In April, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, declared the United Kingdom to be a “Christian country”. This echoed similar remarks, which Cameron earlier made in 2011 at the University of Oxford that Britain was in danger of a “moral collapse” unless rescued by Christian values. However, such remarks were immediately refuted by many in the UK, not least the former leader of the Church of England.
This week, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, likewise commented about the privileged position of Islam in Malaysia. Najib added that humanism, secularism and liberalism are the basis for a new form of a religion known as “human rightism”.
Seeing government leaders make similar overarching statements about their country's majority religion, it is not difficult to conclude that humans remain divided by different sets of beliefs. The only common denominator is that we are all humans, on this shared planet Earth. The fates of all of us are interlinked, whether we like it or not.
This means that co-operation and mutual respect are essential to improve our common lot.
This is what humanism seeks to do. Humanism and human rights are not religions, as no gods, supernatural beliefs or worshipping is involved. Instead, humanism is a human-centred life stance, or philosophy, in which human beings are solely responsible to each give meaning to their own life.
Humanists seek an ethical life-style based on reason, tolerance and compassion.
Religious tensions have been high in Malaysia in recent months, but by and large Prime Minister Najib has tried to stay out of the fray. Recent comments by Najib, however, are sure to ratchet up tensions in Malaysia. Apparently, the Prime Minister is worried about “humanism” and “Secularism” and its treat to Islam, the dominant religion in Malaysia.
Unfamiliar with humanism? The term is used to refer to a variety of strains of thoughts, all of which place humanity, not a deity, at the center of their belief systems. While there are numerous humanist thinkers and different belief systems, in general humanists emphasize logic, rationality, and reason over beliefs of faith.
With more and more people rejecting faith and religion in general, humanism has been growing as an increasingly powerful force. Humanism, while distinct from secularism, generally advocates from the removal of religion from government and similar institutions. For Malaysia, whose ruling party has deep Islamic roots, this could certainly be a threat.
Comments nothing short of inflammatory
Despite humanism’s clearly anti-organized religious roots, Prime Minister Najib claims that the belief system is becoming a new form of religion itself. Najib argued this new “religion” is centered on humanism, secularism, and liberalism.”
A vehicle from the Chinese police special tactical unit guards the sidewalk near the site of an attack near Beijing's Forbidden City last year. Pic: AP.
Tensions remain high in China following a spate of attacks linked to Muslim Uighur extremists, prompting Chinese authorities to increase security on the streets of capital Beijing.
The most recent suicide attack by suspected Uighur separatists occurred at a train station in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province, and killed three people and injured 79 more. The two bombers were also killed in the explosion.
KUALA LUMPUR, May 9 — Now tagged “Islamic”, Malaysia has always been a secular nation as prescribed in its constitution and rightfully remains so, former minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim said.
Its Islamic branding is a recent phenomenon, Zaid added, attributing it to Muslim leaders — including prime ministers — who chose to ignore the country’s founding document to score political brownie points, bolstering the erroneous world view of Southeast Asia’s third-biggest economy.
“Not a single Muslim leader will want to say what should be said. That is to say Malaysia by its Constitution is secular,” the former Umno member told The Malay Mail Online in a recent email interview.
The debate over Malaysia’s status, whether as a secular nation or one that is Islamic, is rearing its head amid a backdrop of several controversies over PAS’ push to roll out hudud and increasing religious policing that has driven a wedge between the Malay-Muslim majority and the country’s minorities.
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Growing up in a conservative Muslim household in rural West Sumatra, Alexander Aan hid a dark secret beginning at age 9: He did not believe in God. His feelings only hardened as he got older and he faked his way through daily prayers, Islamic holidays and the fasting month of Ramadan.
He stopped praying in 2008, when he was 26, and he finally told his parents and three younger siblings that he was an atheist — a rare revelation in a country like Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation. They responded with disappointment and expressions of hope that he would return to Islam.
But Mr. Aan neither returned to Islam nor confined his secret to his family, and he ended up in prison after running afoul of a 2008 law restricting electronic communications. He had joined an atheist Facebook group started by Indonesians living in the Netherlands, and in 2011 he began posting commentaries outlining why he did not think God existed.
“When I saw, with my own eyes, poor people, people on television caught up in war, people who were hungry or ill, it made me uncomfortable,” Mr. Aan, now 32, said in an interview. “What is the meaning of this? As a Muslim, I had questioned God — what is the meaning of God?” He was released on parole on Jan. 27 after serving more than 19 months on a charge of inciting religious hatred.