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ISLAM AND ETHNIC RELATIONS IN MALAYSIA


DR. AMINI AMIR BIN ABDULLAH DEPARTMENT OF NATIONHOOD (GOVERNMENT) AND CIVILIZATION STUDIES, FACULTY OF HUMAN ECOLOGY, UNIVERSITI PUTRA MALAYSIA, 43400 SERDANG, SELANGOR, MALAYSIA. amini@putra.upm.edu.my draminiamir@gmail.com

Abstract Islam recognizes the differences of human beings in terms of race and stocks and never makes any excuse that the multi-racial society is an obstacle in implementing the policies of Islam. Thus, Allah emphasizes the need for all human beings to know each other. These universalistic characteristics of Islamic teachings have made it possible for Islam to spread all over the world. Further, the Muslims under the guidance of the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. have shown their capability to rule and implement Islam in a multiracial society. In Malaysia, the Muslim majority has lived together with the non-Muslims since an early period in history. The majority of non-Muslims never reject the establishment of the Islamic state in Malaysia. There was no strong concrete evidence to the non-Muslims rejection to the establishment of an Islamic state. And if there had existed a genuine rejection, it was because of their confusion on the concept of an Islamic state as a result of the failure of the Muslims to give correct information regarding the true meaning of an Islamic state, its rules and benefits. As a result of false facts and incorrect information fear and apprehension has arisen among the non-Muslims about their position and rights in an Islamic state like Malaysia. The Malaysian history of plural society has experienced various challenges and tests. In a multiracial, multi-religious and multi-cultural society like Malaysia, many sensitive issues can spark tensions when a certain party or group act freely without taking into consideration the effects on others. The plural society life in Malaysia is a living reality that one cannot deny. The Malaysian history of plural society has experienced various challenges and tests. In a multiracial, multi-religious and multi-cultural society like Malaysia, many sensitive issues can spark tensions when a certain party or group act freely without taking into consideration the effects on others. The plural society life in Malaysia is a living reality that one cannot deny.

INTRODUCTION

Although man was created identical in nature (fitrah), he may be very different from his neighbour and belong to another ethnic group or tribe. Among the differences are: race, origins, stock, culture, religion, language and others. Islam recognizes these differences and never makes any excuse that the multi-racial society is an obstacle in implementing the policies of Islam. Thus, Allah emphasizes the need for all human beings to know each other. These universalistic characteristics of Islamic teachings have made it possible for Islam to spread all over the world. Further, the Muslims under the guidance of the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. have shown their capability to rule and implement Islam in a multi-racial society.

ISLAMIC STATE AND PLURAL SOCIETY

The first government and Islamic state was established in Madinah. During the reign of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w., the society there was a plural one. Compared to Malaysia, it is not impossible to say that the Madinian society was more complex with various ethnic groups. In Madinah, the plural society became the first Islamic state. The Prophet's ruling was accepted by all from the highest ranks to the lowest ranks of society and regardless of their origins, such as Muslims, Jews, Christians or Majusis. They were able to live in peace and harmony without feeling oppressed, fear or discrimination. The rights of the non-Muslims were guaranteed by the Islamic Constitution under the guidance of the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.. The non-Muslims not only lived normal lives as did the Muslims, but also their security was protected and guaranteed under the Islamic laws. If the Muslims violated their rights, the Muslims would be punished. There was no rejection of the concept of an Islamic State and its rules (Ilyas Ahmad, 1981: 102-114). In history, most of the Islamic rulers administered affairs by dispensing social justice and to all their fellow citizens regardless of their religious origins. There were lots of examples where the rules of Islam were established within the multi-racial communities (Anwar Ahmad Qadri, 1982). Therefore, the non-Muslims should not be feared of an Islamic state like Malaysia. 2

In Malaysia, the Muslim majority has lived together with the non-Muslims since an early period in history. The rejection of the establishment of the Islamic state among the Muslims themselves has been the major obstacle towards the realization of a true Islamic state in Malaysia. The plurality factor and the rejection of the non-Muslims toward the establishment of an Islamic state are reasons created by culprits who own personal interest and agenda. There was no strong concrete evidence to the non-Muslims rejection to the establishment of an Islamic state. And if there had existed a genuine rejection, it was because of their confusion on the concept of an Islamic state as a result of the failure of the Muslims to give correct information regarding the true meaning of an Islamic state, its rules and benefits. Muslims who had their own political agenda and interests could also be blamed for their confusion. As a result of false facts and incorrect information fear and apprehension has arisen among the non-Muslims about their position and rights in an Islamic state like Malaysia.

The Chinese are flexible in their thoughts and way of life. They are able to adapt and acclimatize to any condition or pattern of government. One can observe their placid existence all over the world as long as their economic activities are not interfered with. The Indians and Sikhs behave in a similar way. They want their fundamental rights and religious freedom to be protected. Only Islam is able to offer these privileges to the nonMuslims. The non-Muslims are able to live under Islamic rule as long as they are convinced that their rights to pursue economic activities and practice their cultures are guaranteed. Various negative interpretations on Islam need to be corrected immediately. In Malaysia, the non-Muslims seemed to have received correct information regarding the elements of Islamic rule since the National Front was in power more than half century ago. The non-Muslim communities are able to live in a normal way and this should give confidence to non-Muslims in various other states that Islam is not as bad as it has been described.

Although Islam is the religion of Malaysia, every person has the right to profess and practice his own religion, and the right to propagate his faith. But the right to propagate 3

other religions is not permitted by law amongst persons who are Muslims. In other words, although Islam is the religion of Malaysia, every non-Muslim enjoys their own religious liberty except in propagating their faith to the Muslims.

Based on our research (Amini, 2000), 56. 1 per cent of respondents (multi racial) show agreement with the constitution provision that Islam is the religion of Malaysia, 17.9 per cent of the respondents show disagreement and 25.9 gave no response. Irrespective of their religious beliefs and ethnic origins, the majority of the respondents seem to have accepted the mentioned constitutional provision. Living in a multiracial country with its unique historical background, these respondents understand the significance of Islam being the religion of Malaysia. Furthermore, they realize that their right to profess and practice their own religion is guaranteed. Moreover, the non-Muslims themselves feel that the provision does not affect their social, economic, and religious liberty. In fact, they were given full religious freedom in the sense that they would not be compelled to pay any tax for the purpose of any religion other than their own, the right to manage their own religious affairs, to establish and maintain religious institutions and charitable purposes, and to acquire and hold any property (Ahmad Ibrahim, 1984: 51).

In other words, the non-Muslims religious freedom is guaranteed within the framework of the interpretation of the constitution. The non-Muslims who accepted the provision are the ones who have shown their tolerance and respect towards the Malays who own the country, and towards their leaders and the Malay leaders in preparing such an important provision in the constitution. Despite the agreement, one could look further into the differences among the groups. Many non-Muslim religious leaders (Tan, 1984; Ponniah, 1984) also show their agreement with the provision. The Federal Constitution stated the special position of Islam as the official religion of Malaysia and therefore the spirit of Islam is embedded in the Federal Constitution and the sense that Islam is concerned specifically all state affairs including spiritual and ritual matters.

When some one speaks about preserving the country as a secular state, it means that the state has no connection with religion, the society is no longer under the control or 4

influence of religion, and the religion is not allowed to play a part in civil affairs. Therefore, Malaysia is not a secular state in a one sense. To say Malaysia is not an Islamic state is also not totally correct. This is because Malaysia owns the characteristics to be classified as an Islamic state. First, most of its leaders are Muslims and its constitution contains some spirit of Islamic teachings. Second, the scope of Islam interpreted in the Constitution is not primarily for the ceremonial purposes, and third the government's treatment of Islam is largely substantial and practical rather than symbolic.

INTER-RELIGIOUS RELATIONS AND INTEGRATION: THE ATTITUDE OF ISLAM

The Malaysian history of plural society has experienced various challenges and tests. In a multiracial, multi-religious and multi-cultural society like Malaysia, many sensitive issues can spark tensions when a certain party or group act freely without taking into consideration the effects on others. The plural society life in Malaysia is a living reality that one cannot deny. The complexity of a plural society is not a catastrophe nor a disaster, but it is one of the signs of the greatness of the mighty Creator Allah. In alQur'an, Allah says:

"And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colours; verily in that are Signs for those who know" (Surah Al-Rum, 30: 22). Racial integration as a positive idea is affirmed and substantiated in the teachings of alQur'an and al-Sunnah. The Holy Al-Qur'an frequently addresses mankind directly [the phrase used is ya ayyuha al-Nas, O mankind] in general, rather than exclusively to the believers or Muslims [ya aiyyuha alladhina amanu, O believers]. It only does so when it is necessary to differentiate between the believers and unbelievers. In Islam, differences in religions are the significant aspects of mankind but differences in race and colour are not significant at all since biologically (Surah Al-Nisa, 4: 1), all men are equal. All are members of the human family; and bonds of faith or creed overcome dissimilarities of colour or citizenship. Mankind is originally made up of a single nation. Al-Qur'an 5

confirmed this and also clearly testified that man later differed essentially due to differences in faiths and beliefs. Allah says, Mankind was one single nation, and God sent Messengers with glad tidings and warnings; and with them He sent the Book in truth, to judge between people in matters wherein they differed; but the People of the Book, after the clear signs came to them, did not differ among themselves except through selfish contumacy (Surah al-Baqarah: 2: 213). Allah also says:

Mankind was but one nation, but differed (later). Had it not been for a Word that went forth before from thy Lord, their differences would have been settled between them (Surah Yunus, 10: 19).

The basic unity of mankind is to know each other and to communicate (Surah al-Hujurat: 49: 13) From the creation of Adam and Hawa to the visionary account of the end of 'Alam [all things except Allah] we find the common human origin and in the end we find a common end of life. Throughout the al-Qur'an and al-Sunnah, the theme of genealogical symmetry emerges out of the divisions and conflicts of the human situation and the surroundings and circumstances. When we talk about development and racial integration, we cannot separate man in his relationships to his God and environment, living situations and interaction. Racial integration is the prior condition for the process of development and on the other hand, development facilitates the process of racial integration. Both are needed at the same time and one influences the other.

The Islamic affirmation of racial integration and concern for comprehensive development (worldly and hereafter) leaves us with the question of process. Islam is required to provide confirmation of the idea of racial integration and the task of development. The ideas and task of development cannot work by themselves. It needs religion for motivation. Religious interpretation and understanding of communal solidarity as a process of development is essential. Therefore racial harmony and the process of development need religion as an essential asset. If a Muslim believes that Allah wills the

integration of races, it bears the stamp of approval of Allah the Supreme God and conversely, it becomes an act of sin to cause division and remain in conflict.

The phenomenon of a plural society is not a problem. What creates the problem is the way in which the phenomenon is handled. In the history of managing this problem, various formulas were promoted and implemented but they were only deemed to be 'trial and error' and not a permanent solution. The Islamic way of handling this phenomenon is a divine formula (the Rabbani formula). Only this method can manage the phenomenon of plural society. The complexity and diversity of religions is not an abnormal phenomenon. It is a result of religious freedom, which is recognized by Islam itself. This fact has been mentioned several times in the Al-Qur'an:

Let there be no compulsion in religion: truth stands out clear from error: whoever rejects evil and believes in God hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks (Surah al-Baqarah, 2: 256) According to Abdullah Yusuf Ali (n.d.: 80), Compulsion is incompatible with religion because (1) religion depends upon faith and will, and these will be meaningless if induce by force, (2) Truth and error have been so clearly shown up by the Mercy of God that there should be no doubt in the minds of any persons of good-will as to the fundamentals of faith, (3) God's protection is continuous, and His Plan is always to lead us from the depth of darkness into the clearest light. Allah could have created mankind all alike; a single nation and a single people with one mother tongue and one kind of personality to live. However, Allah gives us diversity in almost all aspects of human life to test our capacity for unity and belief in Him. Allah shows us the truth through Al-Qur'an and Al-Sunnah. Allah says: If God had so willed, He would have made you a single People, but (His Plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to God; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute (Surah Al-Maidah: 5: 48)

Allah created man different in race, language and colour. The differences are not to build up class barriers but to build up relationships and to know each other (Surah Al-Hujurat, 49:13). The variety of languages and colour does not imply any notion of privilege, preference or propensity. According to Abdul al-Aziz Abd al-Qadir Kamil (1970: 63), in Islamic thought, privilege opposed to God's demands of affection and brotherhood Race and colour discrimination are not from Islamic teaching. Human beings are equal in social status but not in faith. As manifestations of God's omnipotence, the Al-Qur'an does not display any antagonism towards or preference for any particular colour.

The Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. gave an example to show how Islam does not recognize social class differences and status. One day the Prophet was sitting in between his companions. Then came a group of people carrying a dead body. The Prophet stood up and was followed by his companions. But his companions while standing said that the dead body was a Jew. The Prophet answered: Is not that dead body also a soul? The Prophet tried to emphasize the basic equality between human beings as a creation of God (Marcel A. Boisard, 1980: 194). They must respect each other and live in harmony. Interestingly, Islam also teaches Muslims to supplicate non-Muslims in certain occasions. For instance, when a non-Muslim (People of the Book) greets a Muslim, the Muslim should reply by saying, "wa 'alaikum" (And upon you) (Al-Qahtaani, 1996: 258). When a non-Muslim sneezes, a Muslim should say: "yahdikum Allah wa yuslih balakum" (May Allah guide you and rectify your condition) (Ibid: 257).

Islam does not consider religious differences as an obstacle in developing the principle of living together because religious differences can be controlled by the Islamic principals of universal unity such as the policy of human honour (al-karamah al-Insaniyyah), the unity of human being (al-Wahdah al-Insaniyyah), human cooperation (al-ta'awun alinsani) and tolerance (tasamuh) among various races, groups and religions. These are the policies which can create peaceful living in a plural society. The problem is in implementing these policies and how far those who are involved are really prepared to implement and respect these policies?

ISLAMIC UNIVERSALISM

In Islamic history, the Islamic policy of human universalism is not only lip-service or utopia, but was proven practical throughout the ages. The peaceful agreement of the Hudaibiyyah Treaty and the Sahifah Al-Madinah (the first written constitution in the world) with its conditions was a historical evidence of the magnificent of Islam (M. Hamidullah, 1968). Thus, in one event in Bait al-Maqdis where 'Umar al-Khattab refused to pray in a church since he was worried that his action would be misunderstood by the Muslims and become a reason to demolish the church and rebuild a mosque on the scene.

In upholding the truth, Islam suggests debate and dialogue with wisdom (hikmah) and good manners since only in this way the can people be invited to think rationally and with calmness. To flirt or to make a joke of or to revile another's religion's teachings are not what Islam teaches. These acts cannot make other people approach to the Islamic truth but made the gap between the religions become wider. Here prudence is applied when Allah prohibits his followers from vilifying the worshipped objects other than Allah: Allah says:

Revile not ye those who they call upon besides God, lest they out of spite revile God in their ignorance. Thus have we made alluring to each people its own doings. In the end will they return to their Lord, and we shall then tell them the truth of all that they did (Surah al-An'am: 108). Commenting on this verse, Abu al-A'la al-Maududi (1992: 263) suggests: The Prophet (peace be on him) and his followers are admonished not to allow their proselytizing zeal to dominate them so that their polemics and controversial religious discussions either lead them to be offensive to the beliefs of non-Muslims or to abuse their religious leaders and deities. Far from bringing people closer to the Truth, such an attitude is likely to alienate them from it further.

The attitude of not interfering with other religions was not only limited to peaceful situations but also warfare. One Islamic caliphate in his speech to his army before

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entering the war field, reminded them not to attack places of worship places or those who were praying in them. Even the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. expressly forbade Muslim armies from attacking women and children, the sick and elderly, monks, worshippers and hired labourers. He also outlawed the wanton killing of animals, the burning of crops and vegetation, the polluting of waters and the destruction of homes, monasteries, churches, and synagogues. The prophet Muhammad s.a.w. said: "The first cases to be adjudicated on the Day of Judgement will be those of bloodshed" (Abu al-A'la Al-Mawdudi, 1993: 35-38). With regards to killing in general, there are many Quranic verses and ahadith forbidding this. Allah says: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone slew a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land. It would be as if he slew the whole people. And if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the whole people (Surah Al-Maidah: 32).

Islam is ready to be observed and researched. As an absolute true religion it will stand up to any test. The excellence of Islam can be appreciated as along as the researcher is honest in his quest to find the right truth and guidance (M. Benabound, 1982: 7). But to do research in order to deny and disprove or discredit Islam has sometimes been done by the orientalists and the enemy of Islam (A. Hussain, R. Olson and J. Qureshi, 1984: 7) There are no followers of one religion who wish their religion to be condemned or reviled.

In order to face the complexity of various groups in a multi-religious society, the Muslims should not only be prepared to tolerate but also to act firmly when needed. Islam provides adequate guidance in peaceful situations or during the wars. Islam also prohibits the act of inciting terror into the hearts of defenceless non-Muslim civilians. Islam also prohibits killing and maiming of innocent non-Muslims men, women and children. All these acts are forbidden and regarded as detestable criminal acts according to the divine sources of Islam. So, in Islamic history, the Muslims have lived in peaceful conditions and in warfare as well.

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CONCLUSION

To conclude, Muslims have to be ready to face both preliminary layouts - peace or war. In accordance with Islamic teachings of peace and harmony in international relations or inter-religious relations, Muslims would choose to live in peace. Islam also permits Muslims to react with reciprocity to other parties. For any act of terrorism involving the Muslims, it would be wrong to judge Islam by the actions of a few misguided Muslims as Prince Charles (1993: 13-16) observed: our common attitude to Islam suffers because the way we understand it has been hijacked by the extreme and the superficial. Our judgment of Islam has been grossly distorted by taking the extremes to be the norm. This is a serious mistake. ...when used as a basis to judge a society, they lead to distortion and unfairness Extremism is no more the monopoly of Islam than it is the monopoly of other religions, including Christianity. BIBLIOGRAPHY Al-Quran Al-Karim. A. Hussain, R. Olson and J. Qureshi. [1984]. Orientalism, Islam and Islamists, USA: Amana Books. M. Benabound. [1982]. Orientalism and the Arab Elite. The Islamic Quarterly, XXVI (1), 1-12. Abdul al-Aziz Abdul al-Qadir Kamil. [1970]. Islam and the Race Question, Paris: UNESCO. Abdullah Yusuf Ali. (n.d.). The Holy Quran: Translation and Commentary, Islamabad: Da'wah Academy IIU. Abu al-A'la Al-Mawdudi. [1993]. Human Rights in Islam, Leicester: Islamic Foundation. Anwar Ahmad Qadri. [1982]. Justice in Historical Islam, New Delhi: Kitab Bhavan. M. Hamidullah. [1968]. The First Written Constitution in the World: An Important Document of the Time of the Holy Prophet, Lahore: SH. Muhammad Ashraf. Prince Charles, H.R.H. The Prince of Wales. [1993]. Islam and the West (A lecture given in the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford), Oxford: Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies.

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Marcel A. Boisard. (1980). Humanisme Dalam Islam (trans: H.M.Rasjidi), Jakarta: Bulan Bintang. Saeed Ibn Ali ibn Wahf al-Qahtaani. [1996]. Fortification of the Muslim Through Remembrance and Supplication from the Qur'aan and the Sunnah, Riyadh: Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation. Abu al-A'la al-Mawdudi. [1992]. Towards Understanding the Quran, (translated and edited by Zafar Ishaq Ansari), Vol. II, Leceister: Islamic Foundation. Ehrlich Eugene. [1980]. Oxford American Dictionary, New York: Oxford University Press. Tan Chee Khoon. [1984]. Constitutional Provisions for Religious Freedom in Malaysia. In Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra et. al. Contemporary Issues on Malaysian Religions, Petaling Jaya: Pelanduk Publications. 25-32. S. M. Ponniah. [1984], A Hindu Perspective. In Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra et. al. Contemporary Issues on Malaysian Religions, Petaling Jaya: Pelanduk Publications. 7681. Ilyas Ahmad. [1981]. The Social Contract and the Islamic State, New Delhi: Kitab Bhavan.

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