Content to be in the middle path: Malaysia's former minister speaks up on moderation

Content to be in the middle path: Malaysia's former minister speaks up on moderation
Former International Trade and Industry Minister Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz.

All her life, Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz has believed in the moderate path in anything. "We shouldn't be extreme in anything. We shouldn't be extremely slim, extremely fat or extremely happy. Extreme is one end of the spectrum. We should always be somewhere in the middle," says the former International Trade and Industry Minister.

She also feels that there is no need to group oneself as moderates because this then becomes "exclusive" and suggests that others outside the group are not moderates.

"I am a moderate by virtue of my being a Muslim. Islam demands that we practise moderation. It's as simple as that," she stresses.

Islam, she says, teaches its followers to be moderate in their interaction with others and the acceptance (and not mere tolerance) of the diversities in the country is the key to harmony.

"I must be able to vocalise differences in a way that doesn't hurt," she adds.

Going by the feeling at the grassroots, she believes the country is still doing okay when it comes to racial and religious harmony but, she says, more discourse is needed.

Rafidah also says parents should not just lepas tangan (leave it totally) to the schools or the uztaz and uztazah to teach their children about religion and basic values.

> You posted Je Suis Rafidah on your Facebook, saying religion is causing chasms and dividing society. What made you write that?

All my life I have believed in the moderate path in anything. I believe extremism is a very negative thing. We shouldn't be extreme in anything. We shouldn't be extremely slim, extremely fat or extremely happy. Extreme is one end of the spectrum. We should always be somewhere in the middle.

Moderation is an attitude, a lifestyle and your own personal principles. Moderation means you should not overdo liking something and you shouldn't hate. If you are for moderation, you shouldn't hate, because there is always room for acceptance. I practise this. It is not easy for me to be irritated by somebody because I always try to rationalise why the person is like that no matter how wonky that person is.

> What do you think of Malaysia today compared to 20 to 30 years ago? Have we progressed?

May 13, 1969 cannot be forgotten or erased from history. It had nothing to do with religion or race. It was triggered by severe economic disparities which were then remedied by the New Economic Policies and social engineering. We identified the root cause. When you nip it in the bud - in the sense of understanding the root cause and finding the remedies - you become one again. The Chinese-ness, the Malay-ness was no longer a factor for many decades.

Today, we seem to be racially divided again. I think we have to go back to the root cause. When someone makes a statement and that somebody represents an organisation or whatever, sometimes there are racial undertones. That is picked up by the aggrieved party as being racial.

It is so easy for people now to just label it as being "extremist". Perhaps we should look into what the causes of these unnecessary statements are. Is it because people take it so lightly if I say "You Chinese", "You Malay", "You Indian" without thinking about the repercussions? Are people more sensitive now? These should be looked at very seriously.

I hate it when people say we have to tolerate each other. Stop using the word TOLERATE and tell people to ACCEPT each other. When you accept, it means that you embrace all the differences, diversity and the quirkiness. Then there is harmony because you don't take it out on the other person because he or she is different.

> For a person who has been watching the political scene all your life, do you think we have become less racially harmonious?

We have become more unnecessarily sensitive and less tolerant about statements, viewpoints and of what people think about issues. I don't mind listening to someone rant about certain issues. Say you are talking about something and have extreme views about it, I'll listen and say "You are right there but on this other one, I don't think so" and I'll explain why.

I don't say "You are bad" , "You are useless" or "How can you say that?" To me, that is what moderation is all about. I accept that you are thinking like that but you must also accept that I am thinking differently. These should be points for conversation rather than hurting each other through mud slinging or retorts that are equally unpleasant. I must be able to vocalise my differences in a way that doesn't hurt.

Moderation is not lip service. You have to feel it. Islam teaches us to be moderate in our interaction with other people. We have to practise it.

We have to have healthy discourse. In this country, to have a discourse, we must have a council! I hate that! Don't institutionalise it. We have the Institute of Integrity. I don't like that because integrity is a principle of life. And we want to set up an Institute of Harmony? Whatever for? These are values and principles that need to be nurtured from young in homes and school. But now we are having a knee jerk reaction and setting up institutions for everything.

> What has gone wrong?

Nothing has gone wrong. You see the chasms only in KL and the bigger towns. Why? Is it because it is politically correct for them to say those things? Is that where they are coming from? I am positive the grassroots don't feel that way. I have been in Kuala Kangsar for 31 years, and people there live in harmony.

But we are not having enough discourse. At my own level, I do it all the time. I don't need a big audience of 1,000. Whatever audience I have in front of me, even if it is tea with five friends who are multi-racial, I will talk about acceptance. There's nothing intellectual about accepting diversities. It is a basic thing in life.

Why can't everybody do that? If people call themselves leaders in whatever area, in whatever sphere and at whatever level, their leadership obligation is to make sure that the people they lead understand what it takes for this country to be a successful country.

One basic thing is for people to be united. The key to this unity is the acceptance of these diversities which are characteristics of Malaysians.

When you are in a position of leadership, you must be able to initiate that kind of discourse at your level even if you are talking with friends or having a meeting. Talk about it all the time. Remind people that we are all different and to accept it. Stop tolerating but practise acceptance. To "accept" means to do it with your heart.

> But isn't the country heading in the direction where non-Malays feel that Malay and Islamic views are being imposed on them and the country?

No. It is because you (the media) give vent and a channel to the people who are speaking like that. If the media were to allow people with more acceptance of diversity to talk, I bet you it'd be a different thing.

This herd mentality can be very dangerous if the person the herd is following has negative thoughts. You know the herd mentality is the order of the day globally so why not shape the approach so that the herd is going the right way? The herd mentality is a global phenomenon especially with the younger Gen-Ys.

People don't even have a conversation anymore. Parents probably don't even talk to their children. These people (those leading the herd) are probably talking to the gallery.

To me, everyone should talk to their immediate gallery, which is their own circle of influence. Can you imagine if every parent in Malaysia - Chinese, Malay, Indian, Kadazan-dusun, Iban, whatever - over meals at home talk about acceptance and diversity?

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