KUALA LUMPUR: Academics believe Malaysia is fast becoming an intolerant Muslim nations and are urging Malaysian Muslims to speak up.
This comes in the wake of the ongoing persecution against the minority Syiah Muslims in the country.
Prof Dr Syed Farid Alatas, a professor of sociology at the National University of Singapore, says Syiah Muslims were banned in Malaysia as they were seen as deviant, adding that such perceptions should be changed.
"We have to go against the tide. I wish he (Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Dr Mujahid Yusof) would (voice) out more against the persecution of the Syiah Muslims.
"He made it seem like it was okay (to conduct the raid). Malaysia has become one of the most extremist Islamic countries in the world. The Sunnis need to wake up," he said at a forum entitled "The Future of the Ummah: Voices of Unity and Harmony" on Saturday (Sept 28).
Earlier this month, the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) had raided several private functions by Syiah Muslims as the teachings are banned in Malaysia.
Mujahid later said the raid conducted by religious authorities was carried out according to the Jais standard operating procedure.
Syed Farid said Malaysia should go back to the 1980s which had a fatwa (ruling) which recognised Syiah as a legitimate sect in Islam.
He added that prominent international Sunni scholars should be invited to Malaysia to show the Muslims here that there are opinions among Sunni ulama (scholars) that are not in line with anti-Syiah thoughts.
"It is the discourse of the official religious scholars in the state (Malaysia) that created an image of the Syiah that is slowly becoming ingrained in the people's minds.
"These views are slowly becoming accepted. So if we are not careful, the next generation of Muslims will be entirely intolerant towards Muslims who don't practise and believe in the same way that Sunnis do," he told reporters on the sideline.
Other panelists included International Movement for a Just World (JUST) president Dr Chandra Muzaffar, Islamic Renaissance Front founder Datuk Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa, International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation's (ISTAC-IIUM) Prof Datuk Dr Osman Bakar and moderated by Dr Sharifah Munirah Alatas, an academic specialising in geopolitics.
Dr Chandra said the ulama in Malaysia should open their minds to understand the Syiah Muslims in the country who were subject to arrests and the infringement of their rights.
"We have a segment of ulama in Malaysia who are irrationally anti-Syiah. They (Syiah) are not talking about propagating, they are just practising.
"The ulama should be open-minded and try to understand what is happening. It is as if we want Islam to be projected as a religion that is against thinking, against reflection," he said.
Chandra said more than religious differences between the two sects, geopolitical influences and major events in recent decades had shaped the divide between Sunnis and Syiahs.
He said this included the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the combined Western powers of the United States and the United Kingdom.
"We must strengthen our understanding about geopolitics so we are not stuck in an interpretation that is the opposite of the reality," he said.
Dr Ahmad Farouk said in South Asia, where there were substantial Syiah minorities, there was no history of any large scale Sunni-Syiah conflicts until the last decade or so.
He said there was a need to understand geopolitics, in that the great powers manipulated sectarian divisions in the pursuit of their own interests, adding that to prevent sectarian conflicts from happening, Muslim governments – whether Sunni or Syiah – should respect the rights of their citizens irrespective of their religious beliefs.
"Second, Muslim countries should desist from using religion as an instrument of security and foreign policy and instead focus on practical ways of resolving conflict.
"Muslim governments should also prevent any hate speech towards Muslim minorities in their country," he said.
Osman, meanwhile, said the neglect of many social sciences in the Muslim world has weakened the voices of unity and harmony.
The voices of unity and harmony could be identified in three major areas of knowledge, namely philosophy, Sufism and maqasid Syariah (objectives of Islamic laws), he said.
"Some countries ban philosophy from their educational curriculum and some even ban Sufism, so their voices have become muted," he said.
To promote unity and harmony as a solution to the division in the Ummah, Osman said that these voices must be multiplied and play an active role in society.
He also said many Muslims were happy and more comfortable with uniformity but that this did not mean unity.
"Unity is different. We cannot create diversity without unity. Give space to constituents of that diversity," he said.