Monday, August 24, 2009

Nik Nazmi on the manipulation of religion for political purposes

Religion and society in Malaysia

By Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad

AUG 23 — As Muslims the world over begin their fast with the blessed month of Ramadan, perhaps it’s time for us to reflect on the role of religion in Malaysian society.

At a youth programme in Subang Jaya I attended recently, a friend of mine asked whether it was possible to move beyond the twin bugbears of religion and race that has poisoned in Malaysian politics and cleaved our people. This sentiment has been gaining some currency lately — the idea that religion should be removed from our public life. Many even see religion as something anachronistic to the modern world.

I responded by saying that religion will always exert a powerful influence over all Malaysians. In fact, one has reason to doubt the idea that religion is somehow on the retreat worldwide.

In the United States, for instance, Barack Obama helped to reverse the Democrats long malaise because he could reach out to communities of faith. Many Democrats were uncomfortable with religion, thus allowing the Republicans to frame the discourse of faith to suit their conservative politics.

I went on to say that I always express my belief that justice is a central tenant in Islam whenever I address my fellow Muslims. An important part of this includes reaching out to non-Muslims and treating them fairly.

A large part of the failures and troubles that have beset the ummah the world over is due to the fact that our tradition of moderation has somehow been waylaid, and this is something that we must regain. Doing so will not only guarantee our progress in the various fields, but also contribute to peace and dialogue between the other civilisations.

Thus, religion to me is not something that is a barrier or a problem but a source of civic virtue, providing a moral and ethical framework in life. I also feel that it is important for Muslims to always strive to achieve the moral high-ground — because that is what our faith demands of us.

That is why I believe that it is impossible for us to remove religion from the public discourse in Malaysia. What is not right and what no one should countenance — and this is the point of my article — is the cynical manipulation of religion for political purposes. Recent events have unfortunately shown that inciting sectarian conflict to score political points is the “in thing” in Malaysia today.

Thankfully, the vast majority of the Malaysian public have always been wise enough to call the bluff of such schemes. In fact, in my experience, the shrillest cries in any controversy almost always comes from those who are the least knowledgeable about religion (and more often than not the least devout) in order to give them the cloak of piousness.

[Read the rest of this noble and illuminating essay at The Malaysian Insider]

Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad is the state assemblyman for Seri Setia and is the political secretary to the Selangor Mentri Besar. He writes a fortnightly article for The Malaysian Insider.