Opinion

Islam is not a rigid religion

According to the Global Religious Landscape report from the Pew Research Center in December 2012, there are an estimated 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide.

That makes Islam the world’s second-largest religion after Christianity. The report also stated that nearly two-thirds or 62% of Muslims live in the Asia-Pacific region.

More interestingly, more Muslims live in India and Pakistan, a total of 344 million as reported, compared with the entire Middle East-North Africa region with 317 million.

This indicates the increasing numbers of Muslims around the world.

Recently, the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) announced that a newly introduced database system, e-muallaf, specifically for Muslim converts will be launched in 2014.

Deputy director-general of Jakim Datuk Razali Shahabudin said one of the main aims was to update the information on converts.

More importantly, the database is set up to detect the action of some converts who allegedly undergo conversion a number of times. He said: “After this, no one can deceive the Islamic Religious Department and the database will also ensure that the converts will not be overlooked in the Islamic missionary programme.”

I cannot comprehend why there is a need to keep track of converts as I see it as an act that infringes on their rights.

Religion is personal. Moreover, Islam is universal. All Muslims should be treated the same. According to Leon Moosavi, an expert on Islamic conversions at Liverpool University, the key problem for converts is about a lack of support and not the general belief that converts are more vulnerable than others to radical kinds of Islam.

As such, I applaud the initiatives of Jakim or any other religious institution in providing support to assist converts to learn and have a better understanding of the religion. However, I oppose such a database system. The intention might be good but it should not be done this way.

How common are converts to Islam? And what are the reasons that drive them to adopt the religion?

There are many reasons. Some embrace Islam after years of contact with Muslims. Some convert because they want to marry a Muslim and it is rule that no one is excused from at least in Malaysia.

In France, for example, the conversion phenomenon is impressive. While the number of converts in France remains relatively small, its yearly conversions to Islam have reportedly doubled in the last 25 years.

Of an estimated six million Muslims in France, it is estimated that about 100,000 are converts, compared with about 50,000 in 1986. But some Muslim associations claimed that the number of converts is higher, as high as 200,000.

Calculating the numbers of converts and to keep track of their activities like how Jakim intends to do is tricky.

If anyone has a real desire to become a Muslim, all one needs is to recite the Syahadah, the testimony of faith. With the pronunciation of this testimony, with sincere belief and conviction, one enters the fold of Islam.

However, in some countries, including Malaysia, the religion has been “formalised” and “politicised”.

In short, Islam has been misused in many aspects. Here, converts are given a “certificate” similar to an identity card to confirm they have been “admitted” to Islam.

Recently, at Umno’s general assembly, Pandan Umno delegate Datuk Mohd Haniff Koslan was quoted as saying that, “Malay millionaires are important because Malays are Muslims. When Malays are rich, Islam would be defended. If Malays are poor, Islam would be sidelined.”

Islam should not be based on ethnicity. As a Muslim-majority country, intolerant Islam is on the march. Such a phenomenon is indeed worrying and contradicts the image of Malaysia as a modern and progressive country.

The local authorities have made it as though Islam is a rigid religion with its long list of dos and don’ts, although Islam itself should be flexible.

Such rigidity reduces the freedom of many people within the Muslim majority to develop their views.

Islam today is a global religion and a beautiful religion. Globalisation has contributed greatly to the spread of Islam worldwide in various ways. It is time for the local religious authorities to realise this and not make Islam a “rigid” religion. – December 9, 2013.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

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