On April 21, 2019, the calm of Easter Sunday was shattered by gruesome bombings at several churches and high-end hotels in Colombo, Sri Lanka, leaving some 250 people dead and at least 500 more injured.
Most of the casualties were local Christians plus a handful of foreign tourists who were staying at the hotels.
The local media reported that at least 40 suspected terrorists had been arrested. It was also reported that two domestic Islamic militant groups, one of which is known as the National Thowfeek Jamaath (NTJ), were behind the bombings with the help of an international terror network.
IS claimed responsibility for the said attacks but offered no further details.
On March 15, 2019, Brenton Tarrant, an Australian, charged into two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, with a number of high-powered weapons and live-streamed the attack online, in what is alleged to be the single worst terrorist attack in the country.
Fifty Muslim worshippers died and a score more were injured in the senseless attack by a man who was apparently guided and motivated by white supremacy ideology.
Sri Lanka has a long history of bloody religious conflicts between the majority Sinhalese Buddhist who make up 70.2% of the local population and minority communities of Hindus (12%), Muslims (9.7%) and Christians (7.4%).
According to the Sri Lanka government, preliminary investigations revealed that the carnage in Colombo was an act of retaliation by extremist Muslim terrorists for the attacks on Muslims in Christchurch.
Crimes committed and perpetuated in the name of religion and God are as old as the history of mankind itself. No major religion is free from distortions and deviations in the teachings by its followers.
History is replete with such horror stories and examples, be it the Crusade waged by the Christians, the persecution of Palestinians by the Jews, jihad carried out by extremist groups like Al-Qaeda, Taliban, IS, Boko Haram to name a few, the Holocaust and Inquisition at the hands of Christians, ethnic cleansing by the Buddhists in Myanmar, 9/11 attack on Americans by Al-Qaeda, bloodshed in Kashmir by Hindus and Muslims, and so forth.
But lately Islam has been getting attention and publicity for the wrong reasons as more and more crimes against mankind and humanity are carried out by radical and extremist religious groups.
According to data released by the Global Terrorism Index, more than 80% of terrorist activities in the world have been carried out in the name of religion.
Malaysia and political Islam
Malaysia is not free from the threats and menace of terrorism as we now live in a more open world where access and communication with the outside world is very easy, thanks largely to the advent of the internet and the cyber world.
To make matters worse, there are always zealots around to be swayed and persuaded by such deviant ideologies. They are swayed despite the fact that no religion has ever sanctioned violence and crimes against humanity. More so the religion of Islam, which to the Muslims is a divine revelation to convey a message of peace and serve as a mercy to mankind.
For the Malay Muslims in Malaysia, political Islam came in the form of efforts and resistance to stave off the perceived twin threats by non-Muslims to Islam as the official religion of the country and to the Malays in relation to their special rights and privileges.
Segments of non-Muslims too are now showing signs of impatience and intolerance, and becoming more strident in their demands or expectations and less measured or circumspect in their agitation for their rights.
So it comes as no surprise that we are now seeing more hate and contempt spewed out on social media by irresponsible people across all racial divides. Violence in the name of religion transcends religious and racial barriers.
It would appear that the tragic lessons of May 13 have been conveniently forgotten as the parties vent their anger and unleash their fury in a more liberalised New Malaysia.
With that sort of backdrop, it did not surprise us at all that we had an ugly racial incident in Kg Medan, the provocative anti-ICERD rally and the Subang Jaya temple fracas which led to fireman Muhammad Adib’s death.
It is as if we are being given a sneak preview of what is to come if the situation is left unchecked.
We need to preserve our religious and racial harmony. We must not succumb to narrow religious and racial politics.
Political parties must be prepared to act with greater responsibility by placing the interest of the people and nation over partisan interests and the quest for power for its own sake.
PAS should have the courage to rein in and control its penchant for using religion as a political tool. We long to see a kinder and more humane PAS like we once knew under Fadzil Noor or Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat.
Writing in his blog sometime in late 2018, Dr Mahathir Mohamad said he was against PAS because the party had been responsible for dividing the Malay community since pre-Merdeka days.
Mahathir claimed that PAS, then known as Pan Malayan Islamic Party, was formed by disgruntled Umno members who weren’t selected to be leaders by Tunku Abdul Rahman, at the tail end of British rule.
“The main issue during the election then was independence. While Umno in Perikatan (the Alliance, the forerunner of Barisan Nasional) demanded independence, PAS claimed that Malaya wasn’t ready for independence.”
As a result, Mahathir said, out of the 52 seats contested, the then-Alliance, consisting of Umno, MCA and MIC, won 51 seats while PAS only won one seat.
Mahathir said PAS under Abdul Hadi Awang has become more politicised than religious, and more exploitative and divisive than under previous leaders.
He said he finds it difficult to forgive PAS for creating so much enmity, hatred and discord among the Muslim community with its brand of toxic religious bigotry.
Even Perlis mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin took PAS to task for misleading and confusing the people with its brand of politics.
“Do you know what is misleading? It is misleading when you issue a religious decree labelling other Muslims from other political parties as infidels. The decree which led to divorces between couples who were from different parties, cases of two imams in mosques and even martyrdom in fighting a government purportedly headed by infidels.
“Then suddenly things changed. The same party, the same premise of struggle, the same leaders and the same members are now decreed and deemed as alright and no longer infidels. All these became possible because of political expediency in your quest to gain political power.”
Umno, the dominant Malay party of yesterday, continues to wage its political crusade using the race card as its main political platform. It continues to be trapped in its old mindset.
Still, it manages to gain traction with many Malay Muslims despite the fact that Islam clearly prohibits racism as a political premise or tool to achieve justice for the people.
The Pakatan Harapan government and the component parties under it are also on the losing end as public confidence and faith in them begins to wane. The spate of losses at the recent by-elections and the results of the latest survey by Merdeka Center should serve as stark warnings to them to up the ante in their performance and deliveries.
The people must come together to give a loud, clear and unequivocal message to all stakeholders and political parties to stop using religion and race as political tools to further their respective agendas.
It is about time that the people utilise their authority to ensure that our hard-earned peace and harmony is preserved at all costs.