Doubt is part of all religion. All the religious thinkers were doubters. – Issac Bashevis Singer, author and Nobel Prize laureate
The antipathy being shown to Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah Anwar for her candid and forthright view that everyone is deserving of religious freedom, including the Malays, reveals the feared truth that religion is a personal choice and coercion simply does not work.
The truth is Nurul Izzah has done the Malays especially a favour through her remark that religious freedom should be accorded to everyone.
It is a different matter that her comments made in a forum entitled “Islamic state? Which vision? Whose responsibility” on Nov 3 came down with a ‘Richter Scale’-like backlash.
The statements coming from the Prime Minister’s Department were typical. Minister Jamil Khir Baharom said Nurul Izzah’s remark was “misleading” and “dangerous”. His deputy, Mashitah Ibrahim, went further, calling for the young politician’s prosecution on the charge of insulting Islam.
How could any thinking person conclude that she was insulting Islam when the gist of her remark was her quotation of the Quranic verse that prohibits believers from compelling people to accept Islam?
Mashitah even hinted that Nurul Izzah was encouraging apostasy, a claim which the PKR vice-president begged to differ.
A pertinent question
It appears that there are many in this country that are unwilling to tolerate such ingenuous view of a ‘green’ politician and that too one who is the daughter of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim.
Granted that it was anomalous for Nurul Izzah to so bravely touch on a topic so sensitive in this country, Islam; sadly, unlike her, the minds of her fellow colleagues, especially in the Barisan Nasional camp, have yet to ‘attain’ maturity.
Thinking out of the box or daring to make a paradigm shift has never been BN’s interest nor strength, hence its ‘condemn and ridicule’ approach in dealing with anything its nemesis, the Pakatan Rakyat pact does or says.
Nurul Izzah has posed a very pertinent question, one that forces everyone to ruminate and ask questions in order to penetrate to the essence of any religion. Most people who have even a rough understanding of Islam will agree that asking questions is not a sin in that religion.
The outstanding problem in this country, however, is that one is given the impression that anything bearing upon the country’s official religion and Malay rights and privileges is not to be questioned.
Still, in light of all this, Nurul Izzah dared to state what she believed to be true. She certainly was not trying to ingratiate herself with anyone by speaking her mind.
As it stands, the country’s constitution says if you are a Malay then you are automatically a Muslim. It is given that the Malays will not go against the constitution, not when it comes to religion.
But then what happens if a Malay individual wanst to denounce his religion? These are serious questions that need genuine answers, not rebuke and punishment.
Why is there the fear of addressing of even acknowledging the fact that there are some Malays who are unhappy with their religion?
Religion is a guide
Going by the harsh reactions to Nurul Izzah’s ‘religious freedom’, it pains one’s heart to see how mankind has taken upon themselves to play God, determining with an iron fist the faith of their fellow beings.
Maybe this is why the saying goes “put your confidence in God and not in man”.
Life is uncertain and likewise religion too is something that is not carved on stone. Enlightenment comes when one least expects it and with it the decision to embrace the religion of one’s choice.
It has taken a rookie politician to get the message across that religion is something personal and cannot be dictated by anyone who wants to play God. We should thank her for it.
After all, freedom of belief is everyone’s birthright, irrespective of which ‘skin’ forms the dominant race.
Or in the words of Dalai Lama: “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness”.
Jeswan Kaur is a freelance writer and a FMT columnist.