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Rights activist warns against religious intolerance in Malaysia

Also criticizes bans on international celebrities and artists from performing in the southeast Asian country
Malaysian Muslims display placards in front of the Netherlands embassy during a protest against the insults to the Koran in European nations, in Kuala Lumpur on January 27, 2023.

Malaysian Muslims display placards in front of the Netherlands embassy during a protest against the insults to the Koran in European nations, in Kuala Lumpur on January 27, 2023. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 20, 2024 11:14 AM GMT
Updated: March 20, 2024 11:15 AM GMT

A leading rights activist has cautioned Malaysians against taking the path of religious intolerance and extremism which he said is detrimental to the progress and development of a nation, says a report.

“Religious beliefs [are] supposed to be followed in accordance [with] one’s religious teachings and not by interfering and imposing it [on] others,” said Malaysia-based Global Human Rights Federation (GHRF) deputy president Peter John Jaban. 

Jaban was reacting to recent events in Peninsular Malaysia while underscoring the rise of xenophobia, racism, racial discrimination, and intolerance in the nation, Dayak Daily reported on March 20.

He highlighted recent incidents such as the baseless accusations against vernacular schools as breeding grounds for intolerance, and controversies surrounding school canteen operations during Ramadan month, among others.

“These acts not only showcase the ignorance and insensitivity of certain individuals but also highlight the need for greater understanding and respect for diversity in the country,” Jaban said.

Earlier this year, Teo Kok Seong a Senior Fellow of the Council of National Professors (MPN), in a TikTok video published by Malaysian daily The Merdeka Times had issued disparaging remarks against Chinese vernacular schools in the country.

“The Chinese do not look up to the Malays, instead they look down on them, seeing the Malays as incapable, not as intelligent as them, lazy and so on which causes them to refuse to learn the Malay language and [integrate into] Malay society,” Kok was reported saying.

The incident prompted widespread discussions and debate on the vernacular schools creating a racial divide in the country.

Similarly, the Malaysian Education Ministry's directive to continue school canteen operations during Ramadan sparked controversy among pro-Muslim political factions who protested the move.

Typically, the school canteens in most Malaysian schools remain closed throughout Ramadan.

The move to keep the canteens open was aimed at providing “guidance and education to non-Muslims to teach them mutual respect for those who were fasting,” the New Straits Times reported citing an education ministry official.

Jaban also criticized the bans on international celebrities and artists from performing in Malaysia, and the strict rules and guidelines imposed on holidaymakers in destinations like Langkawi.

Famed international artists like Beyoncé, Kesha, and the band The 1975 are banned from performing in Malaysia, MSN reported.

Jaban also referred to a rumored ban on wearing shorts and consuming alcohol on the tourist island of Langkawi, which was later refuted by the Malaysian authorities as untrue, MalayMail reported.

“These would push the country back to stone age, causing further impact on the country’s economy which is already struggling with the rise of standard of living, increase in basic food essentials, the fall of ringgit, and the country’s staggering debt of RM1.5 trillion,” Jaban pointed out.

It is time to put an end to the religious extremism that is threatening the unity and harmony of the nation, Jaban added.

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