ONCE again, Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik has come under fire from Sarawakians for something he said in Parliament.
In September, he ruffled a lot of feathers for saying in a written parliamentary reply that the Ministry was against the use of English as a medium of instruction in national schools, including schools in Sarawak, despite the special privileges granted to Sarawak with regard to the English language.
He has now upset Sarawakians by urging religious teachers from Kelantan, Terenggganu, Kedah to make Sabah and Sarawak their “medan dakwah” (proselytisation field).
He said this in Parliament when appealing to the religious teachers who were teaching in Sabah and Sarawak not to return home in view of the shortage of such teachers in the two states.
The Association of Churches in Sarawak (ACS), in particular, was “deeply concerned” over Maszlee’s statement, calling it a form of Islamisation which civil servants such as teachers had no business doing.
“The statement by the Education Minister to make Sabah and Sarawak a battlefield for propagation of Islam is not in the spirit of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 and appears to be sanctioning Islamic religious teachers from Peninsular Malaysia to promote Islamisation and propagation to local students in non-religious schools in Sabah and Sarawak,” the ACS said in a strongly-worded statement.
Maszlee has since claimed that his remarks were misconstrued and that “dakwah” did not necessarily mean spreading Islam but also meant being hardworking, having integrity and fighting corruption.
He would do well to heed the words of Sarawak’s welfare minister Datuk Seri Fatimah Abdullah, who called on all Malaysians to “tread very carefully” on racial and religious issues.
“We must be very careful, ministers included, to make sure that what we say is not wrongly interpreted. We don’t want a situation whereby there is uneasiness or suspicion among us,” she said when asked to comment on Maszlee’s statement, a day before he issued his clarification.
Underlining her point, Fatimah said she was not sure what the minister meant but pointed out that using “medan dakwah” in a wider and more general context than to mean religious instruction for Muslim students would be unacceptable in Malaysia’s multi-faith society.
If all of us, especially those in positions of power, follow Fatimah’s advice, there would be a lot less uproar and we wouldn’t need to keep having to explain what we mean when our words have caused damage.
In this case, the minister should have known that “dakwah” would be commonly understood to mean proselytisation. If that was not the meaning he intended to convey, he should not have used that phrase.
In fact, it was quite unnecessary for him to have mentioned it at all. From the news report of his remarks, he was responding to a suggestion from an MP about the shortage of religious teachers in Sabah and Sarawak. He could have just given a straightforward answer without adding expressions that would be open to misinterpretation.
Fatimah is right to remind us that we need to be careful about what we say in order to maintain goodwill and harmony in our nation.
Words can and have been used to incite and inflame unpleasant situations. Let’s not create needless scenes by saying what we don’t mean and not meaning what we say. – The Star