Saturday, October 21, 2006


Today is Deepavali. To all Hindu friends and readers Happy Deepavali.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in his Deepavali Message said ” it is my hope that the unique practice of celebrating the festivals together in peace and harmony will be continued. Deepavali is a holy day for Hindus and celebrated together with other Malaysians of all backgrounds, had become one of the major festivals of this country. It was a day of merriment which should be celebrated with friends including those of different faiths and culture”.

That is not how Malaysian Islamic insurance company, Takaful Malaysia Head of Shariah Department Mohd Fauzi Mustaffa apparently views Deepavali. In a circular in the form of email circulated on October 3, 2006 to all 2000 staff it stated ” Takaful Malaysia’s corporate culture that is rooted in the Shariah totally forbids greetings involving the gods of Hindu clients or of other religions. Muslims who have inadvertently wished Hindus a Happy Deepavali, Happy Durga Pooja and Happy Lakhsmi Pooja must immediately repent and not repeat it in the future”.

Naturally it sparked such a furor and anger. Minister-in the Prime Minister’s Department Abdullah Mohamed Zin must be commended for coming out quickly and scoffing Fauzi’s view saying that such a view was based on a narrow understanding of Islam. The Minister said that saying pleasantries were important for racial harmony and wishing someone Happy Deepavali does not mean that you have embraced his beliefs and religion. The Mufti of Perak Datuk Harussani Zakaria clarified that Muslims are permitted to extend greetings to those of other faiths in conjunction with their respective festivals. Finally, Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (IKIM) Director General Syed Ali Tawfik Al-Attas, called for Mohd Fauzi’s sacking and that he should repent for his arrogance in thinking that he has knowledge on the matter.

Having come under fire and following the outcry, Fauzi capitulated and on October 17, apologized saying that this was his personal opinion and did not reflect the views of the company. Well, Fauzi you can stick your apology up where the sun don’t shine, you bigot !. Takaful Nasional ( who had first stood by the comments claiming that they had first taken advice from religious experts on the issue) realizing the ground swell, placed a full page Deepavali greeting to Hindus in the newspapers. What a turn around from a company who has no qualms about accepting non –muslim customer’s money but not their friendship).

With the apology and the advertisement, the issue now may have been laid to rest but there is no denying that damage has already been done. If each Takaful Malaysia staff has an average family of five members, it can be safely assumed that Fauzi’s email has now poisoned 10,000 minds.

Lest we shrug off this incident as an isolated issue, it must be remembered that similar incidents had occurred in the past. In 2004, the government organized a national-level Christmas celebration but then imposed an unofficial ban on all Christian religious symbols and hymns that specifically mention Jesus Christ as it was to be televised on TV. In a strongly worded letter to the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), Rev. Father O.C Lim formally complained that “ the presence of the King and his wife, the Sultan of Selangor, the prime minister and other cabinet ministers “can never take place the absent of the birthday boy (Jesus) in what purports to be His birthday celebration. To call it a cultural event (as rationalized by Christian politicians than Christians) is to downgrade Jesus to a cultural sage like Confucius”.

CFM, the government’s liaison partner in organizing the event tried to pander the government by saying that sensitivities of a certain community must be respected especially in a government sponsored public event. Arts and Culture and Heritage Minister Dr Rais Yatim later “denied” that there was any such ban.

Malaysia with a multiracial population, it is inevitable that most of the festivals celebrated have religious connotation. These gatherings which are devoid of religious rituals are occasions when working colleagues, relatives and friends gather celebrating friendship. Alas for Fauzi, pluralism and diversity is objectionable and instead align his views with the Wahhabi fatwa circulating worldwide for years which declared that celebrating the religious festival of others is tantamount to approving their religious faith.

Malaysians and particularly non-muslims are alarmed at how fast Malaysia is regressing and is concerned with rise of religious polarization and alienation. There is a growing force becoming emboldened and turning into public their private prejudices. Professor Clive Kessler writing in Asian Analysis wrote that there is a long march towards desecularisation of the Malaysian life. His prescient analysis could not be wrong

Zainah Anwar writing in NST October 20, 2006 said “perhaps Fauzi’s position and his actions are symptomatic of where we have gone with our understanding of Islam, our education system, our socialization process, our politicization, and our sense of citizenship within a multi ethnic and multi religious society, that he today not only shows no love nor respect for fellow citizens of a different race and religion but also feels he has a right to turn his dogmatic personal piety into an office directive for all to obey”.

Zainah Anwar summed it up rightfully when she said “The mode out there is very clear. It is this hate ideology that posses a clear and present danger to the Malaysia that we know and love. It comes not from those who believe in upholding the Federal Constitution and the rule of law but those bent on forcing a rewriting of the Constitution and shifting the consensus for civil and political order in Malaysia”.

It is a warning well worth reflecting. Lebanon is a sober reminder.
Happy Deepavali.

“We are a nation of many nationalities, many races, many religions-bound together by a single unity, the unity of freedom and equality. Whoever seeks to set one nationality against another, seeks to degrade all nationalities. Whoever seeks to set one race against another seeks to enslave all races. Whoever seeks to set one religion against another, seeks to destroy all religion.”- Franklin D. Roosevelt.