PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Moderates in Malaysia have welcomed the concerns raised by the Malay Rulers about the country's unity and harmony, hailing them as being timely.
Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) Chairman Tan Sri Razali Ismail said the recent actions and statements in the name of Islam, which have the effects of portraying Islam as an intolerant and factious religion, contradicted the aspirations of the Federal Constitution and the Rukunegara, or national principles.
"This injunction by the Malay Rulers reaffirms the dignity of every Malaysian and underlines the country's unwavering commitment towards a more inclusive nation.
"Suhakam calls on individuals and other interest groups to stop acting against the spirit of tolerance, which can result in confusion and disunity, and to seriously take heed of the Rulers' statement and injunction," Razali said.
The Malay Rulers expressed their concerns on Tuesday (Oct 11) over issues of unity and harmony in the country in light of recent controversies, including two Muslims-only launderettes in Johor and Perlis. The nine sultans said people must respect that Malaysia is a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional country.
"It is feared that the excessive actions of certain individuals of late can undermine the harmonious relations among the people of various races and religions," said the statement signed by the Keeper of the Rulers' Seal Syed Danial Syed Ahmad.
"The Rulers feel that the issue of harmony has deep implication if any action is associated with and undertaken in the name of Islam."
Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz said the diversity of Malaysians is the nation's strength and must be respected.
"Malaysia's diversity of its people, especially in the context of racial heritage, religion and all the attendant diversities must not merely be 'tolerated' by everyone but must be accepted as a given and therefore respected.
"We have no place for any holier-than-thou attitude nor for any superiority complex in any context," said the former international trade and industry minister.
Rafidah said each person must be allowed to keep their own faith, adding that Islam invokes Muslims to subscribe to the principles of moderation.
"More importantly, no one should make our diversity a political capital in order to win the support of the gallery, and to achieve personal or group or base ulterior motives.
"Every Malaysian should be the best person possible, and those doing it now, must stop being his or her brother's and sister's keeper," she said.
Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Tan Sri Joseph Kurup said the actions by extremists and bigots are destructive and not conducive to nation-building.
"We will continue to implement various programmes to strengthen unity in our multi-religious and multi-ethnic society based on the Federal Constitution and the five principles of the Rukun Negara.
"It is desirable for all Malaysians to pay heed to the noble advice of our Rulers which is to inculcate among ourselves the concept of tolerance and acceptance," he said.
Zubedy founder Anas Zubedy said he was glad that the Rulers raised the issue.
"We have to pay attention to the ambition and goals of the Rukun Negara.
"Recently, I have been promoting the idea that we have to bring the Rukun Negara to the forefront, and make sure we use its ambitions and principles as our parametres, regardless of whether you are a politician, business leader, religious leader or citizen," he added.
G25 member Tawfik Ismail said while the Rulers are the heads of religion in their respective states, it appears that in the last few years, politicians have ignored the Rulers' powers over religion.
The son of Malaysia's second deputy prime minister, Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, added that the level of tolerance among Malaysians is quite high and that people are too busy making a living to worry about the rhetoric.
Islamic Renaissance Front chairman Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa said that part of the preamble to the Rukun Negara clearly states liberal value.
However, "liberal" has been demonised to mean areligious and decadent, he said.
"This part of the preamble can be translated as: 'Guaranteeing a liberal approach towards her rich and varied cultural traditions'.
"The word 'liberal' is used in the context of something positive and beneficial to Malaysia's ambitions to becoming a united, happy and prosperous country.
"When we demonise a dignified terminology, this is what we are witnessing - a society that has become intolerant to diverse opinions and lifestyles; a society that has difficulty in embracing multiculturalism and plurality," he said.
Netizens in Malaysia said it is now up to the government to do the right thing. Facebook user Baskaran Krishnan Kutty said "action speaks louder than words" and expressed hope to see a more harmonious Malaysia.
"The rulers have spoken. What will the government do now?" asked Jocky Tan.
Another netizen Adrian Paul said: "Unity has to start at the top and leaders need to set the example. "
Angel Ong said respect and moderation were spread through education and family values. "Respect is actually not that hard to learn. But it has been neglected by a lot of people ... Everyone needs to learn how to be kind, humble and respectful," she said.