Stopping religious exclusivism in Malaysia from taking root
The Sultan of Johor, Ibrahim Iskandar, recently condemned a laundrette in Muar for its “Muslim-only” services. He demanded its owner apologise and discontinue the discriminatory practice, which undermines his people’s generally tolerant, harmonious and moderate outlook.
This is not the first time the Sultan has voiced his concerns regarding exclusivist attitudes. Previously, he cautioned the Malays not to imitate the Arabs by ignoring their cultural heritage. He had also asked the federal Islamic department Jakim to explain its overblown annual budget of RM1 billion (S$320 million).
Malaysia’s Council of Rulers, which is made up of all nine sultans in the country, echoed the Sultan of Johor’s unease, urging Malaysians to uphold the country’s cherished multicultural, inclusive and tolerant values.
Many applauded the Malay rulers’ intervention. To have a group with such royal stature rejecting exclusivism will definitely put the brakes on divisive behaviour of certain religious elites. The rulers are the heads of Islam in their respective states and they have authority over appointments in religious councils and departments. The rulers also determine who becomes the mufti (chief religious scholar) of each state and whether fatwas (religious rulings) can be enforced.
Yet, to develop a more inclusive society, a top-down intervention would not suffice without grassroots support. We do not want Muslims to tolerate non-Muslims (and vice versa) because of their fear of the law, or because their leaders said so, but because they truly understand the essence of upholding diversity and freedom found in Islam. Thus, society should also give the intellectuals and activists the space to develop critical ideas.
Restricting grassroots intellectual inputs means shutting the doors to progress, as society is exposed only to ideas promoted by those in power whom they are familiar with.
Society must be aware that there are groups promoting ideas that are relevant for modern needs. Ideas associated with laws, governance and the economy have to evolve to meet the contemporary context of a multiracial and multi-religious Malaysia. Dichotomising Islamic ideas from non-Islamic ones is no longer the right approach in this modern day and age when Muslims and non-Muslims live alongside one another, abiding by the social contract embodied in the
Hundreds of kimono-clad people, including Japanese nationals and Malaysians, celebrated an annual Japanese summer festival in Shah Alam in July. Malaysia’s Council of Rulers has called on Malaysians to uphold the country’s cherished multicultural, inclusive and tolerant values.