15/05/2024 10:03 AM
Opinions on topical issues from thought leaders, columnists and editors.

By Dr Kartini Kamaruzzaman and Prof Dr Mohd Yahya Mohamed Ariffin

Religious sensitivity refers to the awareness, sensitivity and careful consideration given to aspects of beliefs, practices and customs of individuals and society within a country. Understanding religious sensitivity is crucial because religion plays a role in shaping individual beliefs, identity, culture, values and behaviours.

Being “sensitive” in the context of “religious sensitivity” does not mean that every individual must easily feel angry, offended or emotional. Rather, religious sensitivity in this context means that individuals must understand the approaches and discussions regarding religion need to be conducted with care. Without sensitivity, awareness and respect, the consideration to think and act rationally is lost, ultimately leading to misunderstandings, anger and conflicts with individuals from various social and religious backgrounds.

Communication becomes one of the important methods to enhance sensitivity and awareness regarding religious sensitivity. To provide understanding to the public, knowledge and information need to be disseminated. If matters concerning religious beliefs and values are only discussed in closed circles, it will be difficult to improve understanding of religion. Therefore, communication is crucial in providing enlightenment so that the public understands what is right and what is wrong, especially when we are in a borderless world.

Religious Sensitivity

Even though Malaysia has been independent since 1957, there are still many individuals who play the religious 'card' to stir the sensitivities of religion including race and royalty, ultimately causing controversy, and tearing apart universal harmony. What is more worrying is when the issue becomes a public debate and involves the online community. Unfortunately, disagreements about religion can escalate into conflict, both verbal and physical. It can cause strained social relations, disunity in communities, and even violence in cases of extreme religious sensitivity.

According to the Minister of National Unity, Datuk Aaron Ago Dagang, cases related to race, religion and royalty (3Rs) have increased to 123 per cent for the first quarter of 2024 with 47 issues related to the 3Rs having been recorded. In addition, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) has identified 1,454 items of digital content that threaten social harmony, such as content mixed with racial, religious and royal hatred, that have been taken down from social media platforms since January 2024.

In Malaysia, various incidents have touched on religious sensitivities. For example, the issue of socks being sold by a well-known supermarket with the word Allah written on them happened in the month of Ramadan. Following this issue, various individuals including social media users had given various reactions. The media reported that there were acts of terrorism such as a bomb attack launched at a supermarket branch causing a fire at the entrance.

In another example, a local individual in Malaysia was arrested by the authorities in 2023 on suspicion of uploading content on social media that touched on religious and racial sensitivities. The individual had spread pictures of body tattoos with the word ‘Allah’. Therefore, to avoid the misuse of social media that can affect harmony and cause conflict, defamation, and hatred for religion, race, and race, the action is investigated under the Bukit Aman Criminal Investigation Department and following the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.

The Role of Communication

Communication is very important in our daily life. However, it can be complicated when we face obstacles in communication, particularly in religious aspects. Barriers to communicating in a religious context are more challenging if they involve people with different religious beliefs and social backgrounds. These barriers can cause ineffective communication and create misunderstandings that lead to conflict and division.

Various communication barriers are related to the religious context. For example, individuals or communities that have a lack of knowledge or understanding of religion can cause misunderstandings and errors in interpreting and conveying information. Besides, misunderstandings in communication can exist if there are obstacles in the aspect of cultural and religious differences because each of the communities has unique religious beliefs and religious practices which, if not understood, will make other individuals unable to accept, hence, causing misunderstandings.

Every individual must play a role in facing issues related to religious sensitivity. According to the Quran, communication is one of human nature and needs. Allah says in Surah Ar-Rahman verse four which means: "teach him to speak well". The word 'al-Bayan' is mentioned in the verse which explains that God teaches and gives human beings the ability to communicate so that humans can distinguish their intellectual abilities from other creatures.

Communicating allows people to express themselves, interact with social networks, and cultivate a praiseworthy personality. Islamic figure Ibn Khaldun also discusses how communication is an important function of social structure and a necessity in community life. In his work, Muqaddimah, he emphasises the importance of social cohesion as a vital source in ensuring the success and stability of civilisations.

Effective interaction and communication may develop strong social bonds, solidarity and a sense of shared purpose, all of which are essential for maintaining order and fostering progress. This is because, without social cohesion, societies are vulnerable to internal strife and external threats. Therefore, communication according to Ibn Khaldun must be based on morals and ethics which ultimately determine the direction and development of the community’s civilisation.

In facing religious sensitivities, Islam teaches us to apply interaction and communication that can provide benefits to other people. For example, Islam emphasises the principle of honesty in conveying messages. Among the forms of honesty in communication is trust in what is communicated to others. As mentioned in Al-Quran Surah An-Nisa', verse 58. Islam also encourages its people to interact and communicate with positive messages because it can create harmony and trust.

In a context that touches on religious sensitivities, when a person cannot interact well, he or she should not interact because it is feared that this will disturb the social well-being and offend the feelings of others. Therefore, every Muslim individual needs to communicate and interact in line with the teachings and values ​​of Islam, far from being extreme.

Imam al-Ghazali, the leading philosopher of the Islamic world asserted that to communicate, individuals need to have awareness and humanity. Individuals need to make rational logical judgments about the reasons for communicating or interacting. Similarly, as the Minister of National Unity has reminded us that every individual should always be careful in issuing statements and actions, especially those involving the sensitivity of 3R.

Furthermore, in the work of Ihya' Ulumuddin, Imam al-Ghazali discusses a lot about this matter concerning communication.

First, he explains that every individual should not speak with words that are not beneficial, that is, take care of the mouth and speech so as not to cause difficulties for oneself and others. This also applies to the case when individuals communicate by typing texts and developing content to publish on social media or social networking sites. This is very important in the aspect of maintaining religious sensitivity because interactions and communications that are not properly managed will only harm the well-being of the community.

Second, he advises that individuals should not get involved in arguments and must always be gentle in conversation and speech. In the aspect of religious sensitivity, this advice is very important because civilised individuals will always guard their words and not hurt the feelings of others or the religion that others follow with their words and actions.

Third, individuals should not mention the ugliness of something or what they do not like. In addressing religious sensitivity, it is the role of every community not to make fun of, mock or humiliate other races and religions.

Fourth, avoid hostility, which is to interact with others in a polite way and respectful manner. When addressing religious sensitivity, avoid personal attacks or insulting each other as being respectful is particularly important even if we disagree with other people’s opinions. Besides, always make self-reflection that every action and speech delivered to the receiver will potentially get a response.

Thus, awareness of every act and speech is very important, especially when we want to give opinions and views on sensitive issues. In fact, Imam al-Ghazali also emphasises that interaction and communication in religious affairs is something that needs to be studied and requires caution. This is because mistakes in conveying information or conveying information without having in-depth knowledge about religion can lead to confusion and harm to society and the individual himself.


Dr Kartini Kamaruzzaman is the Head of Programme, New Media Communications, Faculty of Leadership and Management, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia, Nilai, Negeri Sembilan.

Prof Dr Mohd Yahya Mohamed Ariffin is the Dean, Faculty of Leadership and Management, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia, Nilai, Negeri Sembilan.

(The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of BERNAMA)