Why Islam is so backward

Raja Petra Kamarudin

A few years back, in August 1998, one local Islamic organisation, Saba Islamic Media, launched a campaign to place a Koran in every hotel room, which it called ‘Hotel Qur’an Project’. This is actually not something new as most hotel rooms have copies of the Gideon’s Bible or the Book of Buddha, so placing a Koran alongside the other religious books would not be that out of the ordinary.

The campaign was successfully launched and well received by all and sundry. Many, in fact, donated funds to the campaign and more than half a million Ringgit was raised to fund the purchase of these Korans, an English translation by Yusuf Ali.

One snag though, Saba Islamic Media could not get approval from Pusat Islam (Islamic Centre). Pusat Islam was of the opinion it is degrading to place a revered book like the Koran in a filthy hotel room where the unclean hands of non-Muslims could touch it and maybe vandalise it. People go to hotels for illicit sex and there would be liquor in the rooms. And how could we even suggest that a Koran be placed in a hotel room where there was always the ‘danger’ of a non-Muslim touching it?

We were flabbergasted. We argued with the Pusat Islam officers till the cows came home but to no avail.

Many Muslim houses too have liquor in it, we argued. What do we then do? Do we go and inspect every Muslim house all over Malaysia and if we find that there is liquor in their houses we then confiscate the Korans and remove it from their homes?

And what is wrong with non-Muslims touching the Koran? Do we not wish that they not only touch it but read it as well? Even if after reading it they do not find it attractive enough to convert to Islam at least they would go home with a better understanding of the religion.

God must have intended for the Koran to be introduced to non-Muslims as well. Surely God does not expect us to convert the converted. We should be looking at how to covert the unconverted — which means, if we are going to achieve this, the Koran must reach the hands of the non-Muslims.

Anyway, when Prophet Muhammad introduced the Koran to, first of all his immediate family, then to the Mekkah citizens at large, were not all these people then still non-Muslims, pagans and idol worshippers? None of them were Muslims yet. If the Koran cannot reach the hands of non-Muslims then Prophet Muhammad would not have been able to convert anyone at all, not even his own wife.

And on the point of vandalism, we were yet to see any copies of the Gideon’s Bible mistreated in any way. Surely God is capable of looking after his own book. Our job should be just to spread His word and let him worry about how to protect the dignity of His Book.

But it was like arguing with a brick wall. Finally, exasperated, we went to the Prime Minister’s office and presented our case to the then Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim. We really hated going above the heads of the Pusat Islam officers but we realised that there was no way we were going to get them to come around to our way of thinking. Luckily, Anwar Ibrahim is not as backward-thinking as those Pusat Islam officers and he sent down word that he supports our project. Pusat Islam did an immediate U-turn and approved our project.

Now, as they say, the rest is history and many a hotel room all over Malaysia has a copy of Yusuf Ali’s English translation of the Koran.

But our problems did not end there. After obtaining Pusat Islam’s approval, we now had to go meet the hotel managers one-by-one to convince them to allow our Korans to be placed in their hotel rooms. Surprisingly, those ‘non-Muslim’ hotels like Nikko readily agreed for us to place our Korans in their rooms. They even asked for 10% extra in case any of the Korans go missing and they had to replace them.

We did not mind if anyone took our Korans home, though this would involve replacing them. In fact, we encouraged anyone who would like to take a copy of the Koran home with them. At least this would indicate an interest.

But the so-called ‘Muslim-owned’ hotels that were owned by Pernas such as Istana and Hilton (then) refused to accept our Korans. They did not want to be responsible for them.

Sigh…well, it looks like non-Muslims are easier to deal with than Muslims.

On a footnote, in our many meetings with Pusat Islam, we commented on Raihan, a nashid singing group that had, then, just taken the town by storm. Imagine our surprise when the Pusat Islam officer expressed his dissatisfaction with Raihin.

“They sound too much like Al Arqam,” said the Pusat Islam officer. “We would rather their songs sound more ‘modern’ with drums and guitars.”

Well, now you know why Islam is so backward in Malaysia and many Malays prefer to become Christians.