The news that Kelantan is mulling punishing male Muslims in the state with up to one-year jail if they skip Friday prayers for three consecutive weeks has managed to shock many people.
It shocked me for a different reason. My experience in lovely Kelantan has shown me that its people are quite liberal in practising Islam and far from being judgmental about others, regardless of their faith.
I know some Kelantan folks who travel across the border to Thailand and do not mind skipping Friday prayers for that (you are abstained if you are travelling further than two marhalah — roughly 90 kilometres). During Friday prayer time, it is usual to see Malay men loitering around, having lunch, with nary a judgmental look coming their way.
(In retrospect, this could be the exact reason why the Kelantan state government has decided to put the fear God on Kelantan folks, on behalf of God Himself!)
Do not blame Kelantan alone though. There are already similar punishments against the non-performance of Friday prayers in most states’ Syariah Criminal Offences enactments, where a male Muslim can be fined not more than RM1,000 or jailed up to six months.
Having religion institutionalised is not the problem of Muslims alone. Forget what has been said all this while about Shariah laws solely affecting the Muslims. Non-Muslims are getting more and more affected too, and it should be clear to us by now.
Take the case of the Oktoberfest fiasco, where some Muslim lawmakers and groups came out in force to pressure the local councils into pushing the beer festival underground this year.
Muslims have argued that Oktoberfest should not have been promoted as overtly as it has this year. A big beer tent should not have been erected out in the public, hence why the festival had to continue in the parking area after getting its permit and licence revoked.
Some of the Muslims had even invoked the divine in making their argument, claiming that the country will be in ruins should drinking continue.
PAS MP Nasrudin Hassan has even compared the open promotion of Oktoberfest to open promotion of prostitution and illicit sex. What is it with our politicians and prostitution that they care so much about it?
Pray tell, what ruin has befallen us so far? After all, Malaysians do drink every single day in this country, and many in the open.
Some of the Muslims have argued that they allegedly have no problem with non-Muslims drinking, just that they should do it in the comfort of their homes.
This is pure horse manure as far as I am concerned. It is clear what the message here entails: That Muslims indeed have problems with non-Muslims drinking. If they did not, why would they persuade others by claiming that all religions are allegedly against alcohol?
The other clear message is this: Non-Muslims should just stay out of sight. Non-Muslims can do whatever they wish even if it is against Islamic teachings, but they should just do it in their homes, in private. In short, wherever there are no Muslims.
And it is sad that some non-Muslims who are directly being affected by this have agreed with the Muslims. Some patrons of Oktoberfest have told Malay Mail Online that they felt the organisers should have been more discreet and cautious this year.
If this is how most non-Muslims feel about their lives, than the Muslims have already won in trying to impose their way of living on the whole country.
Because now non-Muslims have been cowed into thinking that they should not assert their rights for fear of the backlash of Muslims, for fear of angering the Muslims, for fear of them disturbing the oh-so-delicate feelings of the Muslims.
Anger is the only thing the conservative Muslims have right now. Violence, or rather threats of it, will be their last refuge. And their anger has been bubbling up of late because there is a rise in pushback from non-Muslims and Muslims alike towards these imposing views.
Perhaps it is apt to throw this out there: Non-Muslims are not trying to encroach on Muslims’ rights. They are only asserting their own rights.
There is a need to keep the balance between the powers of the State, the Muslims, and other minority faiths alike. We need to keep each other in check in order to achieve harmony along with each group’s deserved rights.
Our problem has been that the State has been colluding with only one group, perhaps by design for political necessity. Slowly but surely, this juggernaut has been crushing the others, and will continue to do so unless it is stopped and put in its place of equilibrium.
We just have to keep pushing back. For the sake of Muslims and non-Muslims alike.