Christian leaders and others have expressed apprehension over a proposal last week for official guidelines to govern conduct between Muslims and non-Muslims.
“It is ridiculous that after 54 years of independence and living side by side, Muslims still need ‘guidelines’ for interactions with non-Muslims,” said Marina Mahathir, a women’s rights’ activist and daughter of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.
The Ulama Association of Malaysia made the proposal on February 16. The association has also urged Muslims to stay away from religious festivals of non-Muslims, following Prime Minister Najib Razak’s visit to a Hindu celebration recently. The visit has started a debate on whether Muslims can attend a religious celebration of other religions.
“Surely we know what we as Muslims can and cannot do, from our religious education. Or is this an admission that these ulama (Muslim scholars) have not been doing their job in educating us, that we should be ignorant to this day?” Marina said.
“Guidelines can be a very helpful tool in promoting harmony and avoiding misunderstandings,” admitted Reverend Eu Hong Seng, president of the National Evangelical
Christian Fellowship Malaysia.
“But in the hands of narrow-minded and overzealous people who want to issue edicts to other religious groups disguised as ‘guidelines,’ this is sure to prove disastrous,” he warned.
Reverend Thomas Philips, president of the Council of Churches of Malaysia, said the proposed guidelines are not necessary.
“There are sufficient laws to safeguard the interests of all communities,” he said, adding that talk of barring Muslims from visiting religious celebrations of non-Muslims “creates more suspicion when attempts are encouraged to maintain unity and harmony.”
A prominent Muslim scholar, however, said such guidelines are needed today because politicians have abused Islam.
Asri Zainul Abidin, a former state mufti (Muslim cleric), told media on February 19 that Muslim politicians from both ruling and opposition parties have accused each other of being un-Islamic for political gain.
In his view, guidelines would clarify what kind of participation in celebrations of other religions is permitted in Islam, based on knowledge and not on emotion.
Other Muslim clerics have said such guidelines need to be very limited in scope – covering only non-Muslim religious rituals and not cultural practices.