In a recent forum organized by Harmony Malaysia and the IAIS International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies, panelists and speakers went all out to promote the idea of changing education, changing political laws, changing mindset towards cosmopolitanism and reinforcing the Rukunegara.
For me, were I there in the forum, I would have pointed out that all the panelists and speakers forgot or refused to discuss the biggest elephant in the room; Islam and its narratives.
Without discussing Islam and without putting muftis like Dr. Asri or populist ustazs on the podium with a multiracial and a multi-faith audience, nothing concrete would materialize.
I am not saying that these religious personalities will have the answers. I am saying that they are the main problem. Point blank. I will explain.
How will we be able to change education from primary to tertiary levels and talk about Bangsa Malaysia if the clerics do not believe in it and also do not know how to reframe Islam within that thinking?
Our most powerful influencers of Islam are the popular penceramah masjid and social media, the muftis and the PAS politicians.
These are now the makers of the narrative for Islam because professors of Islam do not step up and professionals in ABIM and IKRAM choose to sit on the sidelines and appear to be “progressive.”
If we cannot frame the idea of a multi-faith and multicultural Bangsa Malaysia in Islamic terms, forget it…no civil servants, no politicians will dare propose any change to the curriculum and syllabus of religious education and history.
Moral study is nowhere without the force of Islam. It has been dismissed by statements of arrogant muftis thinking that they are the saviors and definers of the religion.
How will political reforms that would emulate Western democracy be made like one academic panelist suggested?
First, you must have someone from the executive to propose it. Who is this executive? Which politicians? And then, you have to get the other MPs to support it. Who will support it?
Politicians will never support something that will restrict themselves from changing stance, groups and opportunities. You need people of integrity and…Islamic. Only the Islamic force can move mountains as seen in the Rome statute incident and the ICERD fiasco. All because of religion.
Well, race played a role too but race was framed in religion, more powerful.
These two potent forces were then added with a sprinkling of creative historical narrative of Malay-Muslim-royalty supremacy under God.
Then there were those who talked about cosmopolitanism.
Really? When you have not solved or tampered the conservatism of Islam, you expect Muslim-Melayu to be mixing happily with people who drink and dance.
Look at Mas Ermieyati talking down to Tiong for drunkenness.
Be realistic! If cosmopolitanism does not have several Islamic terms to it, susahlah! You can start by throwing away that western term first.
Finally, there is that favorite idea that politicians are at fault for making divisive statements.
I have said many times that it is not the politicians that are dividing us, it is the Malays and the non-Malays who do not have wisdom in interpreting information, do not have any humility and think they can be ministers and prime ministers and they do not have respect for each other at all.
This is coupled with a 5G WiFi speed that can facilitate the destruction of any community and society within a blink of an eye.
The Malays are now looking at Islam because they have overcome their economic problems, more or less.
Now, 98% of Malays want a fast track to heaven. This means spending money on pilgrimages instead of on the poor. This means supporting Hadi Awang and Sanusi as heroes of derogatory remarks and dirty talks against non-Muslims specifically…and Anwar Ibrahim inclusively.
Next comes boycotting hard-working Malays working at McDonalds and Starbucks because Muslims want to be in solidarity with the suffering of Palestinians ignoring any and every suffering here in Malaysia caused by these ignorant do good-ers.
Some may blame ABIM, IKRAM and Anwar Ibrahim for opening the Pandora box of Islamic Reformation. My reading is, even if ABIM or Anwar or IKRAM never existed, the Malays would eventually become as conservative as this albeit perhaps 10 years down the road.
So, what now?
My suggestion is for Harmony Malaysia and IIAS call in muftis and ustaz speakers as well as politician clerics to the podium alongside the present panelists today and let them examine what Bangsa Malaysia is.
After that, IIAS and Harmony Malaysia with the Unity Ministry convene all the muftis in Malaysia with a few professors of social science, lock them up in a hotel for five days and come out with a framework of Islam and Bangsa Malaysia plus a strategic plan to change school and tertiary education and the Friday sermons as well as fixed topics of nation-building in mosques as compulsory curriculum.
Then we can move somewhere. If not cakaplah apa pun, nothing will happen if Islam and the clerics do not support the idea of a Bangsa Malaysia.
For the sake of our future, we must first address the elephant in the room…Islamic conservatism.
(Prof Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor of Architecture at a local university and his writing reflects his own personal opinion entirely.)