(Penang, Sunday): The
swirling controversy over the memorandum by the Muslim Scholars Association of
Malaysia (PUM) to the Conference of Rulers calling for action against six
writers for denigrating Islam and the institution of ulama has far-reaching
implications for democracy, human rights and pluralism in Malaysia.
a country where the worldís greatest religions find a common home, all
Malaysians must be imbued with the greatest respect and sensitivity towards each
otherís religion, where denigration of any religion must be
regarded as an assault on our common national heritage.
is most disturbing about the controversy surrounding the PUM memorandum is the
claim to immunity from fair comment and criticism which are equated with
vilification of Islam or Islamophobia, which attacks the very foundations of a
democratic, tolerant and plural Malaysia.
instance, when a Muslim or non-Muslim Malaysian opposes the proposal to impose
the death sentence for apostasy - such as my statement of 9th th
July 1999 that the DAP would not
support the private memberís bill in the Dewan
to make apostasy a capital offence among Muslims which had been tabled in
Parliament by the Deputy PAS President, Abdul
Hadi Awang but which did not come up for debate - it is not be equated
with being anti-Islam or Islamophobia
as it is grounded on the basic human right of freedom of religion
and there are reasons to
question as to whether the proposal
conforms to Islamís eternal commitment to the universal principles of
justice, equality, freedom and virtue.
when non-Muslims refer to Islamic literature and learn that the Quran is
completely silent on the death penalty for apostasy and of the opinion of a
significant body of Islamic scholars from the earliest Islamic history
that apostasy is not a capital crime, such efforts must be responded to
seriously and not dismissed as either ignorant or irrelevant as coming from
the process of Islamisation in the past two decades, and now the increasing
claims and demands over Malaysia as an Islamic state, how Islam will impinge on
the life of all Malaysians is the concern not only of Muslims but also of
non-Muslims as well.
DAP calls for
an inter-religious conference to establish a national consensus that
vibrant inter-religious and inter-civilisational debate and dialogue
become the hallmark of a
democratic, tolerant and progressive
Malaysia - where the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and expression are
not stymied by any indefensible
claim of immunity from fair comment or criticism.