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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Apostasy issues cloud this Raya as politicians turn religion into a millstone

Apostasy issues cloud this Raya as politicians turn religion into a millstone

There has been a recent uproar surrounding the issue of apostasy amongst the Muslim community, and fingers of blame have been pointed in all directions, from Christian tuition schools to opposition leaders.

But really, at a time like Hari Raya Aidilfitri, should we perhaps not be celebrating our commitment and faith, or the commitment and faith of our loved ones to Islam? Instead we are squabbling and pointing fingers; actions that stem from a place of insecurity and lack of faith, in direct contrast to what all religions call for.

St Thomas Aquinas once said, “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”

Does anyone really believe that enacting extreme laws can force true faith into the non-believer? And if it’s not true faith that we’re after, it has to be asked, what purpose do these laws against conversion from Islam serve? To govern by fear and force? It is hard to believe that this is what the religion truly calls for in their followers: a generation of the socially indoctrinated and the forced.

Oppressive

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights regards the recanting of a person’s religion to be a human right that is legally protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Interestingly, in many countries where Islam is the state religion: Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Nigeria, and in some states in Malaysia, apostasy is penalised (we are more liberal, in most of these countries it is penalised by death) but conversion into Islam is highly encouraged. Now why are these oppressive laws necessary?

Some may be crying out right about now, “How dare you! We are not oppressed!” Now unfortunately, when one doesn’t even have the internationally recognised human right to choose what religion and God one can put one's faith in, it is most certainly oppression.

Of course many, if not most, have found peace in this situation and solace in Islam. Many, if not most, do not feel oppressed, because they have grown up with what is undoubtedly a beautiful religion and have come to embrace it. And for this I salute their pure and unadulterated faith. But it is in cases like Lina Joy and Wong Ah Kiu that the question of human rights really come into play.

While in both cases the courts eventually ruled in favour of the conversion, the legal proceedings were both tiresome and drawn out with initial rejections and appeals, putting the strain of the public’s eye onto what should’ve been a mere personal or familial affair for the converts. According to the BBC, Joy had to go into hiding when her case was in court.

Another hopeful-convert, known only as Maria said in 2006, "If people know that I've converted to Christianity, they might take the law into their own hands. If they are not broadminded, they might take a stone and throw it at me.”

Followers and not thinkers

So those who don’t believe our current system is one that promotes oppression might want to take a look at the strain choosing to believe in another God has had on these women’s lives, and maybe, just maybe, reconsider.

Freedom is choice, and inflammatory as it may seem to this country, maybe this freedom of choice should extend to religion and moreover, to the Muslim community. Surely it is better to have followers believe in the religion because they want to, rather than because they have to?

Human rights and freedom of choice aside, the strict rule of thumb that all Malays need necessarily be Muslims, could very well be contributing to creating generation after generation of followers, but not thinkers. What this law has essentially done is take away the people’s independence on their very personal and significant path of spirituality.

It teaches one to follow without questioning, believe without challenging, actually drawing many parallels to our education system, but that’s a story for another day. It takes away from independent thinking and indoctrinates a fear of challenging, leaving us with a generation of sheep and a country in stagnation. It does nothing to encourage leadership or thinking outside of the box.

This may be an extrapolation, and there are some out there who break the mould, of course, but as a hypothesis and a theory it isn’t an exaggerated one.

A presonal right and nothing more

As a point of clarification however, I am in no way against Islam, in fact, I think it’s a commanding religion. I am merely against a system that not only oppresses but in general also takes away from the character and independence of a society that has so much potential, but has unfortunately a government too insecure to allow them to achieve it.

Religion is a beautiful thing; it is human nature that mars it. Our history stands as true testament to that. The Iran-Iraq war, September 11th and the crusades are all consequences of man’s selfish desires dressed up in a fancy disguise that those involved call religion. As such, the sooner we stop bickering about who was trying to proselytise whom and realise that religion is nothing more and nothing less than a personal right and choice, the better.

To all my Muslim friends, Selamat Hari Raya, maaf zahir dan batin.

- Malaysia Chronicle

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