THE Rukun Negara (the Malaysian National Philosophy) affirms courtesy and kindness (kesopanan dan kesusilaan) as the most important character trait for relationship in plural society. On the other hand, arrogance and causing offence to the sensibilities of others are thoroughly condemned, regardless whether it is committed by the rich, the powerful, or linguistic and cultural chauvinists.
Observing social media and current reports in the traditional ones, especially on partisan politics and hawkish pressure groups, this writer always wonder whether Malaysians are now promoting being respectful of diversity more than being arrogant, or the other way around.
Being respectful, polite or arrogant all are character traits of individuals, which are inculcated by parents, families, teachers and educational institutions. Have we taught our children and students sufficiently about being respectful to humanity without arrogance?
There is an Islamic tradition on being respectful, where Mu‘adh ibn Jabal said, “The Messenger of God commanded me saying, ‘O, Mu‘adh, I command you to fear God, to speak truthfully, to fulfil the promise, to deliver what you are entrusted with, to shun perfidious actions, to care for the neighbour, to have compassion towards the orphan, to be soft-spoken, to be generous in extending greeting, to do your best no matter what you do, to curtail your fallacious hope, to cleave to the faith, to study the Qur’an, to love the hereafter, to be anxious in regard to the Day of Reckoning, and to act with humility…” (Bayhaqi).
Notwithstanding the partisan politicians and the media, this writer cautiously believe that many Malaysians regardless of religious affiliation—or rather because they are inspired by their faith—are, indeed, respectful of each other. The Malaysian founding father called this muhibbah, meaning mutual love or affectionate friendship among human kind, which is more than mere tolerance.
Merciful human relationship is a great idea originated from scriptural Revelation, recorded in the Qur’an. Its basis is the understanding that humanity originates from the common origin called nafs wahidah—a fact emphasised throughout the Qur’an. There is essential unity of the human races as God’s creatures. As human beings, all of us belong to one human family, without any inherent biological superiority of one over another. The Prophet Muhammad was quoted to have said, “Man is but a God-fearing believer or a hapless sinner. All people are the children of Adam, and Adam was created out of dust” (Ahmad).
In the worldview of Islam, while among Muslims there is “religious brotherhood”, between Muslim and followers of other faiths there is “biological brotherhood” of the human race. According to this teaching, biologically all of us are brothers and sisters as we are all from one living entity (nafs wahidah), whose proper name is Adam.
It is one of the wonders of God’s creation, that from one person (Adam) we have grown to be so many; each individual has so many faculties and capacities, and yet we are all one. In other words, this common origin should appeal to the solidarity of humankind, as all of them are brothers and sisters.
Arising from this kinship, there are mutual obligations, mutual rights and duties, of human beings towards one another. In another universal verse, God says, “O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from them twain has spread abroad a multitude of men and women. Be careful of your duty toward God in whom you claim your rights of one another…” (4:1).
All humankind is one, whose mutual rights and dignity must therefore be treated with full respect they deserve. This is the fact, which is always valid even if each of us has our own religious communities. It is in this context that the Prophet Muhammad states, “All creatures are equal dependents upon God (‘iyalullah), and those dearest to God are the ones who treat His dependents most kindly” or in another translation, “The whole of mankind is the family of God and he amongst His family is dearest to Him, who does good to others” (Bayhaqi). Indeed, the Prophet highlights the fact that all humanity is equally under God’s care, He Who feeds, nourishes and sustains them. Moreover, those dearest to God are the ones who are of benefit to others.
Islam thus strongly condemns all racial prejudices. Our “natural” outward differentiations—whether in terms of gender, race, language and skin colour—are deemed by Islam merely as superficial labels. It is a person’s inward goodness; his “nurtural” ethical quality—measured according to universal religious values—that should be the basis for our esteem for others.
We should never ridicule nor insult nor unnecessarily be suspicious of one another, just because the other is of different gender, race, language or hue. Racial quarrels must by all means be avoided, through proper understanding of one’s own religion in relation to others’.