My current batch of students are mostly Muslims. They are refugees from Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and Myanmar. Except for the two Myanmarese who are Christians, the rest are all Muslims, Sunnis and Syiah.
They know I am Christian, but it doesn’t bother them at all. This is the first time that I am having a majority of Muslims in my class on HELP College’s refugee programme. Previously, most of the students were from Myanmar. They were mostly from the hill tribes of Myanmar which are predominantly Christian. So, this time, I was curious to see how the class dynamics would turn out.
Well, they are no different from any of the classes I have had. In class discussions, they give their opinions. On some issues, the Sunnis differed from the Syiah or the Muslims from the Christians, or the conservative ones from the more open ones — whether they were Christian or Muslim or not. When the arguments get heated, I just suggest, “won’t it be better to just agree to disagree?” and they do just that!
In every class of mine, the refugees got along well with one another, whether they were Iraqis, Palestinians, Iranian, Syrian, Pakistanis, Myanmarese and occasionally a Chinese (persecuted for their religious beliefs) or a Sri Lankan Tamil. Sunnis got along with Syiah, Muslims with Christians, Iraqis with Syrians, Pakistanis with Buddhists etc, etc, etc.
At Christmas, they made it a point to send me a greeting and a Merry Christmas. And, I was wondering why are some Muslims in Malaysia making such a big do about saying, Merry Christmas!
If given the chance, people will learn to co-exist in plurality. The problem is with leaders who justify accentuating differences in the name of religion or political survival. Political leaders in Malaysia’s Islamic party, PAS, and Umno, the leading Malay-Muslim party in the governing Barisan Nasional, have been making overtures to form some sort of a cooperation. What is the motive? The good of the nation or the good of the religion?
None of the above! Umno is so afraid of losing the next general elections, it wants to form an alliance with PAS in order to get Malay votes to survive. PAS will join any force to promote its cause for hudud. As a result, trends are emerging which are creating tensions between Muslim and non-Muslim communities in Malaysia. The leaders have their own agendas but the people suffer when they get caught in it.
The recent visit by the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Julian Leow with Federal Territories mufti Datuk Dr Zulkifli Mohamad al-Bakri on Jan 7 was, indeed, a timely gesture to ease tensions. But, the problem isn’t with those who are open and accepting of tolerance and diversity; it is with those who are not and who insist on imposing their will on the rest of us.
Malaysians need to be wary of such leaders and ask if they are good for the nation or not. If not for such leaders, we will all be living happily in peace with one another, like my students!