I THINK it is time that we start to insist that having “Islam as the official religion of the federation” means that anyone can practice Islam in the federation, not that everybody has to practice Islam in the federation.Anyone can practice Islam in the federation, which means that if anyone wants to do something like stop whatever they are doing in order to pray during prayer time, they have a right to do so anywhere in the federation. Not everybody has to practice Islam in the federation means that just because some Muslims have a problem dealing with things like homosexuality, you can’t just force homosexuals to give up their homosexuality by applying the powers of the state to them. If we are truly honest, we will admit that all of us expect other people to be like us as a condition of being with us. We even expect our own children and siblings to be like us as a condition of being with us.
The only reason we tolerate people being different from us when they are with us is because we know that if we insist that they be like us if they want to be with us, they might leave us and we don’t want them to leave us.The only people in the world who are forced to be like other people are criminals. If you are a thief or a pickpocket or a scammer, people have the right to force you to not be like you but instead be more like us, simply because there are no other people in the world that will accept a pickpocket or a thief or a scammer into their fold. If there are any other people in the world who are willing to accept our criminals into their fold, I am more than sure that we would be more than glad to let them take all of our thieves and pickpockets and scammers.
It is precisely because we can’t get rid of our criminals, that we are forced to “rehabilitate” our criminals. We are forced to “rehabilitate” them, because if we can’t rehabilitate them, we will have to eliminate them or isolate them from us for perpetuity, and of these three options, rehabilitating them tends to be our best option. But I digress.
My point here is that unless you are a criminal or a person who deliberately causes harm to other people, no one has the right to “rehabilitate” you or force you to be like them or to be with them. It is imperative that our laws guarantee this fundamental right.If our laws allow some of us to “rehabilitate” others who have not committed any harm to any other people, we are yielding to oppression and tyranny.
I am not saying that the Johor religious department has no rights to set up a “rehabilitation” centre to “rehabilitate” people who it considers to be deviant or homosexual, but I must insist that the rehabilitation centre be run on a voluntary basis. If people themselves feel that they have become lost or deviant and want to check in to these “rehabilitation centres” to fix themselves, that is their prerogative. The instruments of the state however cannot be applied to force people who have not committed any harm towards their fellow citizens to join these rehabilitation centres, just because some people are not happy that other people want to be themselves instead of wanting to be like them. Even if “Islam is the official religion of the federation,” it must still be illegal for one Muslim to force another Muslim who has not committed any crime to be more like them. It must be illegal because if it is not illegal, we have opened the gates of tyranny to enter our land. When we allow tyranny into the land, we are allowing power, not justice, to rule us. When power is what really rules us, everybody will feel justified in seeking power by any means necessary, and when people feel justified in seeking power by any means necessary, conflict and strife will be a feature of our nation. If today we let the Johor religious body compel people who have not caused anyone else any harm to act according to its wishes simply because they have the power to do so, tomorrow, as sure as night follows the day, some other body will arise in the country, which will also seek the power to compel the rest of us, even the Johor religious body, to act according to its wishes. By that time, it will be too late to stop the practice of compelling and forcing everybody to follow the desires of some people, because the practice would have been normalised. Some problems can only be resolved before they arise. This is one such problem. Let us not normalise the practice of imposing oneself on others to make them more like us as if it were our duty to make everybody like us. Let us insist that “rehabilitation” be a term that is only applied to our criminal elements. – Nov 30, 2023
Nehru Sathiamorthy is a roving tutor who loves politics, philosophy and psychology.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.
Main photo credit: Apolitical