Support for new legislation to curb hate speech particularly relating to religion

I fully support the proposal by the Deputy Housing Minister, Senator Datuk Raja Kamarul Bahrin for a new legislation to curb hate speech on social media, particularly relating to religion.

The most recent example is the statement by a Muslim NGO leader regarding Pos Malaysia issuing a stamp featuring St. George’s Church in Penang.

The Muslim NGO leader took to Facebook to complain that the stamp was another example of how Islam was being bullied since Pakatan Harapan rose to power in May last year and that it could lead foreigners to think Malaysia is a Christian state when in actual fact, the stamp was part of a series on places of worship in Malaysia, which was first issued in 2016, two years before Harapan came to power.

Religion in New Malaysia must be a unifying force and there must be no room for political desperadoes to abuse it to justify kleptocracy, intolerance or extremism of any form.

As Malaysia is a multi-religious society, it is incumbent upon the State and all citizens to respect all religions and in fact, this is the first of the five Rukunegara principles – Belief in God which is based on the fundamental constitutional principle that Islam is the official religion of the Federation while other religions and faiths can be practised in peace and harmony without any form of discrimination.

This is in full conformity with Islam, which clearly accepts the people’s right to follow the religion of their choice. The Qur’an said, “Let there be no compulsion in religion...” (2:256) and “to you your religion, to me mine” (109:6).

Religion is a great social force if used for the good of society and nation and the world at large. But the same force becomes destructive if misused by bigots and intolerant rabble-rousing individuals and groups. It can easily arouse emotions of love or hate, construction or destruction, peace or war. All depends on its use or misuse at any point of time.

Malaysians from school must be taught to respect and honour other religions and we should have a law to punish citizens who insult other religions in any way. This should include all forms of expression including the Internet, publishing, arts and cinema. We must respect freedom of speech and expression but this should not mean a licence to preach hatred and insult others.

In March this year, Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama, issued a call to end the usage of the term “kafir”, or infidel, to refer to non-Muslims in state or citizenship matters.

Nahdlatul Ulama, with around a hundred million members, at its National Conference resolved that non-Muslims should not be referred to as “kafir” as they have equal standing in state affairs.

The conference concluded that non-Muslims should be referred to as “muwathin,” or citizens with the same rights and obligations as Muslim Indonesians.

The Nahdlatul Ulama said a Muslim shouldn’t address non-Muslims as “kafir” in any social context.

The conference also emphasised that as a state, Indonesia wasn’t established by Muslims only.

Are there Muslim organisations in Malaysia who are prepared to take an inclusive and all-encompassing stand on nation building in multi-religious societies like Nahdatul Ulama of Indonesia?

Instead we have a state mufti who is publicly quite unrepentant in categorizing non-Muslims as kafir harbi, which had been likened by a pro-reform group G25 as akin to the calls made by militant group Islamic State that uses religion as a tool for terror.

This was why three years ago, 55 NGOs of the Malaysian’s multi-racial and multi-religious civil society, in a joint declaration, stressed that all Malaysians are citizens, and no more “kafir harbi” or “kafir dhimmi”.

The joint declaration said:

“1. The categorisation of humans into ‘kafir harbi’ (non-Muslims who fight against Muslim rulers) and ‘kafir dhimmi’ (non-Muslims who accept the supremacy of and protection from Muslim rulers) happened in the ancient time. In such times, when countries waged wars against each other, wars between countries appeared as wars between religions.

“In fact, some wars were fought in the name of faith when the strongest motivation was often territorial conquest in the pursuit of power and wealth. Due to the lack of religious freedom, whether or not Muslims could profess Islam often depended on the strength of Muslim political power.

“The dichotomic division of non-Muslims into ‘kafir harbi’ who must be killed or ‘kafir dhimmi’ who are subservient to Muslim rulers, must be understood in the context of deep inter-religious enmity.”

The Joint Declaration stated:

“Great Muslim thinkers like Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi have urged that terms like ‘dhimmi’ be abandoned and for non-Muslim members of a nation to be recognised as ‘muwathinun’ (citizens) just like their Muslim counterparts.

“This is in fact nothing new. According to Egyptian scholar Dr Fathi Osman, Muslims and non-Muslims indeed enjoyed equal citizenship in Madinah under the leadership of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. because Madinah itself was also a multi-religious society. In fact, according legal scholar Al Ghunaimi Mohammad Talaat, the ‘dhimmi’ status for the non-Muslims disappeared when the Ottoman Empire – the last Caliphate – proclaimed in 1839 the principle of equality between Muslims and Christians.

“Born in 1963 with the merger of Malaya, Singapore (left in 1965), Sabah dan Sarawak as equal partners, Malaysia is a civil federation hosting a plural society. The relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims are one of fellow citizens (muwathinun) with equal rights and equal responsibilities. They are neither enemies to each other nor ‘the protector’ on one side and ‘the protected’ on the other side.”

It is a mark that Malaysia has still a long way to go to regard all Malaysians, whether Muslims or non-Muslims, as common citizens of Malaysia when a video clip of a speech by a Islamic preacher warning that the country was facing dire consequences after reading out a list of offices occupied by what he called kafirs went viral on the social media recently – a clear case of hate speech in violation of the Malaysian Constitution.

Lim Kit Siang MP for Iskandar Puteri