I found myself sucked into a debate while having breakfast at a mamak restaurant recently. It all started with a friendly chat about the call by Penang Opposition Leader, Jahara Hamid to remove a Taoist shrine from Armenian Park in Georgetown.
“You are a Muslim. Tell me why Muslims do this?” asked an uncle who joined me for my morning nasi lemak.
“Apparently they are confused,” I replied with a chuckle.
“I don’t think so. This is something they are doing on purpose. You should know – you are a Muslim.”
Getting somewhat defensive, I blurted, “Not all Muslims are the same.”
“So you don’t practice your religion?” the uncle shot back.
Realising the conversation had taken a serious turn, I tried explaining: “I do practice my religion to the best of my ability. But that is not what we are talking about here.”
“It is precisely what we are talking about. The lady who wanted the shrine to be removed; the man who wanted ‘No Pork’ signs to be banned, the group who wanted the cross taken down – you all have the same faith. You all read the same Holy Book…”
“I disagree. You can’t judge everyone based on the conduct of a small group of Muslims. I do not go around persecuting people. I do not go around telling people how to live their lives. I support freedom and human rights. I am no extremist. Most Muslims are not extremists.” I was clearly upset by now.
“Girl, you follow your Holy Book and so does the confused Muslims and the extreme Muslims. If all Muslims accept the one and only Holy Book and live by it, they are no different from one another. They are all extremists – including you.”
“I disagree. I do not condone discrimination, violence and terrorism. Islam is not a religion of violence. Islam is a religion of peace,” I argued, as the uncle had gotten on my nerves with his blanket judgements.
“Your Holy Book promotes violence. There is even a verse saying: ‘Go and kill.’ Now how can a religion which promotes killings be a peaceful religion?”
“There are more than six thousand verses in our Holy Book – why emphasise on the negatives? Why aren’t you talking about the messages of kindness, love and compassion in most of the verses?” I countered, not realising that I had raised my voice in the process.
The uncle laughed, “Girl, religion is not like a plate of mee goreng you order at a mamak shop. You don’t get to tambah pedas or kurang pedas; tambah taugeh or takdak taugeh; tambah telur or tambah ayam. You can’t be selective of which content suits you and drop those you disagree with.”
The uncle got me thinking. If a good Muslim accepts every single verse in the Holy Book without any argument, does that make me, a cherry-picking liberal Muslim and a moderate, a bad Muslim?
I went home that day, quite confused.
There are approximately 30 million people in Malaysia, 60% of whom are Muslims. If a mere 1% of Malaysia’s 18 million Muslims are extremists, why is it that we haven’t witnessed violence or crime perpetrated by some 180,000 extremists?
Clearly, that could mean only one thing – extreme Malaysian Muslims don’t even make up 1% of our Muslim population. That makes me wonder – why then did the uncle get so worked up over a tiny number of people?
More importantly, if 99% of Malaysian Muslims are non-extremists, why haven’t we seen even 1% of the 17,820,000 non-extremists fighting against extremism in our country?
Maybe that’s what makes us – the non-extreme, moderate ones – bad Muslims. We do not fight injustice and cruelty. We are after all, moderates – in thinking and behaviour. We can talk for hours about Arabisation, Islamaphobia, Zakir Naik, Zionist and Shariah law. But when it comes to fighting extremism and terrorism, we hide behind our moderate robe. That’s the problem with being a moderate Muslim. We tolerate nonsense.
Perhaps that is also why we moderates like to insist that Islam is a peaceful religion – it allows us to justify our laid back attitude. In response to any extreme movement, we, the moderates peacefully make a peaceful statement, clarifying how peaceful Islam is, so we can get back to our peaceful lives, sipping kopi O at Kedai Kopi Ahmad.
In conclusion, although I do not agree with the uncle on most counts, I believe he got one thing right – we are not good Muslims. As long as we tolerate nonsense, the moderates are equally as bad as the extremists.