Opinion: "I Respect Your Articles of Faith – Will You Respect Mine?"

February 16, 2006

Source: The Guardian


On February 16, 2006 The Guardian ran an opinion piece by columnist Timothy Garton Ash on the limits of religious pluralism in Malaysia. Ash writes, "At first glance I would seem to have found the holy grail of the post-9/11 world, proof positive that Islam in power can allow and even encourage a peaceful, tolerant, multicultural society [as represented by Malaysia's society]. That is certainly what the country's political leaders, who join us in the aptly named Hotel Shangri-La for a conference on relations between Islam and the west, wish us to understand. And measured by the standards of the Middle East, indeed of most majority Muslim states, Malaysia is an exemplar of interfaith coexistence... Look a little closer, however; talk to Malaysians from the minority faiths as well as critical observers within the Muslim community, and the picture becomes more muddy - as befits a city whose name means "muddy confluence'. For a start, the communities coexist rather than co-mingle. I'm told there is relatively little intermarriage... Of course there's nothing wrong with such peaceful coexistence... But retaining separate communities does mean that politics remain group-based and there is always the potential for violent conflict to erupt, as happened here in 1969, if one group feels strongly disadvantaged... In Malaysia, all communities are equal but some are more equal than others... Whereas the country's secular courts still use a version of English common law, there is a separate, parallel structure of Islamic courts. There is, quite literally, one law for Muslims and another for everyone else... What people believe in the depth of their hearts they alone know ('I go my own way,' one told me, cryptically) but public conformity is enforced by family, community and state sanctions."

See also: Islam, International