Tolerating and crossing the red line on religion


Malaysians say it is important to respect all religions, but some religious preachers see little in common and want to live separately.

In recent times, we have witnessed the changing nature of racism and racist politics, especially as it involves online behaviour. Racism continues to dominate certain headlines, from the rise of the far right to the status of racial abuse on social media. What is recognised as racism and in diverse and unequal societies, who get to decide?

Malaysians are becoming active social media users and content creators. Through these contents, generated straight out of their thinking capacity, we can gauge issues revolving around normal citizens out there. Local businesses flourish in platforms like TikTok if wisely utilised and on the dark side, we have certain extreme religious preachers spewing hate speech on the platform resulting in discord among people of different faiths.

More than 60 years after Malaysia became free from colonial rule, Malaysians generally feel their country has lived up to one of its post-independence ideals: a society where followers of many religions can live freely and practice democracy. One can simply browse social media, and read the comment section and content produced by our locals, the unity achieved in the past is at its wit’s end.

Malaysia’s massive population is diverse as well as devout. The Malaysian population consists of people of different races, religions and race. The religious affairs in Malaysia is intricate but however Article 11 of the Constitution underlines the right to profess and practice any religion, although subject to applicable laws restricting the propagation of other religions to Muslims.

This week, Malaysia witnessed furore over ‘Allah’ socks. Malaysian king and the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim called for stern action and stressed that religious blunders ‘unacceptable’. Now, my trust is definitely evolving over Madani government after watching the swift action taken to address the issue.

We know that we are in good hands when we are assured that such gaffes relating to religious and racial issues are unacceptable and should never be allowed to happen again. At the same time, all the efforts taken to restore harmony, respecting religious sentiment and belief system will go to drain if certain quarters of the public continue to create disharmony through their content in the social media.

From my observation as a writer, the non-Muslims are also quite threatened by some extreme Muslim preachers invading their religious sentiments and God-related matters. Most of the registered police cases on some of these preachers meet with a dead end.

According to a news report by Vanakam Malaysia, Malaysian Hindu Sangam condemned converted preacher Zamri Vinoth for disrespectful remarks about idol Shivalingam on his Tik Tok platform. The police were not spared for their inaction . As I explored the platform I found derogatory remarks freely thrown by Zamri Vinoth supporters towards Hindus under the contents produced by him. The Hindus get offended by the insults and react to the provocations too which results in a very unpleasant exchange of conversation.

If the tensions escalate, this can lead to many unwanted circumstances. The law and order in our country is equal to everyone. If other social media users from different country observe the petty fights among people of different faith in Malaysia and a preacher who is continuously disrespectful towards the Hindus but no legal action taken on him, what message of unity are we sending out?

Following issues like this, efforts to restore prosperity in the country will fail and economy bound to suffer in the long run.

Malaysians see religious tolerance as a central part of who they are as a nation. Across the major religious groups, most people say it is very important to respect all religions to be “truly Malaysian.” Tolerance is a religious as well as civic value: Malaysians are united in the view that respecting other religions is a very important part of what it means to be a member of their own religious community.

Among those who spew hate speech, there are many beautiful Malaysians who continue to live up to the spirit of a multi-racial community.

Yet, despite sharing certain values and religious beliefs – as well as living in the same country, under the same constitution –these religious preachers often don’t feel they have much in common with one another and continue to create hate, and division among each other.

I hope with the current good leadership of our Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, strict actions will be taken against those fanning religious or ethnic flames be it offline or online. Let’s respect each other and bring back the good old days of Malaysia.

HEMA SUBRAMANIAM is a former media personnel.