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Opinion Ignorance Is Not Bliss


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004

The case of National Service trainee Basant Singh’s hair being cut off while he was sleeping has highlighted the need for Malaysians to be more sensitive of each other’s religious beliefs and cultural practices.

ASK a teenager to name 10 things about another race in this country in one minute, challenges Prof Datuk Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, founding director of the Ethnic Studies Institute (KITA), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

You can see how he or she will struggle, and many will not be able to do it, he points out.

This ignorance is not limited to the young and “uneducated” but extends to most Malaysians, including politicians and parliamentarians, he adds. “I’m concerned that our general knowledge about each other is low; we know little about each other.”

As revealed in an informal survey by Sunday Star, Malaysians are largely ignorant of even the most basic information, including the different religions practised here, the religious festivals or celebrations and the distinction between what is cultural and what is religious.

And as indicated by recent and not-so recent “incidents”, when it comes to taboos and other sensitive aspects of our respective religious beliefs and cultural practices, we may be treading on dangerous ground.

More than a year ago, in the name of investigative journalism, two undercover Muslim journalists took communion at a Catholic church in Penang. A few months later, a few over-zealous community leaders staged the shameful cow-head demonstration in Shah Alam over a Hindu temple site disagreement.

In both cases, the “culprits” claimed ignorance and were taken aback by the explosive reaction of the respective communities who considered their action as religious travesties.

Last week, National Service trainee Basant Singh came forward to report that his long hair was cut while he was sleeping in the camp. The alleged incident, which violated his Sikh religious practice, left him traumatised, he said.

It also left many Malaysians outraged.

A Punjabi engineer in his 20s who wished to be identified as N. Singh says he is not surprised, however. It is common for Sikhs to be teased for their turbans and long hair in secondary school, he shares.

A lawyer who only wants to be known as Azreena can also relate to the experience.

“When I was studying in Britain 20 years ago, I was always taunted because of my headscarf. I was jeered at with remarks like ‘Are you bald under that, luv?’ Once, a man even goaded his young boy to pull my headscarf off,” recalls the 40-something Azreena.

Reading about Basant Singh’s case happening here is very sad, she says.

It is indeed sad, agrees human rights activist C. S. Koon who believes it is wrong regardless of the religious issues.

“It is a violation of his individual rights and the so-called pranksters have to be punished,” he stresses.

Anthropologist at Monash University Malaysia, Dr Julian C. H. Lee shares his views, saying that there was a transgression of the young man’s bodily integrity.

“Basically, no one has the right to interfere with someone else without their consent, whether it is to touch them, undress them, draw on them, or cut their hair. What is certain is there was a breach here, which the victim has grounds to regard as severe and the perpetrators must be caught.”

Lack of understanding is the root of the “cross-religious problems” in Malaysia, he explains.

“If Basant Singh’s hair was cut by pranksters, then that is mostly immaturity that often goes with being young and those involved should be reprimanded.

“It’s a different story if the hair was cut as a deliberate provocation as the culprits understood what they were doing. Most of us know enough about other religions not to make gross errors.”

Yayasan 1Malaysia Board of Trustees chairman Dr Chandra Muzaffar thinks the incident is out of the ordinary in Malaysia.

“I feel that it’s something which is out of character as far as Malaysian society is concerned. Normally, Malaysians will not do something like this. We are generally very conscious and observant of the sensitivities of different communities,” he stresses.

Dr John Gurusamy, a facilitator with the Malaysian Interfaith Network, agrees and cautions that the case needs to be looked at rationally.

“Boys will be boys, so we need to take it in that context and not over-react,” he says.

Dr Chandra is also urging for further investigations on the case.

“We need to track down the culprit(s) and take firm action against them,” he says.

“More important,” he adds, “the authorities and relevant groups need to go all out to explain to the Malaysian public that incidents like this can be detrimental to the well-being of our society. If cases like this become rampant, they can jeopardise our prevailing inter-ethnic peace. We need to nip it in the bud at all costs.”

He believes that inter-ethnic relations here are good to a certain degree as there is no racial violence in our society.

Dr Shamsul Amri points out that there are many things that can cause cultural misunderstanding, “from not taking off one’s shoes before entering someone’s house to the blaring sound of the Azan. Even I would be a bit bothered if I have a blaring sound next door to my house.

“However, we need to ask why, with all these differences and so called racial misunderstandings, are we not fighting or killing each other yet?”

He strongly believes that ordinary Malaysians should be given some credit for being able to think and talk about these “sensitive” issues.

“We need to be rational and not emotional when it comes to cultural and religious issues. To a certain extent, we are doing that – we are tongue waving, not parang waving, on these issues.”

He says cases like this are not unique to Malaysia. “Nowhere in the world are inter-ethnic relations perfect; there is no perfect sailing. And it is not static; it is constantly evolving.”

The issue here is inclusion and respect, which can be manifested at two levels, says political scientist Wong Chin Huat.

“At Level 1, no one would be forced to do anything against one’s will. Hence, a Sikh boy’s hair cannot be cut against his will; a Muslim should not be served pork; a Hindu should not be served beef; a vegetarian should not be served meat. When it comes to food in Malaysia, this respect is well extended to Muslims, but perhaps not vegetarians, let alone vegans. Often in official functions, pure vegetarian meals are rare.”

At Level 2, he highlights, no one should do what others are not pleased with. This, if not applied voluntarily, can seriously restrict our freedom because it means everyone has a veto over others.

“For example, with a multi-cultural crowd, you can’t serve pork, beef, and perhaps all meats, so at the end, everyone will have to be vegetarian to be inclusive.”

The simple principle in dealing with cultural accommodation is to each their own, he elaborates.

He relates an incident in Penang last year where a few Muslims complained about the excessive noise of Hungry Ghost performances.

“I think that’s legitimate because the noise has affected others, hence some limit on noise level – which, of course, must apply to all religious and cultural activities and not selectively – should be imposed.”

Need for more empathy

All we need is empathy, says corporate image consultant Puan Sri T. D. Ampikaipakan who is a vegetarian. She relates that she has met so many people who are not only insensitive to her dietary requirements but are also ignorant of her beliefs that it has made her extra sensitive to other people’s beliefs and cultural practices.

“I’m very particular. For instance, when I have Muslim guests at home, I make sure that only halal meat is served and there is no alcohol. Similarly, if I have Hindu guests, I make sure that no beef is served,” says Ampikaipakan.

Her sweetest memory, she recalls, is when she attended a dinner at the royal palace in Terengganu with her husband.

“I was pleasantly surprised when I was served a special full vegetarian meal. Then I found out that the (late) Sultan of Terengganu had actually ordered his palace kitchen staff to buy new pots and pans to cook the special vegetarian meal for us. When I later told them that it was not necessary and I’m not that fussy, they just said they did not want to take the chance.”

She feels that people are so caught up with their own sensitivities that they are not aware of other people’s sensitivities.

“Many are not even interested to find out about other people’s sensitivities. If you are sensitive about something, you need to understand that other people will be sensitive about something too. Everybody has their own cultural beliefs. It is a question of understanding the basic aspects of other people’s culture.”

More crucial, says Dr Lee, is to forgive and forget.

“Where inadvertent offences occur, I think those offended will tend to be fairly forgiving and the offender genuinely sorry and want to make amends. If my dog jumped on my Muslim neighbours’ car, perhaps I’d offer to have it washed for them.”

But where offences are deliberate, there can be no question that offenders, regardless of religion or social status, are treated accordingly by the law, with full accountability, he stresses.

“By doing so, any perception that there might be groups colluding against each other can be dispelled.”


Gyani Jarnail Singh

Sawa lakh se EK larraoan
Jul 4, 2004
Re: Ignorance Is Not Bliss

Its worse when such Ignorance is actively cultivated in the National School Syllabus. No knowledge about the various races, ethnic groups, religions is ever encouraged or imparted in the National Schools. Only emphasis is on the Majority. Thuis its natural that minorities get the short end of the stick...all the time.
The Sikh "Karra" continues to get flak from School "discipline" authorities..every year in and yaer out i get students telling me that the School authorities said..karra is not allowed - its jewellery, superflous etc etc...There seems to be no National Directive to all school heads/teachers informing them that this is a religious requirement for Sikhs just as the ash on the forehead is a Hindu religious rite/requirement (the ash gets even more flak from insensitive bigots mascquarading in schools as teachers )
The Authorities have to get more on the Ground and see reality that Malaysia is a Multi racial, multi religious multi ethnic nation and each ahs got rights to freedom of religion and worship under the malaysian constitution.:redturban:


Nov 5, 2010
Re: Ignorance Is Not Bliss








ON DEMOLITION JOB 10,000 Rupees offered for building to be demolished in 2 days by breaking columns

Engineer refused to accept the offer as it was 100% risk

But labour did it for 10000/- Broke the columne and demolished and he was in bliss

But if it could have collapsed none could hace escaped

It is bliss sometimes.

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa
Waheguru Ji Ki Fathe

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The complete Shabd as composed by Guru Arjun ji and recorded on page 392 of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) is as follows:

ਆਸਾ ਮਹਲਾ ੫ ॥ Asa Mehla 5 (SGGS Page 392)

ਆਠ ਪਹਰ ਨਿਕਟਿ ਕਰਿ...

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