Statement By Humanist Society (Singapore): Malaysian Atheists Should Be Celebrated As Part Of Diverse Richness Of Malaysian Society, Rather Than Sidelined

This is our official response to the backlash against the Atheist Republic in Malaysia. Please read and share.

FREEDOM OF RELIGION INCLUDES FREEDOM FROM RELIGION

It is alarming that one of Malaysia’s ministers, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim, has called for Malaysian atheists to be “hunted down” vehemently by the Malaysian public.

What sparked such a call? A photo of an atheist meeting organised by an international group, the Atheist Republic, in Kuala Lumpur that had gone viral online. The photograph sparked anger because it appeared to feature young Malay Muslims.

The backlash is troubling. Online responses have called for the government to arrest these alleged apostates, with some even going as far as to suggest beheading the group’s founder, Iran-born Armin Navabi.

For a long time, God (or to the atheist – the notion of god) has been seen as the source of morality, and atheism equated to the lack of moral values. For perspective, a Pew Research Center’s global study in 2011, of 230 countries and territories found that 16% of the world’s population is not affiliated with a religion.

Globally today, there is still considerable hatred towards atheists and Malaysia is not the only country where such hatred exists. The government of Saudi Arabia has equated atheists to terrorists, and Bangladeshi government’s inaction in reining in atrocities towards atheist bloggers, real or suspicious are but two.

The notion that atheists are immoral simply because they do not believe in a God, is nonsense.

THE MYTH THAT ATHEISTS ARE IMMORAL

The Humanist Society (Singapore), a community of atheists and agnostics in Singapore, had organised more than 150 gatherings since its inception in 2010.

The Society had long known about the presence of atheist groups in Malaysia. Many Malaysian atheists who had travelled to Singapore for Humanist Society events are well-educated, articulate and forward thinking Malaysians. These Malaysians are also very respectful of the rights of all people to hold religious beliefs or none. There are many Malaysian atheists working and living in Singapore, too, as productive members of the cosmopolitan Singapore society.

Atheists are capable of being good people, doing good things and living in harmony with religious people. People do bad things regardless of race or creed. Many freethinkers still share universal human values with the religious, such as the cardinal rule of treating others as one would like others to treat oneself.

The two largest charitable donations in the history of the world were by atheists: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates donated US$30 billion and US$11 billion of their wealth respectively to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The rest of the list is long, and many of them atheists.

The religious often ask: Where do atheists get their morality from?

A growing volume of scientific literature is shedding light into the origins of our morality over the course of our evolution into human beings. It is found, for example, that many mammals are also capable of empathy and kindness, just like human beings.

Evidence suggests that humans have an innate capacity to do good for goodness sake. While there are many instances of selfish behaviour around the world, the bulk of human beings is generally good, regardless of race and religion. This includes atheists too. Young children, with limited capacity to understand complex religious ideas, have demonstrated kindness and empathy towards fellow children, adults and animals at a tender age. Children can sometimes display selfless and selfish behaviours, and as atheist parents, we encourage the former and dissuade and educate them away from the latter. This is moral education that emphasises on treating other humans and living things as equals.

MUSLIMS AT ATHEIST EVENTS IMPROVE SOCIAL HARMONY

The Malaysian government, public and religious clergy have expressed alarm at the presence of Malays who are officially Muslims at the Atheist Republic event.

Firstly, Muslims do not become an apostate simply by mingling with atheists.

In Singapore, Muslims have visited the Humanist Society (Singapore). We have also visited Muslims during Iftar to reciprocate their gestures. Over time, friendships have formed and we talk about a great deal many things, such as culture, history and language.

These Muslims have remained Muslims and the atheists have remained as atheists. Not every interaction between people of different beliefs has to be about conversion, but it must be about understanding.

Muslims at atheist gatherings act as a valuable bridge between Muslim and non-religious communities. For example, Muslim visitors can clarify misconceptions about Islam and offer religious points of view.

We feel that Islamic leaders should applaud, rather than condemn, the efforts of well-meaning Muslims. In Singapore, we have very vibrant interfaith initiatives, led by the government as well as civil societies, with the aim of forging even closer ties.

Secondly, if any person wishes to change his or her religious beliefs out of pure conviction, not even the most eloquent atheist or religious person can change his or her mind, and neither will the largest atheist or religious gatherings change their minds. However, just like there will be people who will take up religion or switch religion, there certainly are people who may eventually leave religion, through their own volition and needs, and there has to be a legal path to that which does not involve being threatened by death.

As Gus Dur once said – God, can take care of himself. Freedom of religion, as enshrined in Article 11 of the Malaysian Constitution, is not as narrow as a one-way street – it includes freedom from religion and the safe passage of people between religions or non-religious, at least of faiths other than Islam. No single group should be singled out for prosecution or persecution.

Atheists are found in every country on Earth, from every era and from all walks of life. No society has been completely religious. The fact that Malaysia has atheist gatherings is nothing unusual. If the situation were reversed, that a country was to unilaterally ban all religions, the humanists and atheists will be the first ones to denounce such draconian moves.

Humanists and atheists have a fundamental understanding that borders are man-made and ideologies see no borders. We hope there can be space for Malaysian atheists to form supporting communities in their own country. In our view, Malaysian atheists are great ambassadors for Malaysia. Rather than sidelining them, they should be celebrated as part of the diverse richness of Malaysian society.

Tan Tatt Si
President, Humanist Society (Singapore)
For Humanist Society (Singapore)

 

Source: Humanist Society (Singapore)