Mariam Mokhtar: Muhyiddin and the Runaway Train

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Religion, as it is practised in Malaysia, is soul-destroying.

If a woman were to discover a cure for coronavirus, many Malay Muslims in Malaysia, would probably say, “Mana tudung? Apa tak pakai tudung? Berdosa…” (Where is your head covering? Why aren’t you wearing your head covering? Sinful).

If I were to visit a government ‘jabatan’ (department) dressed in a skirt, without a tudung, all hell would probably break loose. I once accompanied a relative to the Shah Alam syariah court and was rudely admonished by a woman in uniform, when a strand of hair poked out from my scarf.

Religion and race have corrupted our thinking and altered our priorities. Give the Malay a microphone and a soapbox to stand on, and he thinks he is God’s gift to politics – and he is ever ready to micromanage how you live. Dress a Malay in uniform, and he thinks he is a Field Marshal.

The befuddled thinking is not confined to Malay men. The new Minister for Women, Family and Community Development, Rina Harun, and her deputy, Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff, have failed to inspire confidence during this alarming spread of the coronavirus in the country.

Rina is conspicuous by her silence on the role of women in tackling the coronavirus threat, while Siti Zailah is fixated on the uniforms of MAS’ Muslim cabin crew. What are their solutions for MAS employees who have been forced to take three months of unpaid leave?

Mortgages and house rents have to be paid, as do car and study loans. As money is tight and family members are confined to the house, domestic violence will probably increase.

In the current pandemic, most Malaysian victims contracted coronavirus at the tabligh gathering, at the Sri Petaling Mosque in Kuala Lumpur. However, do you hear Jakim, the ulama or conservative Muslim MPs speaking out?

The tabligh attendees who have not come forward for testing are probably scared. Many may be refugees or illegal migrants. They fear being deported or sent to languish in camps. Others fear high treatment and hospital fees.

Why won’t religious leaders use every facility available, such as TV, radio, newspapers, leaflets and social media, to make their appeal? When it comes to finding pork DNA in chocolates, anything is possible.

Naturally, Malaysians are angry and will direct their blame to the attendees, calling them stupid and selfish. Instead, they should blame the authorities.

Years of controversial preaching have made some attendees think that their God will protect them. They are probably convinced they will not harm others. They don’t think they will put other lives at risk. Remarks such as “I only fear Allah and not the coronavirus” show the dangers posed by some radical ulamas.

The Ministry of Health (MoH) has been monitoring the coronavirus threat since the first death was reported in December last year. Tests were conducted on people who returned from Wuhan. People were hospitalised and treated. The MOH guideline detailed many critical steps the public should observe.

An attempt to blame the previous government

Today, in an attempt to blame the previous Pakatan Harapan administration, supporters of Perikatan Nasional (PN) blame Harapan for not monitoring this pandemic. They should criticise Muhyiddin and his co-conspirators for plotting the power-grab, on Feb 23, while Harapan’s attention was centred on the threat posed by the coronavirus.

On March 9, Brunei confirmed that one of its citizens had contracted coronavirus from Sri Petaling and had also infected five others. Jakim (Department of Islamic Development in Malaysia), and the new Minister for Religious Affairs should have immediately suspended Friday prayers. They didn’t.

On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared coronavirus a pandemic. This should have been sufficient for Jakim and the minister, to cancel the Friday prayers on March 13. Instead, the authorities called for the sermon to be shortened.

Today, anything involving religion forces all politicians to tread carefully. So, if a Muslim breaks the law, they have to be careful about punishing him for fear of upsetting the Muslim masses.

People who have broken into temples and vandalised the premises were said to have “mental health problems”. Really?

In 2014, the gang rape of two teenage girls by 30 men in Kelantan shocked the nation, It was alleged that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the men. Our government cannot protect children from being married off, nor can it protect women from sexual crimes or domestic abuses.

When fires or beatings in tahfiz schools caused deaths, the authorities were afraid to punish the culprits. The cases dragged on and on until we forgot about them.

Malaysians wonder if children in tahfiz schools learn about national unity, science, mathematics, geography and the world outside their tahfiz tempurung (coconut shell); but the focus in on vernacular schools.

The ulamas make people think more about the afterlife than life on earth. They fail to teach Malaysians about compassion, humanity and how to live among people of different faiths and cultures.

The solution is easy. Ban Jakim because it destroys lives, both Malay and non-Malay, and it does not promote national unity.

Ban tahfiz schools, because they destroy young minds and deprive young people of their futures.

Let it be a lesson to all that things done in haste are never done right. Muhyiddin could not wait to grab the reins of power. He and his cabinet lurch from one slip-up to the next. He has just proven to the nation that the group of Malays who fashion themselves “superior” make poor leaders, or even managers.

Malay leaders miscalculated the danger of using race and religion to manipulate minds and control people. Now, their fear is, “How can we stop this runaway train?”