“It is up to you”: My First Lesson on Plurality in Malaysia
From certain distant observers, Malaysia is an Islamic country, most likely, the nationals speak Arabic, and Sharee’a (Islamic) law is the national legal mechanism. No matter how ludicrous this assertion might sound to those in the knowledge of the actual identity of Malaysia, it should not be surprising. It cannot be unusual when there are Nigerians naming Australia as a member country of West Africa. It can be that appalling!
Even though I was fairly informed of the national identity of Malaysia, and its socio-political characterization, I was extremely surprised to learn that, despite being of Muslims majority (70%, arguably), with handy portion of their legal instrumentality reflecting Islamic laws, Malaysians at their individual levels are pluralistic, tolerant of individual freedom of choice, even when they disagree. “It is up to you” is very close to an average Malaysian’s cheek; he or she throws it at you to simultaneously express respect to your choice, and disagreement or disinterest with/in that choice. “It is up to you to make your choice.” “It is up to you, since it is your life.”
This trait of an individualistic society is in steep contradiction with the Malaysian national collectivist culture which is perpetuated by the political class and generally obtainable in modern Asian countries. However, Malaysians, at their interpersonal relationship level, proudly exercise this tolerance to plural society and endorse libertarianism. As a citizen of a country of God-appointed litigators and moral policemen, Malaysians’ tolerant disposition to ideals they equally find strange and obnoxious was my first lesson.
I encountered “it is up to you” in many of my interactions with Malaysians –from classrooms, to group discussion, to shopping malls, to groceries’ stores. In all, Malaysians’ disposition to homosexuals, or people that are publicly exhibiting effeminate features (for supposed males), and masculine features (for supposed females), is the most reinforcing of Malaysians’ unmistakable maturity to deal with plurality.
To be very clear, and for the purpose of emphasis, Malaysians’ majority are Muslims, Malaysia is a close-open society, depending on your angle of appraisal, and homosexuality is a crime. Yet, Malaysians will not act with brazen impunity of dispensing justice on behalf of the state; Malaysians will not assault and harass people that are inclined to homosexuality. In fact, my close knowledge of homosexuals, their dressing style, outward appearances, and concrete understanding of their existential livelihood came from Malaysia.
I have had few encounters with this people, though distant, but till now, I could not still wrap myself around the actual fact and truth supporting their wish for anatomical shift. I have been subtly wooed by one of them, I have been served food in a restaurant by one of them, I have taken ferry with one of them sitting nearby, and most unbelievable, I have prayed in mosque with one of them. One of this people a typical Nigeria religionist so much abhor and ready to kill on behalf of his God is a mosque administrative assistant for people praying to their own God in Malaysia. I have since been wondering if Nigerians’ Allah/Jehovah is different from Malaysians’. If this is not, certainly Nigerians’ Islam/Christianity is different from Malaysians’, and/or Nigerian Muslims and Christians are different from their Malaysian counterparts. You cannot claim to read the same scripture, worship the same God and have different disposition to the same phenomenon, especially when such is argued to be scriptural or theological. A particular intervening variable must be missing out.
And I know. I know that Nigeria citizenry is one with battered psychology –evident in cheerleading of its treasury looters but reprimand its petty thieves. I know that as Nigerians provide alternatives to public amenities like electricity and water, they are also tempted to provide justice. But there is a need to specifically engage certain section of the Nigerian populace who dispense jungle justice or rationalises such national madness based on religious leaning and theological precepts.
It should dawn on us why we should quickly fix the Nigerians’ religionists’ demon; we should infuse “it is up to you” into their mental being for us to be safe from their theist terrorism.