When Religion Is Politicized: Challenges and Solutions

From the bottom of my heart, I do hope that all Malaysians would respect one another despite the differences we have in terms of our understanding, thinking, denominations and religions.

Possible rifts to our harmonious relations should be resolved and not just ignored. To make matters worse, these rifts are being encouraged in the name of religion, even though the actual nature of religion itself is one that promotes peace and not conflict.

However, the rifts among us are worsening. For example, the news about a Hindu man who openly criticized a school for performing the ‘Korban’ (ritual slaughter) that is part of the Muslim faith.

It is quite frustrating to see this person’s comments as it shows the growing division that is further threatening our sense of respect towards one another. Today it is this man who challenges the right of Muslims to perform this ritual in the open. It would not be surprising if in the future some Muslims were to challenge the right of Hindus to celebrate Thaipusam in Batu Caves. If this continues to happen, the tolerant and respectful face of Malaysians in dealing with different religious practices will be under threat.

However, upon deeper reflection, it is also a mistake to see this Hindu man as an isolated case. As it is, there have been many provocative acts being done in the name of Islam by some irresponsible Muslims towards others of different faiths.

These are not cases of mere disrespect; certain quarters have acted provocatively, such as the demonstration held in Penang by some Muslims after an Aidul-Adha speech delivered by a non-Muslim politician was seen as an act of ‘Christianisation’.

The allegation was made based on ‘proof’ that the letter ‘t’ was used in a banner which they claimed symbolizes a Christian cross. This sort of action portrays a negative image of Islam, which will only cause a sense of hate among some non-Muslims towards Islam. Their feelings of hate is not actually caused by the true teachings of Islam, but more as a result of some unwise acts by certain Muslims in using religion for silly provocations. 


During the period of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, many decisions and actions were taken without considering their negative implications. Most notably is the destruction of the Buddhist statue, believed to be more than 2000 years old, in Bamiyan.

This statue was so massive it reached the heights of the hills nearby the area.  At the same time, it was claimed that there were no longer any Buddhist followers in the area, with only some Shiites remaining. The Taliban destroyed the statue, using the excuse of protecting the Islamic faith against ‘Shirik’ (heresy). The action taken by the Taliban was heavily criticized by renowned scholar Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who, as a result, was called a ‘scholar of idols’ by the Taliban.

In his statement on the matter, Al-Qaradawi mentioned that during the 7th year of Hijra, an important event called the Umra al-Qada’ took place, in which the Prophet Muhammad and his followers performed the ‘Tawaf’ (circumambulation) around the Kaabah.

Al-Qaradawi also said that though the actions of the Talibans meant to show that they are enemies of America and Europe, they have done so without realizing the impact of their actions as a cause of conflict among Muslims and non-Muslims in the East. Their fury towards the West led them to destroy the Buddhist statue in Bamiyan. As a consequence, Muslims living in Buddhist countries faced suppression due to similar religious sentiments.

And that clearly happened after the destruction in Bamiyan, with later news of massacres  towards the Muslims in Southern Thailand and discrimination faced by Muslims in Vietnam.

Beware of the Consequences of our actions

In the Quran, Allah S.W.T. stated:

“And do not insult those they invoke other than Allah, lest they insult Allah in enmity without knowledge”. (Al-An’am:108)   

In the commentary of this verse by Imam al-Baidhawi, he said that, “In the beginning, Muslims used to insult others (those who worshipped others besides Allah), this verse then prohibited them from doing so in order to prevent escalation where the insulted party would then parry with their own insults towards Allah. This verse argues that for some matters that were previously allowed, if it could bring harm, so it must be avoided because that which can cause harm are harmful itself.” (al-Baidhawi, Anwar al-Tanzil wa Asrar al-Ta’wil, vol.2, p.177)

In other words, Allah teaches us through this verse that in whatever actions to be taken, we must consider the implications resulting from it. Consider what would happen if a doctor would not prescribe a medication to his patient without considering the possible implications from it.

Religion Politicized

In Malaysia, there are many issues involving the relations between Muslims and non-Muslims that cause friction mainly due to the rigidity of how religion is being understood. The way Islam is being understood by many Muslims in Malaysia is not based on knowledge but merely on sentiments and politics.

Before this we have heard of cases where non-Muslims were prohibited from entering the mosque on the basis that non-Muslims are not ritually pure, as they do not perform the ‘Mandi Junub’(a kind of ablution).

Yet, in discussions of Islamic theology, if one were to read one of the authentic Hadith (traditions of Prophet Muhammad), it is mentioned that there was a man named Sumamah bin Ussal, a non-Muslim who became a prisoner of war, who was held in a mosque. Besides this argument, even if a non-Muslim were to perform this ablution, it will not even be valid based on Islamic jurisprudence.

There is also another similar situation in the case of forbidding the recitation of the ‘Doa’ (prayers) for a non-Muslim, after a preacher in Penang, in his Friday sermon, recited a prayer for the non-Muslim Chief Minister, to be given guidance from Allah.

From an Islamic point of view, there is actually nothing wrong with reading a prayer for a non-Muslim, as evidenced in many Hadiths —  it was mentioned that even the Prophet prayed for Umar al-Khattab (an influential leader in Islamic history) to be given guidance from Allah, before he became a Muslim. The same can seen from the prayer the Prophet made for the people of Taif, so that they were given guidance, after they rejected the teachings of the Prophet and threw rocks towards him.

We can also recall another issue of prohibiting non-Muslims to read the Quran, after a non-Muslim politician quoted a verse from the Quran in one of his speeches, when there is a Hadith permitting the reading of the Quran by a non-Muslim as when Abu Bakar once said to a Jewish lady who was trying to cure his daughter Aishah of her sickness, “Cure her by reading the words of Allah (Al-Quran)”. (Please refer to Imam Malik, Muwatta’, hadith no : 1982) 

Based on these cases, it is apparent that they have been brought up for no other reason but to sow hatred in the relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in Malaysia. This will not help the propagation of Islam, but will only destroy the harmony of the country.


We can see the differences in how Islam is viewed in Malaysia, compared to how the Prophet practiced it. The most recent being the issue of the usage of the word ‘Allah’ by non-Muslims, which has become a continuous dispute leading to it being  taken to the courts.

Whereas, if one were to refer to Islamic sources and experiences in other countries, from the time of the Prophet until the present, this prohibition is only unique to Peninsular Malaysia. This shows that Islam is being understood in a bizarre manner here in Malaysia uncommon to other places and surely different with the Islam practiced during the time of the Prophet.

Because of this, it is not surprising to see the implications it has caused to the relations between Muslims and non-Muslims, which seems to be well on the surface, but filled with a thousand and one prejudices at the core.

Hence, dissatisfied voices have started to arise. We have lost sight of the harmonious way which can be seen from the statement made by the Hindu man who disagreed with the ritual Islamic slaughter in open spaces calling it insensitive and disrespectful.

Islam should be debated based on the values and teachings of the prophet and on knowledge, not as a political or partisan tool and based on sentiments, as not only would it be taken negatively, but will just make matters worse.

In such situations, non-Muslim friends should realize that the provocative acts made in the name of Islam are not actually coming from the teachings of Islam itself but it is just the attitude of some irresponsible Muslims. In fact, for such folks, their main reference is not even based on Islam, but just on their own sentiments and egotism.  The label of Islam is being used as a cover that their actions are right, but they are actually a total contradiction to Islam.

All their actions is not unlike as mentioned by Saidina Ali, “The words are correct, but the intention is wrong”.

Only God knows best.

By Wan Ji at-Ta’aduddi

Wan Ji At’ta’aduddi is an up and coming Muslim preacher based in Malaysia who believes in spreading Islam’s message of love and justice.