KUALA LUMPUR: The country’s economic progress over the past 30 years has done little to uplift people’s mentality with Sisters in Islam (SIS) saying it “has gone from bad to worse”.
SIS Assistant Programme Manager Azareena Aziz said the Malay community in urban and rural areas were less judgmental and more tolerant of each other three decades ago.
“We used to be a moderate society then. For instance, 20 years ago, in my village there was a transgender. Everyone treated him with respect. No one was rude or thought he was a lesser person
“But now, the community does not accept a transgender. There are threats against that person.
“Looking at the past 30 years, which way are we heading now?
“The same goes for women who wear a headscarf. If you are female and choose not to wear a headscarf, the religious heads will call us (SIS) apostate (murtad).
“What version of Islam are they (religious heads) preaching?” she asked when speaking at a forum on “Unstoppable Monsters: Defeating Extremism Through Power of Ideas”.
The forum was organised by Komuniti Muslim Malaysia (KMU) with collaboration from the US Embassy and the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative.
Azareena said the ideology of extremism came in different forms. As for SIS, it was the mentality of Islamic religious scholars against them and women who spoke up against such discrimination.
She said it begins with a man being treated as the superior gender and as leaders of a community.
“When a man thinks he is superior, he would want to retain that power and it does not matter even if he uses violence.
“Just look at SIS. We are educated, some with higher education in Islamic studies, but we are still considered a threat.
“We speak up and there is a fatwa against us for being deviant. That is to silence our opinions. We had a male colleague before. The ustaz agreed to meet up with him, but he would not meet the women.”
By right, she said the religious scholars should acknowledge the differences in opinion and still hold discussions .
But in Malaysia, Azareena said everyone wants to be God’s representative and “believe that their version is the only right version of Islam”.
Member of the youth and human rights group Komuniti Muslim Malaysia, Aizat Shamsuddin, said extremism does not only refer to physical violence.
He said it also included curbing freedom of speech, propagating hate between men and women, living in a patriarchal society and following religious orders in the belief that it will lead them to heaven.
For instance, he said society was more tolerant of each other many years ago and even of the transgender society. However, it has now grown into a society that feels “they are more self-righteous than others”.
“Those with different sex afflictions are mistreated. They are made to believe that Islam hates those with their condition. But I want to say that Islam does not hate you (transgenders),” he said during the forum.
Due to that, Aizat said the group wants to push for more moderation among youths by accepting each other and promoting harmonious living.
He said Islam is a peaceful religion but the different ideologies propagated in mosques might have caused a lot of people to be more judgmental.
Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) pro-tem committee member Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman said society should stop equating moral worthiness with clothing.
“There are people who contribute so much to society. But this is ignored.
“But if it is a man, then ok lah. No one questions him.”
Syed Saddiq said terrorism and extremism were propagated by several groups, including those who had degrees, and their ideology should be corrected.
“Osama Bin Laden was educated but propagated terrorism. Nigeria’s Boko Haram is using religion to occupy land.
“There are different types of ideology. My advice is if you come across any type of extremists, don’t shut them off.
“Keep having discussions with them so that they will see your point of view. It will happen, not overnight, but don’t give up.”