Religion and politics - that's a potent mix guaranteed to be explosive. Keep faith out of politics!
IN the run-up to the general election, holding forums on political issues, even in churches, has become fairly common.
most churches would be careful about bringing politicians into a house
of worship to talk politics, there are some that are prepared to
organise or at least play host to such events.
Last Saturday, the
Oriental Hearts and Mind Study Institute (OHMSI) conducted a talk on
“Islamic State: Which Version? Whose Responsibility?” with the keynote
address by Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa, director of the Islamic Renaissance Front. The forum was held at a church in Subang.
But the person who captured the headlines was PKR deputy president Nurul Izzah Anwar
who was one of the moderators. In response to a question from the
floor, she found herself caught in a controversy over whether Malays
have a right to choose their religion.
She was speaking to a
largely urban non-Malay audience and, as seen in a video recording of
the event that has now gone viral, she was greeted with loud applause.
feisty politician has since denied making any statement suggesting that
there should be no compulsion on Malays to be Muslims.
But she earned a royal rebuke from the Sultan of Selangor and she has quickly blamed Utusan Malaysia for allegedly distorting and twisting her reply to a member of the audience.
make things more complicated, the person who posed the question to
Nurul Izzah has now expressed her disappointment over the latter's about
turn on the issue.
Lawyer Siti Zabedah Kasim was quoted as
saying by news portal Free Malaysia Today that “I believe Nurul Izzah
was just trying to impress the people. She didn't think of the
For many non-Muslims, especially those living in
urban areas, the issue was probably dismissed as a non-starter and seen
as another political move to discredit Nurul Izzah.
But for conservative Muslims in the rural areas, it would be unthinkable and unacceptable.
for Nurul Izzah, the language used at the forum was English and the
video that's currently going around does not have Bahasa Malaysia
subtitles, thus making the damage less severe for now.
Nurul Izzah to deny it vehemently now would suggest that she has woken
up to the grave political consequences of what she has done. If there
was no impact, she would have just shrugged it off. She now wants to get
out of this tricky spot.
The easy part is to blame Utusan Malaysia,
which is well known for its nationalist slant, but the pro-Pakatan
Rakyat news portal Malaysiakini also carried the same story using the
same angle on Nov 3.
Nurul Izzah has also put PAS in a corner. On Friday, PAS spiritual adviser Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat
said that if Nurul Izzah had indeed made her controversial statement on
religious freedom, “then something is not right” while PAS president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang wanted to hear from her.
Their only purported concerns, or a way out, seem to be that they have doubts over the accuracy of reporting by the media.
strongman Ngeh Koo Ham tweeted last week in support of Nurul Izzah,
quoting Article 11 of the Federal Constitution which states that every
person has the right to profess and to practise his or her religion. But
Ngeh, a lawyer, did not say it has to be read with other applicable
There are laws restricting the propagation of other
religions to Muslims. Article 160 of the Federal Constitution, for
example, is clear that all ethnic Malays are Muslims. A Malay is defined
as someone who professes to be a Muslim, habitually speaks the Malay
language and adheres to Malay customs.
The fact remains that the majority of Malays want this to remain as law and as practice and convention.
Izzah's slip has been seized on by Umno because the fight in the polls
is essentially over the majority Malay votes, especially in the rural
constituencies which are heavily in favour of the ruling party. Of the
222 parliamentary seats, only about 45 are Chinese-majority in urban
areas and there is not a single seat with an Indian majority.
Izzah's case will also have a deep impact in PAS where the divide
between those regarded as sympathetic to Anwar and the more orthodox
ulamas is concerned. Former deputy president Nasharuddin Mat Isa,
for example, is solidly in the Islamist party despite his overtures to
Umno. He has regularly spoken up against the DAP, a PAS ally, but
remains untouched because he is said to be protected by the anti-Anwar
forces in the party.
The church in Subang has found itself in the
spotlight for hosting the forum. Recently, another church which hosted a
forum on the elections found its speakers and the media squabbling over
the accuracy of some negative remarks made on Pakatan Rakyat.
a lesson here keep religion out of politics. But as long as there are
politicians masquerading as theologians of their respective faiths, no
one will take this advice kindly.
ON THE BEAT By WONG CHUN WAI
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