Wan Naim Wan Mansor
Local communities have expressed concern about reports alleging that the Chinese authorities have been detaining up to a million Uighur, ethnic Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
Reports have surfaced that human rights abuses were rampant in the region, targeting ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, particularly Uighur Muslims, which include residential relocations, separation of children from parents, restrictive immigration policies, forced marriages, mandatory acculturation and threats to freedom of religion.
Against this backdrop, a diplomatic visit to China between June 23 and 30, led by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa, has triggered reactions from Malaysians.
Much of the uproar came in response to misconstrued reports by local media regarding a statement on false news.
Another is a Facebook post that mirrored the Chinese government’s parlance in referring to what is known as mass detention camps.
Notwithstanding, Mujahid’s vision of peace building and cross-culture reconciliation in the visit should not go unnoticed.
In his speech, Mujahid underscored the need to opt for peaceful and moral solutions despite all odds.
He said policy response and counter-terrorism efforts, although warranted, must be used in restraint, citing the importance of demarcating between violent action and religious rights and rituals.
Mujahid said striving towards this goal requires a wholehearted embrace of human diversity and rejuvenating inter-religious dialogue based on respect and mercy.
That will, in turn, alleviate extreme views centred around the politics of race and religion.
Celebrating diversity is a core Islamic principle, supported by the Quran.
It is divinely ordained to enrich humanity as evident in verse, “O mankind, indeed We have created you from peoples’ and tribes that you may know one another” (Al-Hujurat, 49:13).
Diversity is also a deliberate creation to endow humanity with the gift of free will.
“Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation, but [He intended] to test you…; so race to [all that is] good.”
Accompanying such ideals, however, should be policies and governmental decisions that are rooted in research and data.
Peace building in Xinjiang cannot afford to rely on mere sentiments that neglect the complexity on the ground.
In a recent forum on Uighur, Alexander Wain, a Muslim scholar in Chinese history, urged policy makers and commentators to have a nuanced understanding of the Uighur plight and delve deeper into the history of Uighur in the region, which has had intermittent autonomy and occasional independence before becoming part of China in 1949.
Since 1957, the Chinese Communist Party has interpreted Uighur Islam as a threat to Chinese national unity based on its history of rebellion.
This resulted in strong policy responses in the form of closing Xinjiang-based Islamic associations; banning Islamic teachings and symbols, including the call to prayer, beards and veils; suppressing of Uighur language and culture; massive state-sponsored Han migration to Xinjiang; and, the infamous detention centres for “ideological reform.”
Since 9/11, these efforts have intensified and the Chinese government became increasingly fearful of foreign extremists penetrating Xinjiang.
Thus, the Xinjiang situation is largely the product of regional history and must be understood in that context.
Under this circumstances, race and religion are potent issues that can exacerbate ethnic tension and violence, if not managed in a judicious manner.
In line with Mujahid’s speech, policy makers should pay attention to the role of social media
in instigating negative sentiments, whether in the form of sedition or false news.
Perhaps cues can be taken from the Malaysian model, where each ethnic group can preserve its cultural identity while remaining unified as Malaysians.
It must be noted that suppressing cultural self-determination and oppression, far from reducing extremism, only encourages it.
Above and beyond the sentiments of Muslim solidarity and brotherhood, the issues in Xinjiang need to be addressed impartially and objectively to identify the factors that led to such crises.
Any assessment and its resulting solutions should focus on the economic and geopolitical significance of Xinjiang, its long history of separatism, and the intricacies of Han nationalism.
Policy response and executive decisions should not only be strategic and effective, but must be guided by the spirit of compassion (rahmah), and an appreciation of diversity and human dignity.
Published in: New Straits Times, Tuesday 11 July 2019
As a year passed since the pivotal YEAR after the pivotal 14th General Election, the need to inculcate the practice of consultative politics is more crucial than ever.
The political weight of the right-wing Malay interest groups, now lumped together as a large opposition bloc, has significantly increased.
This is in response to frequent political contestations pitting the sentiment of the majority and the newly growing voices of the minority.
Consultative politics, defined as the willingness to engage and consult with the population or key stakeholders, can be a mitigating remedy for the delicate political dynamics at hand.
The practice of consultation, often associated with the Quranic term shura, is at the heart of Islamic political philosophy.
Shura and its derivative musyawarah is the focal theme of two verses in the Quran; “and whose affair is [determined by] consultation among themselves” (al-Shura, 42:38), and “So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter” (Ali Imran, 3:159).
Fascinatingly, the Quran followed an ingenious approach in addressing the matter, by alluding to an unsuspecting creature from the animal kingdom, the honeybees.
This is evidenced by the literal translation of shura, which “is to extract honey from its source”, and how a significant portion of the Quran’s discussion on shura is elaborated in a chapter explicitly named as The Bee (Arabic: An-Nahl) — another key chapter on the subject is literally entitled Ash-Shura.
One might intuitively consider ants — which are commonly associated with order, uniformity, diligence, and discipline — which the Quran also refers to in some parts, as a prime candidate for a political model if one were to pick from nature; and the Quran has incidentally, also a sura titled al-Naml (the Ant).
Yet the ‘buzzing’ complexity and elaborate social system of the honeybees arguably resemble more the human reality of dealing with diversity in an ever-changing world.
It was Basma I. Abdelgafar, a female Islamic scholar from Canada specialising in public policy, who first elaborated and highlighted the significance of honeybees in the Quran and its linkage to modern consultative politics.
Basma underscored the importance of shared or collective interests; in the case of honeybees, this is manifested in finding the right home for the colony.
The Quran alluded to this pressing need of finding a home for the bees in the chapter, The Bee (An-Nahl), by describing the various sites that bees could inhabit, including hills, trees, and human-made buildings.
The Quran proceeds to state that it is God Himself that inspires bees to follow a certain decision-making process (An-Nahl, 42:69).
While this may not be true for humans, for honeybees, finding the right home is a matter of life and death.
It is due to this fact that the honeybees’ decision-making process must gather as much information as possible and involve as many colony members as possible.
Such a decision should not be left to chance or trial and error.
Basma argues that this highlights the importance of consultation, despite seemingly a more complex process, in matters of public or collective interests, especially in high-stakes issues.
Thomas D. Seeley, in his groundbreaking book, Honeybee Democracy, listed in detail the specific criteria for a home — such as cavity volume, entrance height, the direction it faces, entrance size, and the presence of threats or predators.
Honeybees first fly en masse to the surrounding locations in search of a place that best fits their criteria.
Coming back home, they engage in a form of “direct democracy” in persuading other colony members of the best location using an open dancing competition in which information is conveyed via complex sign language.
Each honeybee will then self-verify the proposed location and then proceed to persuade others. In time, the best locations will garner the most support while poorer locations gradually fade as they become less promoted.
Seeley outlines five key principles demonstrated by the honeybee that humans can emulate in decision-making processes.
First, is the need to prioritise collective goals or public interests.
Second, the importance of the distribution of power where a group can gather and filter as much information possible without undue influence from certain quarters, including leaders.
Third, the benefit of seeking diverse opinions and solutions.
Fourth, the virtue of persuasion via constructive debate.
Fifth and lastly, the use of a threshold in which fast and efficient decision can be reached without sacrificing legitimacy and consensus.
Undoubtedly, a lot remains to be learned from honeybees, as well as the complexity and depth of the Islamic principle of consultation (shura).
In summary, like honeybees, the outcome of shura, or consultative decision-making, should also be “just as beneficial, sweet, and illuminating for mankind.”
Published in: New Straits Times, Monday 17th June 2019
As the dust on the May 9 election has settled, Malaysians are now fixating on what the new government has to offer. For many, the rise of Pakatan Harapan was not only a matter of dethroning the previous administration but also marked the dawn of a new era for the nation. The era of “Malaysia Baharu” or New Malaysia, represents a promise for major institutional reforms, a renewed commitment to democracy, moderation, progressive and inclusiveness.
However, seven months into the transition, the new administration has faced various challenges. Many of them fall under the majority-minority dynamics where the basis of rights, obligations, and exercise of political power are contested between the Malay-Muslim majority and the non-Malay minority.
While such political framework has always defined Malaysian politics — under terms such as identity politics, race-based politics or political Islam, this dynamic is further accentuated after the 14th General Election.
Polling institutions showed that only 25-30 per cent of Malays voted for PH, while the rest was divided between Umno and Pas. Additionally, a survey leading up to the election also revealed that 35 per cent of Malays consider Malay rights and its associated issues as their primary voting drivers (Merdeka Center 2018).
Consequently, the current political configuration is bound to create strong contestations between the conservative Malay-Muslim majority and the diverse minorities that form the base of PH supporters.
For instance, one of the first challenges faced by the new administration was the controversy surrounding the minority LGBT community. Advocacy groups were quick to call for the normalisation of LGBT in Malaysia following three public fracases: on rumours that an LGBT activist and self-proclaimed gay was being appointed as a special officer to a minister; the portrayal of two LGBT activists as Malaysian heroes in a Penang art exhibition; and the public caning of two accused lesbians in Terengganu.
Another controversy falling into this majority-minority dynamic is on the ratification of ICERD. The government’s initial attempt to ratify the UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) was met with overwhelming resistance by the Malay Muslim majority but uniformly supported by the non-Malays.
While the government ratification plan includes eight other UN conventions, ICERD received the full brunt of the backlash due to its purported conflict with the special positions of Malays and Bumiputeras. On Dec 8, an Anti-ICERD rally organised by Malay Muslim NGOs, Umno and Pas garnered around fifty to sixty thousand participants, the largest street demonstration to be held in Kuala Lumpur.
There is also a recent controversy drawing public ire especially from the Malay Muslims where Attorney-General Tommy Thomas, Chief Justice Richard Malanjum, Minister Liew Vui Keong and lawyer Siti Kasim shared a dance floor in a gala dinner. Points of criticisms ranged from issues of judicial ethics, political consistency and culture. Social media trends on the matter revealed that the majority Malay Muslims and the non-Malays are divided, in which the latter is seen as more approving.
In these contexts, how can we resolve this seemingly perennial conflict between the majority and minority? We must first shift the conventional paradigms that pits majorities and minorities as ontologically opposed and mutually exclusive, and where one is deemed superior to the other.
The first step to do this is to recognise that the fundamental relationship between the majority and the minority is a “feedback loop”, where the fate and welfare of both groups depend on each other.
A democracy in which some constituents (minorities) are not entitled to reasonable participation, or where others (the majority) wield disproportionate influence, is not democratic at all. This also entails that corrective or preventative measures regarding majority-minority relations should follow a balanced approach.
Ideal corrective policies should concern themselves with two things. First, decisions to remedy cases that (supposedly) infringe minority rights must be subjected to prior analysis based on a clear criterion (as opposed to vague or doubtful ones). In such cases, there must be sufficient evidence of tyranny so as to prevent the second concern, which is the invasion of majority rights due to inappropriate or disproportionate remedial policies.
Legitimate concerns on the impact of normalising LGBT on the lives of the Muslim majority and other religious communities, the integrity of family institutions, and its implications on public health must be taken seriously.
In the case of ICERD, where the constitutional provisions on special rights are involved, any further action must be preceded with open and inclusive public consultations with Bumiputera stakeholders (i.e. civil society, parliament members) and its constitutional gatekeepers (i.e. the Council of Rulers). If indeed Malaysians are ready to move forward and abolish any forms of affirmative policies, such decision should be decided in a transparent and consultative manner which strives to avoid any suspicions of ulterior motives.
Concerning the issue of fraternising between separate government branches, the subjectivity surrounding its legality or whether it breaches the judicial ethical codes is perhaps harder to determine.
In Malaysia, understanding these multi-dimensional perspectives is vital to developing a political structure that balances between majority rule and safeguarding minority rights. Any disproportionate influence, from either side, is detrimental to society and the longevity of the state.
From an Islamic perspective, this framework is in line with the Quranic depiction of human diversity as a divine norm (Q30:22) where humans are enjoined to appreciate, learn from, and get to “know one another” (Q49:13) in peaceful coexistence — not in constant conflict.
Published in: New Straits Times, Friday 25th January 2019
Violence in war-torn countries continues to displace large groups of people, forcing them to seek refuge elsewhere. The resulting refugee crisis, which has reached unprecedented levels, according to the United Nations, is as much a humanitarian catastrophe as it is a moral one. The erosion of universal values such as compassion, love, and kindness, is not only responsible for the bloodshed and persecution which led to the initial displacement, but also affects our attitude in accommodating the refugees.
Latest UN statistics show a staggering 65.6 million people displaced from their countries, with an average of 20 people forced to leave their homes every single minute. This figure includes the 22.5 million refugees and 10 million stateless people who are denied fundamental human rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement. Children, unfortunately, make up 51 per cent of the world’s refugees. The most severely affected countries include Syria, Yemen, Central African Republic, Nigeria, South Sudan, Burundi, Iraq, and Myanmar.
Against this backdrop, the Kuala Lumpur Interfaith Declaration on Global Refugee Crisis was launched earlier this month (March 3) at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia.
The declaration was part of the “Interfaith Refugee Day” organised by IAIS Malaysia in conjunction with UN’s World Interfaith Harmony Week. The theme was “Love of God and Love of the Neighbour, Love of the Good and Love of the Neighbour”. The declaration featured 20 institutional signatories representing the major religious groups and communities of Malaysia.
Focusing on religion and universal values, multi-faith panellists shared their views in a forum entitled, “Religious Contributions in Peace-Making Process: Calling for Justice, Love, Compassion and Mercy”.
Professor Dr Mohammad Hashim Kamali, (IAIS founding CEO), in his opening remark, recalled several key lessons from the historic Emigration (hijra) of the Prophet from Makkah to Ethiopia and then to Madinah during which the Helpers (Ansar) accommodated the Migrants (Muhajirun), treated them as their own brethren and provided them with unrivalled social and economic assistance.
Muslims are also reminded of the Quranic verse (Al-Baqarah 2:177) which associates righteousness with helping the needy, and a Hadith tying true belief (iman) with selflessness and loving “... for his brother what he loves for himself”.
S. S. Datuk Abdul Halim (Melaka Mufti) elaborated how the Prophet was sent as a “mercy to the worlds” and thus, he encouraged Muslims to promote harmony and peace. Allah gives special preference to the prayers of the oppressed, regardless of their religious affiliations.
The Quran (Al-Maidah, 5:32) proclaims that killing a soul without just cause is tantamount to killing all of humankind; while saving one is tantamount to saving the entire humankind. It is, thus, a moral prerogative to overcome oppressors from afflicting further harm.
N. J. Singham (National Religious Bureau of Malaysia Hindu Sangam vice-chairman) said that Hinduism promotes the concepts of love, tolerance, understanding and acceptance, and stated that only the ignorant and unenlightened would detach love from divinity. He also shared several valuable lessons extracted from the Mahabharata — to observe peace, even in the course of war; stop fighting by sunset; if the enemy surrenders, protect him and give him asylum; and practise dharma (righteousness) by doing the right things in the right way.
Jason Leong (NextGen Christians of Malaysia [ANCOM] founder and adviser) also associated kindness with belief, quoting Jesus Christ: “If you’ve shown kindness to human beings, you’ve shown kindness to me.”
Religion can contribute towards equanimity in difficult situations in at least five ways by: enshrining a set of positive values; re-humanising “dehumanised” situations; mobilising communities; invoking a sense of calling to ignite the spirit of perseverance; and, incorporating spiritual dimensions into peace-making processes.
Datuk K. Sri Dhammaratana Nayake Maha Tera (Buddhist High Chief Priest of Malaysia), in his speech, upheld the values of respect, love, and kindness in reclaiming peace and justice in conflict zones. The Buddhist notion of suffering (dukkha) and the five principles of Buddhism (Pancha-Sila) are essential guidelines to promote good conduct and to discourage misconducts.
Dr Jasbir Singh (president of Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia) quoted one of Guru Nanak’s teachings, which is to value three things: honesty, good deeds and sharing earnings with all. These would remedy the existential crisis of having no sense of direction and purpose, which is the source of all evil. To solve worldly problems, one must first face the illusory war that blocks one’s path to God.
Other signatories to the declaration include Most Reverend Julian Leow Beng Kim (the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur), Richard Towle (Head of UNHCR Malaysia), and 12 others ranging from university professors, professionals, NGO representatives, activists and religious groups’ representatives.
The KL Declaration put forth six recommendations:
PROMOTE universal spiritual and moral values;
ADDRESS the immediate needs of refugees;
SPEAK UP against religious abuse;
PRESENT counter-narratives against extremism;
ENCOURAGE interfaith engagement and cooperation; and,
PERSUADE policymakers through advice, diplomacy and negotiations.
Wan Naim Wan Mansor, is an analyst at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies Malaysia.
Published in: New Straits Times, Friday 30th March 2018
Malaysia continues to be regarded by many as a quintessen-tial state in which “prosperity thrives in diversity.” Evidently, being one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse society in the world has not stopped it from being a key regional economic player and one of the most peaceful countries on earth. Managing this success and expanding its future would require none other than investing in the human capital of Malaysians themselves..........................Download the full article in pdf attachment (below)
Last September’s international Pangkor Dialogue witnessed then urban wellbeing, housing and local government minister Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan calling for a fresh economic “narrative” that is not too dependent on gross domestic product (GDP)-based or conventional aggregate-based evaluation. He cited two exemplary models based on “happiness research”, namely Bhutan’s GNH (Gross National Happiness), and the OECD’s (Organisation for Economic and Cooperation and Development) “wellbeing index”.........................Download the full article in pdf attachment (below)