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Saturday, July 1, 2017

Shariah compliance: Too hard to swallow for non-Muslims?

A non-Muslim's dismissal as a food stall operator at a canteen has sparked a debate on just how far reaching shariah compliance in Malaysia has become.
Was the dismissal of an Indian canteen operator from a Penang educational institute, the action of a Little Napoleon, who misinterpreted the rules, or just a simple misunderstanding by ‘Gobi’, the man at the heart of this latest controversy?
Earlier in February, we read the Facebook post entitled the “Voice of an Indian student” detailing the shabby treatment meted-out to an Indian postgraduate student and her friend, by a Universiti Malaya lecturer.
The post went viral, but instead of firm and swift action by the university’s Vice Chancellor (VC) to stamp out racism, the VC passed the buck to a panel of professors, and the students’ complaints went from pillar to post, until the public forgot about this racist attack.
Today, it is the turn of an Indian food seller, called Gobi, who caters to the needs of Indian students at an educational institute in Seberang Perai.
After more than six months of selling Indian food at the premises, Gobi’s services were suddenly terminated. He vented his fury on WhatsApp and Facebook, and uploaded a voice recording of a conversation between himself and one of the institute’s top administrators.
The man informed Gobi that his business was not “shariah compliant”, and that his services were probably terminated because he sold non-halal food.
Despite a petition by the 300 Indian students at the polytechnic, Gobi’s appeal was unsuccessful. Despite pleading with this newly installed administrator that he had not yet broken even with his newly purchased equipment, the administrator’s response was a resolute, “No”.
Many Malaysians are now left wondering if shariah compliance is being used unfairly as the latest tool to discriminate against non-Malays and non-Muslims.
When the authorities wanted to peddle PAS president Hadi Awang’s Amendment to Act-355, we were told that shariah laws would not affect non-Muslim Malaysians.
Theory is one thing, but in real life, shariah laws have encroached upon and will continue to stamp on the rights of the non-Muslims.
The government polytechnic denied the allegations made by Gobi, and has lodged a police report at Bukit Mertajam.
The bumiputeras who lag behind in many fields are now aided by affirmative action policies, so that they can play “catch-up” with their non-Malay Malaysian peers. Education is one such field, although the Ministry of Education denies that Indians are being discriminated against.
Oh to be a fly on the wall, in the office of the Deputy Education minister, P Kamalanathan. The beleaguered man, is also a Central Working Committee (CWC) member of the MIC, the party which claims to represent the rights of Malaysians of Indian extraction.
Kamalanathan is often tasked with solving tricky issues involving discrimination against Indians. Many of them have not been satisfactorily resolved. Lessons have not been learnt, because time and again, the discrimination against the Indians is repeated.
Today, the hapless Kamalanathan, is again having to defend the government’s affirmative action policies instead of championing the rights of the Indian community.
So, how will he resolve this Gobi incident? The educational institute insists that it was an administrative reason which led to Gobi’s dismissal. They have not however spelt out what Gobi had done wrong.
So, was a Little Napoleon at work, who misinterpreted some issue? Is Gobi guilty of something more serious to do with food production, or are we going to see another cover-up?
It would be interesting to see who takes over Gobi’s stall, and their relationship to the Little Napoleon.
Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

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