Non-Muslims Have a Right to Comment on Fatwas

Non-Muslims Have a Right to Comment on Fatwas

The former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr Mahathir has warned non-Muslims not to turn the recent fatwa on yoga into a religious issue. He says in a Bernama Report 25 Nov 2008 Link

“If they (National Fatwa Council) believe it is wrong, then it is wrong. It is unfortunate that other people think that it is a slur on their religion. It is like saying Muslims should not eat pork, and it is not an insult to the Chinese. It is the same when Muslims cannot do yoga. It is not because they are insulting the Hindus.

“It is just that they should not do it. Whether the Malays follow it or not, that is really their business. Other people should not make it a religious issue. Like all other things forbidden among Muslims, it is not an insult to others.

Dr. Mahathir’s warning doesn’t make sense. How can a fatwa coming from an authoritative body that defines Islamic belief not be religious?

I agree with Dr. Mahathir on one point, that is, one should not feel insulted just because leaders from another religion take positions that are contrary to one’s religious beliefs. There is no need to take the fatwa that prohibits Muslims from practicing yoga as an insult to Hinduism. Let’s accept the fact that Muslims are entitled to their own viewpoint.

However, by the same token, Muslims should extend the same entitlement to non-Muslims. If Muslims can take the liberty to publicly reject the tenets of faith of another religion, then they should also grant the same liberty to non-Muslims to reject Islamic faith in public. On the same moral terms, they should not feel insulted if non-Muslims put up advertisements voicing their opinion that Quran cannot be the revealed word of God or that Muhammad cannot be God’s prophet.

Justice would require reciprocity in how we extend to each other the right to believe what we want to believe and reject what we are not persuaded of. Unfortunately, the track record of Muslim officials in Malaysia is the rejection of mutual entitlement and parity of religious freedom for all citizens.

Take for example, the case of the screening of a film on Jesus in cinemas. It is natural that the film is based on Biblical sources and Christian beliefs. Everyone watching the film is acting out of personal choice and indeed is willing to pay to watch the film. But the authorities require the cinema owners to screen a caveat stating that the claims of the film may not be acceptable to Muslims before they are allowed to screen the film on Jesus. This is truly an unnecessary imposition of Islamic belief onto the public (most of those watching are non-Muslims anyway). Nevertheless, even if we grant the wish/command of the authorities, reciprocity and justice would also require screening a similar caveat indicating that non-Muslims may not accept the claims of an Islamic film before it is screened in the cinemas or broadcasted on TV.

The example highlights the case that in theory Islamic scruples and prohibitions are only limited to Muslims but in practice Islamic officials extend the restrictions to non-Muslims. Such abuse of power is also evident in cases of moral policing by the authorities. For example, three years ago the authorities arrested a Chinese couple and charged them in court for displaying affections to one another in public. Recently, a non-Muslim Member of Parliament was prevented from moving around the Parliament on account that her dress was improper. Perhaps the original policies were intended for Muslims but over time the officials also take action against non-Muslims to enforce public compliance of Islamic conduct.

To be fair, the authorities are usually not so aggressive and insensitive in its moral policing. Nonetheless, the authorities do quietly and persistently impose Islamic standards that effectively marginalize, if not exclude, non-Islamic practices from the public arena. For example, pork sellers are quietly isolated and relegated to some obscure corners of the market since Muslims take objection to the sight of pigs. More seriously, the same Islamic scruples has led several state governments to attempt to ban and erase pig farming in their states (even though this industry has been going on for more than 200 years). It is telling that the government conveniently gave no help to restore a sophisticated, flourishing and profitable pig industry that was wiped out by the Nipah virus in Bukit Pelanduk. Of course, Islamic policy to prohibit consumption of pork applies only to Muslims, but authorities somehow conclude that this requires the eradication (to the extend it is able to enforce it) of pig farming even though the pigs are reared to be consumed by non-Muslims only.

Given such unpleasant experiences with enforcement of Islamic policy, the perception among non-Muslims is that public declaration and enforcement of Islamic policy is never ‘innocent’. The immediate objectives of these policies are purportedly to regulate the conduct of Muslims only, but in reality the policies are implemented without regard for the rights of non-Muslims. It is precisely the case that non-Muslims are seriously and unjustly affected by Islamic policy they have a right to speak up and join the public debate Islamic policy.

Even as I am writing this post, the latest news from Malaysiakini carries the following report:

Alcohol ban: Trouble brewing in Pakatan
Malaysiakini Nov 26, 08 1:43pm Link

Trouble appears to be brewing in the opposition alliance Pakatan Rakyat over the move by the Islamic-based PAS to push for an alcohol ban in Selangor.

In the wake of reports that Selangor PAS intended to impose a ban on the sale of alcohol at 7-11 outlets, mini-markets and coffee shops,…The news reports were based on a purported draft by PAS-appointed municipal councillors for a motion to ban the sale of alcohol which was to be tabled at the Klang municipal council monthly meeting today. However, the motion was not tabled.

This attempt to ban alcohol confirms the concerns of non-Muslims that fatwas invariably bring unjust consequences onto them.

Coming back to the fatwa that started the present controversy, it is useful to conduct an exercise in social analysis and conjecture how the fatwa on yoga will again bring injustice to non-Muslims even though it is purportedly an ‘innocent’ fatwa for Muslims only. Given the history of insensitivity towards the rights of non-Muslims it will surprise no one when the authorities eventually come out with specific regulations to restrict the practice of yoga. Books on yoga will be quietly confiscated by the Customs and booksellers will be advised (warned) not to import or display books on yoga on their shelves. Judging by how businessmen are easily intimidated by the authorities, compliance will follow accordingly. Yoga centres may be required to put up signs “Not for Muslims”. Yoga teachers will not get permits to set up their centres in popular public business districts. They will be asked to relocate to some fringe shop lots far from popular public gathering places.

(Just to set the records straight, I want to state here that I personally think that yoga ultimately is an expression of a religious worldview and that while in theory one may adopt some yoga postures for exercise at home without adopting its religious worldview, in practice, any serious pursuit of yoga (especially if it involves meditation and chanting of mantras) will slide into some form of religious practice. Still, my concern is that any restriction from the authorities to regulate the belief and practice of the non-Muslim religions is unjustified and a violation of religious freedom).

You may say the above conjecture is alarmist, but given the history of insensitive and brazen imposition of Islamic policy by the authorities what else can one expect? It is therefore unfair to demand that non-Muslims refrain from commenting on the fatwa. When non-Muslims voice their opinion on the fatwa, it is an expression of concern that the fatwa (like many Islamic moral policy in Malaysia) will again be extended to restrict their religious freedom. Dr. Mahathir betrays his own insensitivity to the concerns of non-Muslims when he warned them to keep quiet. Finally, to use Dr. Mahathir’s word, Muslims should not see it as an insult when non-Muslims disagree with a fatwa that disagrees with non-Muslims beliefs in the first place. In this regard, Dr. Mahathir’s warning is both inconsistent and misplaced.

17 Responses to “Non-Muslims Have a Right to Comment on Fatwas”

  1. leekh Says:

    Using the excuse that Islam is the official religion Islamic prayers are performed during assemblies and public gathering. Non-Muslims have always shown due respect. But try to say Buddhist, CHristian prayer during assemblies where the majority are Christians or Buddhists…….
    Beef is served indiscriminately and every time this is pointed out non-Musims have been told that they have option not to eat it! Try telling the same to the Muslims….
    CHristians and Muslims ahve always claimed that their God is the only God and all others are false! This very statement is insulting to other religions. What if others say our god is false?

  2. Tinta Rakyat Says:

    Hey non-muslim…you have no right to comment in our fatwa…this is our community issue not yours…so don’t act like a wise people…Don’t turn the recent fatwa on yoga into a religious issue…

  3. anak perelih Says:

    Then we Muslims also have rights to criticize your non Muslims religious practice and belief too ????.. well.. the end result will be CHAOS when everybody criticizing each other religion practice…!!!

    On alcohol.. do you know that those Muslims who grow, process, produce, sell and serve alcohol will also get the same sin as the one who drink it????

  4. malayamuda Says:

    Tinta Rakyat and Anak Perelih,

    Tell it to Sultan Perak and Selangor if u got balls !

  5. Amir Izwan Says:

    is the Muslim religion all about what you cannot do ?

    so what exactly CAN we do ? what do we do after a hard days work when we need to unwind ?

    No wonder so many injecting drugs into themselves, everyone is frustrated !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

  6. malayamuda Says:

    i wonder why the muslims want to ban alcohol sale in selangor, no body is forcing them to process, grow, sell or drink alcohol……

    dont make alcohol a religious issue…….

  7. Buy Pc Games Says:

    nobody can be tried for his religion…this world its sick

  8. sugartaxi Says:

    Because Religion is private, secretive and always mysterious. Why make it second best to another religion in arguing something you know is the best compared to something “hot on the market”?

    Are you doubting your faith?

    Wow, look if you want to bail, go for the money! At least you will not be a debt to anybody on earth.

  9. notedscholar Says:

    Hmm. To me this is stating the obvious. But maybe there is a cultural barrier. Thank you for helping me understand!

  10. Tinta Rakyat Says:

    To malayamuda please be rational… We don’t need to tell sultan about this issue…We as a muslim will protect our believe…Make a research about this matter before you can talk about this issue…Don’t like a wise person if u r NOT!!!

  11. splim Says:

    When they ban yoga, I didn’t speak up because I hardly exercise let alone do yoga

    When they ban alcohol, I didn’t speak up because I don’t drink

    When they ban gambling, I didn’t speak up because I don’t gamble

    When they ban lipstick and high heels, I also didn’t speak up because I’m a man

    Then they started to ban things that affected my way of life. I tried to speak up but it’s too late. They are now all powerful and they ban me from speaking up also.

  12. Serious Shepherd Says:

    Guess what, now someone wants to restrict sales of alcoholic drinks in Selangor. Can we accuse this guy for practicing religious fundamentalism and extremism? Of course not, his name is V. Jeyakumar and he’s not even a Muslim.

    I guess kafir harbi of Peninsular Malaysia are obsessed with being different from the Muslims. If you look at the Christians of Sabah and Sarawak, they do not eat pork, the nun would wear tudung and they are also not in favor of yoga with chanting and meditation, without fear of being accused of being similar with the Muslims.

  13. nkw Says:

    Warning from Site Administrator (nkw).

    Malware was found in the link provided by so-called Electrical Engineer. I have therefore deleted his last comment which is long and irrelevant. My security system gives a warning when I click on the link provided by him to irf site:

    What is the current listing status for

    Site is listed as suspicious – visiting this web site may harm your computer.

    Part of this site was listed for suspicious activity 5 time(s) over the past 90 days.

    Of the 5 pages we tested on the site over the past 90 days, 3 page(s) resulted in malicious software being downloaded and installed without user consent. The last time Google visited this site was on 2008-12-16, and the last time suspicious content was found on this site was on 2008-12-10.

    Malicious software includes 2 scripting exploit(s). Successful infection resulted in an average of 9 new processes on the target machine…
    I don’t know who is this so-called Electrical Engineer. Perhaps he is an unwitting conduit for the malware. In any case, this is an appropriate moment to remind us to be careful about people who send in comments under pseudo-names.

    Make sure you scan your computer for malware if you have followed any link provided by so-called Electrical Engineer.

    From nkw

  14. Sharine Ong Says:

    I’ve surfed the web, it is islamic yes, but its harmless, you can conform it by using Yahoo search and no warning about virus on that website whatsoever. For the readers info. if there is virus or anything that harmful, Yahoo search will put the warning as:

    “Warning: Dangerous Downloads”

    So it is batter to use Yahoo search first before you surf to any website.

  15. nkw Says:

    Strange indeed. I have visited irf in the past. But now I continue getting security warnings from google. On top of that my webmaster flashes a warning for the message from Sharine Ong: “Warning: This message may not be from whom it claims to be. Beware of following any links in it or of providing the sender with any personal information. ”

    Sorry, Sharine whoever you are. I am merely posting the security warnings from google and my webmaster.

    Latest Update: On further checking I found out that Electrical Engineer and Sharine Ong come from the same source. Two pseudo-names, same source! What more can I say?

  16. hghgold Says:

    Cultural Barrier, this world is crazy!

  17. RaiulBaztepo Says:

    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

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