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MANAGING RELIGIOUS PLURALISM IN SOUTHEAST ASIA -- IDEAS FOR AN EU-ASEAN AGENDA: A MALAYSIAN PERSPECTIVE. Prof. Dr. K.S. Nathan Deputy Director, IKON & Head, Centre for American Studies (KAMERA) Institute of Occidental Studies (IKON) National University of Malaysia (UKM)
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Prof. Dr. K.S. Nathan
Deputy Director, IKON &
Head, Centre for American Studies (KAMERA)
Institute of Occidental Studies (IKON)
National University of Malaysia (UKM)
Bangi, Selangor, Malaysia
Session 3: Ideas for an EU-Asian Agenda
International Cultural Forum
12-13 November , 2008
1.1 History: Southeast Asia as a confluence of many cultures,
East and West
1.2 Early Indian and Chinese influence on S.E. Asian polities
1.3 Western Colonialism and imperialism:
(a) Portuguese Malacca: 1511-1641
(b) Dutch East Indies(V.O.C in Indonesia): 1602 to 1945
(c) British Malaya(1786-1957):
1786: Founding of Penang;
1819: Founding of Singapore;
1826: Straits Settlements;
1874: British intervention in the Malay States
(d) French Colonialism in Indochina(1870-1954
(e) Spanish Colonialism in The Philippines(1524-1899)
(f) American Colonialism in the Philippines(1899-1946)
1.4 Cultural Impact of India, China and the West on Southeast Asia:-
(a) Indianization of Southeast Asia—rise of Hindu kingdoms in Southeast Asia: Srivijaya, Majapahit, Malacca, Cambodia, Thailand(Sanskritic influence)
(b) Chinese political and cultural influence in Vietnam— Confucian order, education, literature especially during the Ming period(1368-1644).
(c) Western Colonialism: Creation of plural societies in Southeast Asia.
(d) Linguistic Pluralism: Coexistence of European and Asian languages
(e) Economic Pluralism: agrarian and urban economies,
commercial & retail sectors controlled by ethnic (especially Chinese) minorities
2.1 Constitutional Provisions permit freedom of religion for all
religious groups(Article 11).
2.2 The Constitution also states that Islam is the Official Religion of the country. The Rulers in the 9 Malay States are Heads of Religion in their own states.
2.3 According to government census figures, in 2005 (out of a population of about 27 million), approximately
* 58 percent of the population were Muslim;
* 22.9 percent practice Buddhism;
* 11.1 percent Christianity;
* 6.3 percent Hinduism; and
* 2.6 percent Confucianism, Taoism, and other traditional Chinese religions.
2.4 Religious tolerance has been high in Malaysia, but Islamic revivalism since the Khomeini Revolution in Iran (1979) has
impacted Malaysia in terms of a greater commitment to Islamic identity, with State and religious authorities being more activist in promoting Islamization in Malaysia.
2.5 Creeping Islamization: this is beginning to cause concern among Non-Muslims who make up about 40% of the total Malaysian population of 27 million.
3.5 Religion: Non-Muslims have more recently become concerned over the spate of Islamization in Malaysia, and are concerned about the possible impact this could have on constitutional provisions guaranteeing religious freedom for all faiths. Examples of such concern include:-
3.5.1 Conversions to Islam and out of Islam: Muslim converts are facing huge obstacles converting back to their original faith.
The issue centres on who has jurisdiction, the Syariah Court or the Common Law Court where non-Muslims are involved.
3.5.2The Lina Joy Case, 2007, where the High Court in a narrow 2-1 decision upheld the decision of the Syariah Court to deny the appellant(Lina Joy) the right to delete her Muslim name from her Identity Card even though she claimed she was a Christian, and did not practise the Islamic faith.
3.5.3 Seizing of Bibles using the word “Allah”, on grounds only Muslims can use the word “Allah” to refer to God. The Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur has petitioned the High Court for a decision permitting the use of the term ‘Allah’ as a generic Arabic word for God which predates Islam, and hence not exclusive to the Islamic faith alone.
3.5.4 Demolition of Hindu Temples on grounds they were illegally built. Malaysia’s Hindus generally believe that the Temples were demolished without provision of alternative sites, although it is also true that there is validity in the Government’s claim that many Hindu shrines were haphazardly built, and were blocking development.
Note: The Government Party, the Barisan Nasional(BN) although it won the GE by a comfortable majority(140/82), lost its 2/3 majority for the first time since 1969. Religion was clearly one
of the issues that swung the non-Malay votes away from the BN and towards the Opposition.
4.1. Dangers of Politicizing Religion
(a) When religion becomes a substitute for politics
(b) When religion(Islam) is readily/willfully conflated with “national security”
(c) In Malaysia, is a Malay “Muslim first”, and second “Malaysian citizen”?—problem of competition/conflict between citizenship and transnational identity.
4.2 Role of the State in Moderating Religious Diversity
(a) The State in Europe and Southeast Asia clearly has a role in managing religious pluralism
(b) Should religion be located within the “private domain” to avoid/avert religious conflict?
(c) Can Islam be confined to the “private domain” when it is the official religion of a country, like Malaysia?
4.3 Religious/cultural diversity as a growing and permanent phenomenon of human interaction, accelerated by increasing interdependence under Globalization.
Prof. Leonard Swidler, Professor of Catholic Thought and Inter-Religious Dialogue at Temple University, Philadelphia, USA, outlines the following principles:-
4.1 Primary purpose of Dialogue is to learn and grow in the understanding of reality.
4.2 Inter-Religious Dialogue(IRD) is a two-way project, i.e. within each religious community and between religious communities.
4.3 Each participant must come to the Dialogue with complete honesty and sincerity.
4.4 In IRD, we must not compare our ideals with our partner’s practice, but rather our ideals with our partner’s ideals, and our practice with our partner’s practice.
4.5 Each partner must define what it means to be a member of his own religious tradition.
4.6 Each partner must come to the IRD with an open mind, not with pre-conceived notions or assumptions as to where the points of disagreement are.
4.7 Dialogue can only take place between EQUALS.
4.8 Dialogue can only take place on the basis of mutual trust.
4.9 Persons entering into Dialogue must at least be prepared to be minimally self-critical of both themselves and their religious traditions.
10. Each participant must eventually attempt to experience the partner’s religion or ideology ‘from within’.
5.1 The Indonesian Model: Muslim Majority nation but Secular State
(a) Indonesian Constitution rejects theocratic state for obvious reasons: Islam divides, and does not unite Muslims
Note: Compare with Malaysia—UMNO Islam versus PAS Islam, resulting in the fracturing of Muslim unity, with serious consequences for religious pluralism—both instrumentalize Islam for political gain against the other.
(b) Both the mainstream Muslim parties—Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah profess moderate Islam via democratic politics. Does the Indonesian “secular state” model suggest that Islam and democracy can coexist
5.2 Strengthen commitment to U.N. Conventions regarding religious freedom and human rights
5.3 Role of Civil Society: this is of growing importance in sustaining democratization in Southeast Asia. Both EU and ASEAN can play a critical role in empowering civil society to play a constructive role in strengthening democratic institutions as the best safeguards for managing religious pluralism.
5.4 In Malaysia, and perhaps also in Indonesia, secular-oriented civil society is increasingly being challenged by Islamic civil society which demands implementation of Syariah Law.
[Government-based Non-Governmental organizations or GoNGOs versus local NGOs and International Non-Governmental Organizations or INGOs]. The local NGOs and INGOs reject the view that religious pluralism is a threat to Islam and its special position in Malaysia.
7.1 The ASEAN Community Approach: The Socio-Cultural Dimension—creating a Community of caring societies
7.2 The Human Rights Dimension: THE ASEAN CHARTER:-
PURPOSES: Article I, Para 6: “To strengthen democracy, good governance and the rule of law, and to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, with due regard to the rights and responsibilities of Member States of ASEAN”.
PRINCIPLES: Article 2, Para 2(L): “Respect for the different cultures, languages and religions of the peoples of ASEAN, while emphasizing their common values in the spirit of unity in diversity”.
7.3 ASEAN Human Rights Commission to be established.
(a) must be supported by all 10 Members--consensus
(b) must adopt evolutionary approach
(c) must be credible so no artificial deadlines for its creation.
(a) Religious Pluralism is the reality of our times—it should be viewed as an asset and not as a liability. The more important goal is strategic management of religious and cultural diversity to ensure peace, freedom, development and security.
(b) Diversity can be destroyed by theocratic and narrow nationalist approaches.
(c) Empowering civil society strengthens democracy and promotes religious pluralism.
(d) The State has a critical moderating role in managing religious and cultural diversity.
(e) ASEAN and EU possess appropriate institutions and converging values for managing religious pluralism.