Worried about religious divide, Malaysia’s monarchs make rare collective call for greater tolerance and respect
Malaysia's rulers tend to comment only on issues of national importance.
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Editors note: (Oct. 11 1300hrs): This article has been updated to reflect that the rulers have previously issued a statement in Feb. 2016, expressing reservations about the National Security Council Bill 2015.
On Oct. 10, Malaysia’s constitutional monarchs took the unusual and significant step of expressing their concern in a public statement.
The subject — Controversies over race and religion that threaten Malaysia’s multi-cultural harmony. The statement reads:
“The Malay Rulers take very seriously the issues of unity and harmony among the citizens of this multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. It is imperative that all citizens adhere to the core principles embedded in the Federal Constitution, which was drafted based on the understanding that ours is a country whose citizens are of diverse of religious and ethnic backgrounds, and that all must be respected.
In recent weeks, the actions of certain individuals have gone beyond all acceptable standards of decency, putting at risk the harmony that currently exists within our multi-religious and multi-ethnic society. The Rulers are of the opinion that the damaging implications of such actions are more severe when they are erroneously associated with or committed in the name of Islam. As a religion that encourages its followers to be respectful, moderate and inclusive, the reputation of Islam must not ever be tainted by the divisive actions of certain groups or individuals which may lead to rifts among the rakyat (people).
The Rulers greatly appreciate the strong stance of His Majesty The Sultan of Johor in forbidding the ‘Muslims only laundry’ in the State of Johor, as well as the stance taken by His Royal Highness The Raja Muda of Perlis in a similar case in the State of Perlis. The positions of His Majesty and His Royal Highness in these instances demonstrate their commitment to ensuring that Muslims behave with respect, moderation and inclusiveness, in a country which is home to people of many different ethnic groups and religions.”
The statement comes at a time of rising tensions in Malaysia. The “Muslims only laundry” mentioned in the letter refers to a laundromat in Muar, Johor, which had placed a sign at its entrance reading “For Muslim customers only. Muslim-friendly.”
His Majesty The Sultan of Johor issued a strong statement of disapproval, saying:
“I cannot accept this nonsense. This is Johor, which belongs to Bangsa Johor and it belongs to all races and faiths. This is a progressive, modern and moderate state. This is not a Taliban state and as the Head of Islam in Johor, I find this action to be totally unacceptable as this is extremist in nature.”
The Sultan directed the state Islamic religious affairs committee, the religious council and the district council to investigate the matter. He also spoke to Mufti Johor Datuk Mohd Tahrir Samsudin, who had expressed support for the laundromat’s initiative.
The laundromat owner took down the sign after the Sultan’s intervention, saying he regretted the issue and would obey His Majesty’s command. The shop was then opened to all customers, regardless of faith.
In Perlis, another laundromat in Jalan Kampung Bakau had put up a sign which said “This laundry is dedicated for Muslim use only.”
However the Mufti of Perlis, Mohd Asri Zainal Abidin, said he would investigate the matter “right away” upon orders from Raja Muda Tuanku Syed Faizuddin Putra Jamalullail (Crown Prince) of Perlis.
After a visit from the Mufti and the Crown Prince, the laundromat owner took down the sign and made his services available to all customers.
Laundry isn’t the only religious battle being waged in Malaysia. Recently in Kuala Lumpur, organisers of the Better Beer Festival had to cancel their Malaysian event over “sensitivities”.
The statement, issued by Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal Syed Daniel Syed Ahmed is a clear indication of how seriously Malaysia’s royals view the matter.
The Rulers’ Seal is the symbol of the traditional authority of Malaysia’s constitutional monarchs. The statement was issued a day before the 247th Conference of Rulers Meeting in Malaysia, scheduled to take place over two days on Oct. 11 and 12.
The meeting is held three times a year, and gathers the nine constitutional monarchs of Malaysia together to discuss important issues. The Conference also elects the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or Head of State of Malaysia when necessary.
The Keeper previously issued a statement in Oct. 2015, when it called for the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) controversy to be resolved “comprehensively”, as it was affecting the country’s financial markets and economic climate.
In Feb. 2016, the Keeper issued another statement which said the Conference felt that some provisions of the National Security Council Bill 2015 should be refined.
Top image via screenshot from YouTube.