BY STEVEN THIRU
JUNE 25 — The Malaysian Bar refers to the report in MalaysiaKini dated June 23, 2015 that attributed the following statements to the Deputy Education Minister YB Datuk Mary Yap Kain Ching: “Out of respect to our Muslim friends, we as non-Muslims should avoid eating or drinking in front of our Muslim friends. Non-Muslims need to be show [sic] some discretion on this matter during the fasting month.”
The statements were apparently made in response to the remark reportedly made by a teacher who told non-Muslim students not to drink water in the classroom and if they didn’t have water, they could drink from the taps in the toilet or their own urine instead.
The deputy minister’s reported statements are disturbing as it casts the everyday eating and drinking of those who are not fasting as acts of disrespect, and it encourages the curtailment of the rights of those who are not fasting. This is inimical to the principles of mutual respect and understanding that underlie our constitutional scheme.
The purpose of fasting is not to inconvenience others who are not fasting. Indeed, to impose any such inconvenience would appear to be contrary to the spirit of the fasting month and devalues the qualities that it seeks to honour.
The deputy minister’s call does not inspire mutual respect and understanding amongst Malaysians. Instead, it emboldens those who are misguided in their belief that only their rights matter and further results in resentment amongst those whose rights are ignored or marginalised. This is a recipe for disharmony and disunity that we can ill afford.
All too often we hear of attempts to compel or impose respect and understanding in our schools in a divisive manner. This serves to poison the minds of our children, and sows in them the seeds of prejudice, distrust and suspicion. Our future as a nation will be in jeopardy if this worrying trend is not arrested and reversed.
The Malaysian Bar calls on the education authorities to uphold, engender and put in practice the principles of harmony and unity in our schools for the sake of the future of the nation.
Steven Thiru is the president of the Malaysian Bar.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or organisation.
 “Non-Muslim pupils can eat, drink in private”, MalaysiaKini, June 23, 2015, accessed at http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/302837.