The misunderstood concept of tolerance

IN a country like Malaysia, tolerance is one of the values that helped keeping the Malaysians together as a multicultural and multidiverse community. The Malays in general respect people of different faiths and never questions other people’s rights to practice their religion.

There are numerous Qur’anic verses and hadiths that remind the Malays to perform tolerance and thus, the value of tolerance as taught in Islam has been deeply instilled in the Malay culture for centuries.

One famous story that reflects tolerance was the time when the Prophet Muhammad saw visited Taif to invite its inhabitants to Islam. The people there rejected him, stoned him, ejected him, and made him to bleed. Angel Gabriel came to him and said:

“Allah has heard what your people say to you and how they reject you. He has ordered the angels of the mountains to obey whatever you tell them to do.” The angel of the mountains called him, greeted him and said, “Send me to do what you wish. If you wish, I will crush them between the two mountains of Makkah.”

The Prophet said:

“Rather, I hope that Allah will bring forth from their loins those who will worship Allah alone and not associate anything with Him.” (Al-Bukhari)

Being tolerant is not lacking among Malaysian citizens yet this is the topic that is selected by Projek Dialog to be addressed in a forum entitled ‘Dialog Toleransi Agama’. Why? Is this forum aiming to provide a solution, bridge mutual understanding or becoming a ground to promote confusion?

When Siti Kasim threw her opinion on tolerance by equating the act of tolerance with the act of allowing any belief systems to prevail into practice and restraining from promoting a set of belief to others, I view that Siti Kassim’s version of tolerance could eventually disrupt the effort towards building a robust and peaceful nation.

She is literally saying, “Shut up. If you don’t, you do not respect me! Shut up. If you don’t, I have no right!”
Is being silent the way to go to celebrate tolerance? I find this idea really disturbing.

Silence is dangerous because it can allow abuse to happen. I am not a fan of Napoleon but Napoleon once said, “The world suffers a lot. Not because the violence of bad people. But because of the silence of the good people.’

The meaning of tolerance highlighted by Siti Kasim has been mixed together with the ideas of nonjudgmentalism, recognition, acceptance, even implicitly, affirmation and respect.

Anybody who can imagine this behavior in mind can clearly see that the attitude is no longer about being tolerant but worst, a withdrawal from responsibilities and obligations to other people. it is just like reminiscing the song, “Terpulanglah, mahu jadi apa, mahu jadi mahu hantu. Mahu jadi buaya”.

In the first place, tolerance is not about accepting unacceptable behaviors. If judgementalism is a source of concern, then the right way to address this is to promote an effective communication, one that comes with a complete package of wisdom, empathy, authentic and deep listening. Certainly, not by shutting down the whole idea of reminding each other of what is good and what is not.

Secondly, tolerance is not tolerance without limit. Tolerance without limit is the same as the paradox of tolerance.

The paradox of tolerance was described by Karl Popper in 1945 and states that if a society is tolerant without limit, their ability to be tolerant will eventually be seized or destroyed by the intolerant. This is also the problem of tolerance that is facing in the Western world as liberalism broadly creeps in.

According to Professor Frank Furedi in his book ‘On Tolerance’, “The problem is that tolerance – understood in its classical liberal sense as a virtue essential to freedom – has been hijacked and bankrupted.

… elites are trying to control other people’s lives: in the past they did it on religious grounds, now it’s legitimised by “research” from behavioural economics, neuroscience and evolutionary psychology.

The result is that the liberal idea of “protecting the private sphere” is under serious cultural and political pressure”.[1]

Siti Kasim also demanded respect and tolerance to be in the form of accepting any groups. She gave examples like Syiah and Ahmadiah.

While the approach sounds very pleasant and friendly in general, Siti Kasim failed to see Syiah beyond the geopolitical borders. According to United Nations as reported in Bloomberg, Tehran still appears to be arming Yemen’s Houthi Shiite rebels with ballistic missiles and drones.

Taking this into perspective, it is to no surprise that the religious authority is taking a careful and cautious stand towards the Syiah minority movement in Malaysia.

Prophet Muhammad saw said, “A true believer is one with whom others feel secure (Al-Bukhari)

When the religious authority does not simply recognize certain groups as representing Islam, it is not doing so out of disrespect towards the groups but it is doing so to deliver a greater purpose such as to prevent any form of conflicts and disunity in the future, preserve the authenticity of Islam and to guarantee peace, stability and security in the long run.

Siti Amalia Samarudin
Setiausaha KRIM Alor Gajah

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of, and should not be attributed to, Isma or Ismaweb.

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