Understanding and Celebrating Differences

I came across Nurhidayati Abdul Aziz’s article, “Learning Differences” in The Star and found it to be rather interesting and worthy of a response. From a certain point of view, she underlines the fact that there still exist, within our multi-cultural society, certain levels of conservatism especially within the local Malay community. From another point of view, she wrote about how liberated she felt when she managed to defy the so-called typical lifestyle of a Muslimah as how she was taught since her schooling years, and how nice and contented she felt by being able to mix and mingle with people from different race, religion and culture.

Yes, here in Malaysia, the people are made up of a wide range of culture and religion. Understanding and celebrating, not just learning, the differences is therefore imperative in order to create a harmonious and happy society. It is perhaps important to note that the process of understanding and celebrating differences has its bases in Islam.

Allāh S.W.T. says in the Glorious Qur’ān (meaning):
O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honourable of you with Allāh is that (believer) who has At-Taqwā [i.e. he is one of the Muttaqūn (the pious)]. Verily, Allāh is All-Knowing, All-Aware.” (Chapter 49, Al-Hujurāt: Verse 13)

Islām acknowledges that there are differences, and that these differences should not be a reason to set people far apart. Rather, Islām teaches that these differences open up opportunities for us to get to know one another. By getting to know one another, we will be able to understand and celebrate the differences. Only after we are able to understand and celebrate the differences can we live and work together, complementarily, in a harmonious environment. Therefore, when certain groups of people tend to close the doors of discussion and do not mingle with people from other race groups or religion, they are actually contributing towards a growing disparity between the different racial and religious groups.

While there are certain sectors of the Muslim community that feel contented to live in a conservative environment, it must be understood they do not portray the entire teaching of Islām. It is therefore unfair to perceive that Islām is a conservative religion by judging only from certain practices made by certain Muslim communities. In order for us to truly understand Islām, we have to refer to the authentic sources of Islām (the Qur’ān and Hadīth) and explanations from the authorities of Islām (acknowledged Islāmic scholars in the Muslim world).

Back to issue of celebrating the differences, it should be understood that harmonious relationship between Muslims and others is encouraged. In a way, it is one of the best methods of conveying the true teachings of Islām to the non-Muslims so that they may understand the religion and be able to respect it. In a multi-cultural and multi-religion country such as Malaysia, understanding of each others’ faith and culture is very important to ensure peace and harmony. Most of the crises between the Muslim and non-Muslim world is due to the fact that people do not understand Islām in its true picture. This is perhaps, in part, due to the fact that some Muslims prefer not to mingle with the non-Muslims.

The fact is, Islām is actually a religion that encourages (and to a certain extent, compels) its believers to reach-out to others with the best of morals in order to convey the true message of Islām. And no, Islām never teaches its believers to force other people to embrace Islām. Which means, what is taught is for the Muslims to share and spread the understanding of Islām by means of the best communication skills.

Allāh S.W.T. says in the Glorious Qur’ān (meaning):
Invite (mankind, O Muhammad) to the Way of your Lord (i.e. Islām) with wisdom (i.e. with the Divine Revelation and the Qur’ān) and fair preaching, and argue with them in a way that is better...” (Chapter 16, An-Nahl: Verse 125)

This interaction with the non-Muslims that Islām teaches its believers to engage in does not mean that Muslims will have to give up their principles and fundamental beliefs. This also imply to the process of creating a harmonious society. Creating such a society does not mean that Muslims, or the believers of any other religion for that matter, has to give up their belief and alter their fundamental values. In fact, disintegrating the core values of each religion just for the sake of integration will only create more problems as people will lose their identity, and people will lose respect for their own religion and for others’ as well. Therefore Muslims, in particular, must hold true to their belief and principles when engaging with others.

Allāh S.W.T. says in the Glorious Qur’ān (meaning):
To you be your religion, and to me my religion (Islāmic Monotheism).” (Chapter 109, Al-Kāfirūn: Verse 6)

It is important that we always put our effort into understanding and celebrating the differences that exist within our community. This has to be done with the understanding that we can only fully understand and celebrate differences if we hold true to our own belief and fundamental values. I belive it is high-time that we start to promote harmonious interaction and engagement between the Muslim and non-Muslim community in Malaysia; but, only by holding true to a high culture of knowledge.

Gombak, 1.04 a.m.

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