FOR every three Muslims in Malaysia, there are two others who follow different faiths and beliefs. In reality, the Muslim community, which amounts to over 18 million people, co-exists with more than 11 million community of followers of other faiths, including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Chinese Beliefs, Sikhism and others. Inter-faith co-existence is, thus, imperative with regard to Malaysia’s national unity.
Our community’s success thus far consists of gaining independence from the imperialist powers of Siam, Portugal, Dutch, British and Japan, in maintaining its sovereignty, and in progressing in science and technology and economy. Since independence, Malaysia has achieved the best economic record in Asia, with GDP growing an average of 6.5 per cent for almost 50 years, with the economy expanding in the new, innovative sectors of science and commerce.
All these reflect that to a certain extent, there is social integration and unity in Malaysia, which consists of, among others, adequately understanding other faiths and beliefs, positive perception, and low level of prejudice towards other adherents.
A research by UPM and IKIM in 2013–2014 aimed at surveying for baseline data finds that firstly, the majority of respondents or 95 per cent score high, reflecting a high level of basic knowledge in his religion as well as others’. Secondly, the majority of respondents have positive perception of followers of other faiths: more than 95 per cent in the Peninsular and Sarawak, and 63.8 per cent in Sabah. Thirdly, the majority of respondents or more than 80 per cent have a relatively low level of prejudice. Indeed, while there is successful social integration, we believe unity can always be gradually enhanced.
Such success is largely because, since the fight for independence, the vision of the country is to safeguard the interest of all including the minority. There is no compulsion in terms of religion, culture, and in learning and speaking other languages. However, given Malaysia’s diverse races and tongues in a relatively young country, for the sake of social integrity and robust communication, the Constitution of the Federation enshrines that there should be one national language, the Malay language.
Another significant national document that envisions the future of Malaysia, the Rukun Negara, emphasises the following three aspects. First, being democratic in politics; second, fairness and justice in economics; and, third, acceptance of the fact that Malaysia inherits rich and colourful multi-cultural traditions.
Disunity looms large on the horizon, if the contrary happens. First, absolutist government: with no check and balance, socio-political authorities will incline to oppress the weak and powerless. This results in disunity between the powerful authorities and the vulnerable and the defenceless.
Indeed, throughout the Qur’an, God condemns all political power obtained through aggression or criminal violence, inasmuch as it is bound to give rise to oppression, suffering and moral corruption in society. One such verse is “Indeed, Pharaoh tyrannised over the land and divided the people thereof into different classes; he oppressed one class of them, …for he was one of those who spread corruption on earth” (al-Qasas, 28:4).
It is such a Pharaonic claim to absolute power that is the overriding destructive force against human civilisation, whereby “he has transgressed all bounds of what is right” (Ta Ha, 20:24) or the limits of golden mean confirmed by divine law and sound rationality. Moreover, God commands through the Prophet Muhammad in a hadith, “O My servants! I have forbidden Myself from oppressing anyone, and have made it (oppression) unlawful for you, too. Thus, you must not oppress each other.” (Related on the authority of Imam Muslim and Ibn Hanbal.)
The second cause of social disunity is corrupt economic system, when the rich stockpiles national wealth at the expense of the poor and the helpless, in a huge economic gap. A just circulation of wealth is indeed emphasised throughout the Qur’an: “wealth should not circulate solely among the rich” (al-Hashr, 59:7).
While promoting an ethical social order, God severely denounces the condition of economic disequilibrium. Fazlur Rahman, in his work, Major Themes of the Qur’an, views that gross economic disparities are most persistently criticised because it is the most difficult issue to remedy at the heart of social discord. It signifies a pernicious divisiveness of humanity and a major cause of the decay of societies.
Even if the wealthy rightfully earn something, they could not spend it just as they wished. Not all wealth earned rightfully belongs to them; the needy, the indigent and the deprived also have a right in it. God rebukes the act of hoarding wealth and heartless uncharitableness. The Qur’an refers to those who hoard their wealth without spending anything thereof on righteous causes in the following poignant words, “those who amass gold and silver and spend not in the way of God [and thus in public welfare]” (al-Tawbah, 9:34).
Those who lead selfish lives also have been severely reprimanded. Even as they perform religious rituals, they fail the test of “little acts of neighbourly help, the thousand little courtesies and kindnesses of daily life, the supply of needs which cost little but mean much.” God censures their hypocrisy in the Qur’an: “Have you observed him who gives lie to Religion? It is he who treats the orphans (the helpless) with contempt and feels no urge to feed the needy. Woe, then, to those who pray, yet are neglectful of their prayers—those who pray for show and deny all assistance [to their fellow-men]” (al-Ma‘un, 107:1-7).
The third cause of disunity is intolerant and narrow perception of cultural diversity. A fair and just appreciation of diverse cultural elements, as outlined in Malaysia’s National Cultural Policy since 1971, must take into account Malay and Islamic culture without any chauvinistic elements whatsoever. Last but far from least, the fourth cause of disunity is if the national language—the soul of our nation—is neglected in cultivating “national identity” even as it is the mother tongue of a singularly largest majority of around 60 per cent of the population.