Islam under attack in Malaysia?

MARCH 20 — Fear creeps in whenever I think of (what is to my mind, at least) the radicalisation of Malaysia’s interpretation of Islam. Condemnations abound. Conspiracy theories about the Christianisation and/or Zionist domination of the world are exchanged on the Internet with comments by individuals providing much of the ammunition needed for them to spread. I humbly put forth an explanation for this.

I think we, as Muslims, are trapped in a victim mentality. After the fall of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924, it is convenient to think of ourselves as the poor victims of the West’s evil plans.

I am not denying the existence of imperialism whereby Western countries quite literally partition whole continents and some academicians argue that the age of imperialism never truly ended and still continues to this very day (for example, the MIT Professor Noam Chomsky in the many articles on his personal website).

But I argue that if we are ever to achieve the greatness that our forefathers once achieved, the better mentality to adopt is for us to reform and better ourselves rather than subscribing blame and fault to an evil international conspiracy.

Victim mentality: a definition

Certain Muslims in Malaysia are mired by this victim mentality. We supposedly stand on the receiving end of the West’s attempt at indoctrination and neo-colonialism (chiefly through culture and ideology). Consequently our policies are more reactionary rather than pragmatic. Paranoia leads us to imagine threats to our religious values and cultural identity.

Erykah Badu and her tattoo

Just a month ago, Erykah Badu was banned from performing in Malaysia just because of an “oversight” by The Star when publishing a photo of her with what appears to be tattoos of the word “Allah” on her body. Many have condemned The Star for publishing the photo alleging that it is an insult to Islam. 

But have we stopped to ask ourselves wherein lies the insult? Presumably the explanation for this is that tattoos are forbidden in Islam. To link the name of God with an art form that is banned would be an insult. The appropriate reaction then is to ban her from performing even though the singer was able to perform in the most populous Muslim nation in the world: our neighbour Indonesia.

But what do we achieve by banning the concert? Why do we ban the concert? Is it as a personal punishment to Erykah Badu for daring to do such an insufferable act? Have we forgotten the story where our beloved Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. forgave a Bedouin man for urinating in the mosque of the Prophet in Madinah even though his Companions were furious?  The Prophet merely asked the Companions to clean it up and let the Bedouin man be because he did not know any better.

Do we stop the photos from circulating on the Internet then? Should we shut down Google image search just to ensure that the vulnerable and fragile minds of our youngsters are protected from seeing the “evil” photo? For your information, this writer is looking at the photo (again) as he writes. Alhamdulillah! My faith is intact, insyaAllah.

Christians using the name “Allah” and the JAIS raid

Over two years ago, the High Court ruled that the usage of Allah is not restricted to Muslims. Catholics, according to Justice Lau Bee Lan, were then allowed to use the word “Allah” in their publications after being banned by the Home Ministry since 2007. 

After widespread protests, however, the court granted a stay order on January 7, 2010.  What resulted from this is shamefully a series of attacks on three churches by a gang of masked thugs on motorcycles. To be fair, all sides castigated the attack but I fear that it is symptomatic of a worrying forgetfulness of the Malaysian Muslim society as a whole. We forget that we should treat everyone with respect and compassion, regardless of religion, race or economic backgrounds.

It is one thing that the disrespect towards other religious places of worship is shown by a gang of thugs but it is a whole different matter when an emanation of the state displays a similar, if less extreme, disrespect.

This worrying pattern is further exacerbated when the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) raided the Damansara Utama Methodist Church (DUMC) on August 3 last year during a dinner organised by the church and Harapan Komuniti, an NGO. According to the senior pastor, Dr Daniel Ho, about 30 police and JAIS officers entered the premises without a warrant at 10 that night. The Malaysian AIDS Council released a statement supporting Harapan Komuniti, saying that the dinner was organised to collect funds for HIV/AIDS support programmes.

It appears that certain quarters of the Malaysian Muslim community have forgotten the value that Islam places on respect towards other religions. For example, even in the heat of war, Muslim soldiers were forbidden from desecrating any places of worship of other religions by none other than Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. himself. 

In the Quran, Chapter Al-an’am verse 108 categorically forbids Muslims from insulting gods/god of other religions. Yet an official arm of the government seemed to have forgotten that respect and tolerance towards other religions is one of the first and basic lessons taught to primary schoolchildren in schools through out Malaysia in the “Pendidikan Islam” subject.

The more extreme/outrageous, the better

Politics plays a huge role here. We like to be seen to be the guardian of our religion. In politics, inevitably there is competition amongst different factions. One must be seen to be the most fervent defender of the faith for votes or support by the public. To put it crudely, the more outrageous and louder you are at defending the faith, the better. But in Islam, I humbly propose, that is not necessarily the case.

The epitome of compassion and forgiveness: Prophet Muhammad

When Prophet Muhammad went to a town named Thaif to spread the teachings of Islam, he was stoned by the children, after being instructed by the elders of the town, to the extent that he bled. The story goes that an angel appeared and offered to punish them by destroying the town. The Prophet (surprise! surprise!) prayed to God to forgive the townsfolk because they did not know.

The person of the Prophet Muhammad was harmed and yet he forgave them. If that is not an evidence of compassion and forgiveness, I don’t know what is.

The notion that the more extreme and outrageous you are in defending the faith, the better must be scrapped. What I think we should do is to recall the stories of Prophet Muhammad and how he was always the most compassionate and forgiving of human beings. 

Muslims in Malaysia (and that includes certain arms of the government and political parties) have to collectively look hard into ourselves and ask whether or not we have these qualities so valued by our beloved Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.


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