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Islam is a Malaysian issue

Free Malaysia Today logo Free Malaysia Today 11/8/2018 FMT
a group of people sitting in front of a crowd: Muslims failing, really? © FMT Muslims failing, really?

By Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi

Malaysians, particularly Muslims, have always considered matters pertaining to Islam as the wholly private concern of the Muslims. Comments from non-Muslims are unwelcome. This can be said to be true if the matter directly involves Muslims and does cross into the realm of non-Muslims.

However, we have seen many instances where many of the so-called “Muslim issues” have directly crossed into the realm of the non-Muslims. We have the “stepping on the cow head incident”, the Bible burning calls, the Red Shirt rally shouting Islamic slogans while hurling obscenities at non-Muslims, the Asri-Waythamoorthy spat over the latter’s comments on Hindu beliefs, the Zakir Naik drama of questioning Hinduism, the Zamihan Mat Zin speech, the separate drinking glasses in schools, the Ramadan rules in schools, the dress code in government buildings, the Chinese deity statue concern, the tudung, the Erykah Badu episode, and many more.

If we, as Malaysians, hope to live together over the next 100 years, we have to do something that has never been done before.

Einstein said that “madness is doing the same thing and expecting different results”. So far, we Malaysians have allowed the government or the religious institutions to appoint a committee of Islamic experts comprising, of course, of all Muslim members to look into these problems.

I wonder if these so-called Islamic experts who are all Muslims understand the Islam-Malaysian issues that we face.

I wonder how a group of muftis or professors from Islamic universities who have spent their entire lives as Muslims and have surrounded themselves with all things Malay and Muslim will be able to understand Malaysian issues such as those involving the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, Friday prayer-traffic jams, a Chinese deity in a private park and bibles in Malay with Allah as one of the words.

It is high time that we Malaysians and we Muslims recognise the limitation of knowledge, experience and practices of these “Muslim experts” and use another formula to deal with our own specific issues in this country. Let’s not repeat and reinvent the wheel of problems and issues on Islam-Malaysian affairs.

I would like to recommend that we accept that certain “Islamic problems” are actually Malaysian problems and not just Muslim problems per se. Although the British who gave independence to Malaya stipulated that the problems of Islam shall remain the purview of the Islamic religious institutions, we have to relook this idea in the context of contemporary cultural and professional practices in a fast changing world.

Now, if we can truly accept that our problems have become complex and intertwined with our specific value systems, then we need to look again at the manner of solving the issues and use an out-of-the-box thinking approach.

I strongly feel that the time is upon us to consider non-Muslims to be part and parcel of any appointed committee or board of directors of any so-called Islamic institution in order to give a balanced perspective of the problem and participate in producing a much more amicable solution.

I suggest that the board of directors of the Islamic Development Department (Jakim) should have 20% non-Muslims who represent the various faiths, races and concerns. There should also be someone who can speak on behalf of other minority groups such as the LGBT, the Ahmadi or the Shia groups.

After all, these people are still Malaysians. These committee or board members will be in the minority and will, therefore, be unable to affect the voting strength of the Muslims in that committee or board of directors.

What I am after is that these minority views MUST be presented because I have absolutely no faith in the Muslim experts being able to understand or appreciate all the concerns of the other groups of Malaysians.

It is high time also that the leaders and so called scholars of the Muslim majority understand that we live in a wide and varied world with equally wide issues and concerns. Subjecting all the Muslim-Malaysian problems and issues to a single inherited religious viewpoint brought about by a narrow system of ethno-centric education construct will take us nowhere.

In academia, a seemingly small issue is actually a wider problem and requires a wider framework of reference to address the roots and branches of the issue.

Allowing non-Muslims to participate in the deliberations of what can be construed as an Islamic-Malaysian issue will be testimony to the dynamism and magnanimity of Islam inherent in the practice of Prophet Muhammad and the progressive scholars of old.

It is only when Muslims unknowingly trap themselves into a racial-political identity construct that they disallow the wider view of Islamic tolerance to prevail. We Muslims have been living in the dark shadows of cultural inheritance and ignorance which never factored in time, technology and modern rituals of living and thus caused grief to the lives of our non-Muslim fellow citizens.

What I understand from Prophet Muhammad’s teachings is that Muslims are supposed to be the most easy going community to live with because of Islam’s wide leeway of acceptance. The weakness of Muslims is their “laziness” to read on their own the vast corrpus of hadiths of the Prophet and also their gullibility in accepting views of religious scholars as the untainted truths of Islam.

It is also my understanding that the true Muslim is one who is critical of Islam as propagated by cultural ignorance and political opportunism.

Thus, I reiterate, Islam in Malaysia is a Malaysian problem, not just a Muslim one. To solve our own brand of Islam-Malaysian specific problems requires the participation of all Malaysians to deal with the varied perspectives of our unique cultural, religious and political contexts.

Tajuddin Rasdi is a professor of Islamic architecture at UCSI University.

The views of the writer do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

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