What is the ruling on apostasy?

Raja Petra Kamarudin

Some religious authorities say Muslims should not wish Christians ‘Merry Christmas’. In fact, they say, Muslims should not participate in any non-Muslim (kafir) celebrations at all. To do so would cause us to become an apostate (murtad), they argue.

As the illustrious Mufti of the Federal Territory has issued a religious edict (fatwah) that I am an ignoramus (jahiliyah), I am not about to debate this issue. I am certainly not qualified to comment on this matter as what the learned Mufti has ruled. I will therefore leave it to the Mufti to issue his fatwah on this.

Our Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, the Menteri Besar of Johor, and many more of our leaders, have graced Christmas celebrations these last couple of days. Does this then make them non-Muslims or apostates? I await the good Mufti’s ruling if he dares issue one. I believe, however, he would not dare do so as he would then be slighting these leaders and would run the risk of being removed from his job and losing his cushy position and comfortable salary.

Such are Malaysian Muftis who serve their salaries and not God.

By the way, is there such as post as Mufti? Did Muftis exist in the days of Prophet Muhammad or was this a post created by the British Colonialists in the days before Merdeka (independence) merely so that the government could control and manipulate Islam and not allow too much religious freedom?

Anyway, Malays celebrate Prophet Muhammad’s birthday just like the Christians do Jesus Christ’s birthday — though some say Christmas was a pagan celebration long before the coming of Christ and that Christ was not born on 25th December. But what is interesting, was Prophet Muhammad’s birthday celebrated in his time? Do other Muslim communities in other parts of the world celebrate Prophet Muhammad’s birthday as well or is this something just the Malays do? If this is only a Malaysian phenomena, where did this custom come from and is it something Malays borrowed from the Christians a la Christmas Day?

As I said, I await the Mufti of the Federal Territory’s ruling on this matter with great anticipation.

While on the subject of the Federal Territory Mufti, I received two e-mails from the Harian Metro reporter who wrote the story about Malaysia Today insulting Islam. I then replied to these e-mails and confirmed I would gladly meet the Mufti to debate with him issues related to Islam.

Thereafter, the reporter just ignored my e-mails and did not respond though he wrote to me first and I was just replying to his e-mails. I then got someone who personally knows this reporter to phone him since he said he tried to get in touch with me but could not. After one or two phone calls, the reporter refused to answer any more calls and now we are not able to contact him any longer.

It looks like they have now caught an infliction of cold feet. Surely the Mufti cannot be scared of debating with an ignoramus like me who knows nothing about Islam?

Back to celebrating Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, we celebrate the Prophet’s birthday by marching on the streets. Is this what the Prophet told us to do? Why are we marching on the street on the Prophet’s birthday? Is it to honour, respect and remember him? Would not a better way of honouring, respecting and remembering the Prophet be to follow his teachings and comply with his rules?

Prophet Muhammad gave Muslims very specific instructions to follow the Koran to the spirit and the letter. Are we doing this? Are we complying with what the Koran asks us to do? Or are we leaving out much what the Koran has decreed?

The Mufti would be the man in the best position to reply to this since he is supposed to be amongst the most learned men in the country.

Okay, let’s not go into a long drawn debate. Let’s just take one issue, apostasy — which you can become one by just uttering ‘Merry Christmas’ if what the religious brains say is true.

What is the Koran’s ruling on apostasy? This is something that is currently being hotly debated in Malaysia by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Over the last 20 or 30 years, tens of thousands of Malays have left Islam. Thousands, in fact, still await their change of name which the National Registration Department (NRD) is dragging its feet on. The NRD is not able to reject the applications so they just delay the approval hoping that the whole matter would die a natural death.

I personally know two Malays who have become Christians. One, Helmi, an old schoolmate of mine, is a senior priest in the church. I don’t know his Christian name though and whether he has applied for his name change but he was detained under the Internal Security Act during the Operasi Lalang. The other, Peter Manaf, uses both his new Christian name in front of his old Muslim name.

One senior officer in the NRD told me that this is in fact a major problem that they do not know how to solve. They cannot, by law, reject the application of name change from a Muslim name to a Christian name. However, religiously speaking, they cannot approve it either. So they just do nothing.

About ten or fifteen years ago, the Federal Territory Religious Department announced it had rejected marriage applications from 88 couples who they discovered were Muslims in name only and were no longer Muslims by practice. These 88 couples did not know how to pray and did not know even one verse of the Koran. They were advised to go home and learn about Islam first before again applying to get married.

This shows the problem is not a recent one but something that had been predominant for decades.

About 20 years ago, Haji Abbas Khatib Mohd, a Kadi from Kuala Terengganu, told me he interviewed couples who had applied to get married and discovered many did not know anything about Islam.

Haji Abbas, who is still around and is the Imam of Masjid Kolam, Kuala Ibai, Kuala Terengganu, related this story in a Friday kutbah (sermon).

“I asked one youth whether he prays and he replied ‘yes’.”

“I then asked him to recite the doa kunut and he asked me whether I want him to recite the long or short kunut.”

“I was surprised. I am an Ustaz (religious teacher) and I have never heard of the long and short kunut.”

“I then asked him to recite the short kunut and he said, “kunut!”.”

“I was taken aback. I then asked him to recite the long kunut and he said, “Kooooonooooot.”

“Clearly he did not know how to pray so I sent him home without approving his application to get married.”

Wonder why many Malays choose to live out of wedlock since they cannot pass the test to quality for a marriage licence?

These Muslims are Muslims by name only and are ‘Muslims’ only because they happen to have been born into a Muslim family and were given a Muslim name. If the law allows so, they would have left Islam a long time ago. But the law does not — or rather the law is silent on the matter. Since these Malays clearly have no interest in remaining Muslims should they not be allowed to leave Islam and choose another religion or choose to have no religion whatsoever?

Over to you Mufti Wilayah! Maybe you can enlighten us on this and tell us what is your stand on this matter? And while you are at it, was it right or wrong for all our Muslim leaders to participate in the Christmas celebrations and are we allowed to wish Christians ‘Merry Christmas‘?

It is your obligation, as a Mufti and Muslim religious leader, advisor to the King and government, to come out with your ruling so that misguided Muslims like me can be guided back to the correct path — for if I was to stray up the wrong path then you would be held responsible in Akhirat (Afterlife).

Dear Mufti, I impatiently await your guidance.