based parties.

I may sound unpatriotic but the extremism of political disease is like the coronavirus and Sabah must isolate as much from the narratives of mistrust.

Fourthly, retrain the officers in the religious department to be multidisciplinary in intellect and send them overseas for studies where they would be the minority faith in the host country.

Only these ustaz can change the narrative from an intolerant faith to a more inclusive one after they themselves have been transformed spiritually.

Finally, set up an independent centre for religious discourse on an endowment fund where a group of open-minded Malaysians of diverse races and religions would be the platform of peace and inclusiveness intellectually and politically and serve as an educator for the people and advisor to the sitting government of Sabah.

I pray and hope that my suggestions from 35 years of experience and spiritual reflection may save us all and that Sabah would be the beacon of inclusiveness, not only for Malaysia, but also for the world.

> The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.


Professor of Architecture,

Tan Sri Omar Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Studies,

UCSI University

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