Who are you to tell me what to believe?

Raja Petra Kamarudin

One Umno Terengganu State Assemblyman proposed in the Terengganu State Assembly today that stern action be taken against all those who reject and criticise Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s Islam Hadhari. Outside the Assembly, this State Assemblyman spoke to the reporters and repeated his proposal, which was carried on TV3’s 8.00pm prime time news.

Of course, he did not say so in clear terms, but what he meant was stern action should be taken against Muslims who reject Pak Lah’s version of Islam, Islam Hadhari.

Now, let me play the devil’s advocate here, why must stern action be taken only against Muslims who reject or criticise Islam Hadhari? Is this fair? What if a Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Jew, or Atheist also rejects and criticises Islam Hadhari? Why has he or she been exempted from stern action?

Is this Umno Terengganu State Assemblyman trying to say that all those who are not Muslims are free to reject or criticise Islam Hadhari? He did not make this clear so we must seek clarification on this matter. If non-Muslims are not covered under this proposal for stern action to be taken against them, then this would mean non-Muslims have more freedom than Muslims.

Is this Islamic? I thought Islam is supposed to treat everyone equally.

We always hear Muslims scream and shout that there is no compulsion in religion. What then is meant by ‘no compulsion’? Does this mean you are free to choose whether you want to become a Muslim or not, but then once you become a Muslim you are no longer free to choose what kind of Muslim you want to be?

If this is what the Umno Terengganu State Assemblyman meant, then how many non-Muslims would want to become Muslims? They would be better of as non-Muslims. In fact, the truth of the matter is, many Muslims in Malaysia also no longer want to be Muslims. It is just that they cannot officially convert or leave Islam so they do it ‘unofficially’ or secretly.

When Tunku Abdul Rahman was the Prime Minister of Malaysia from 1957 to the early 1970s, we Muslims were ‘taught’ one ‘version’ of Islam. Today, the government tells us that that version of Islam was wrong. Muslims could drink liquor and could gamble. Malay movies then also showed Muslims dancing in night clubs and getting drunk. I believe some of these movies are still shown on the government-owned TV stations today.

One could also visit prostitutes in ‘Belakang Mati’, the infamous Batu Lane prostitute den. Dens also operated in Chow Kit and many others parts of Kuala Lumpur, plus even in the other towns all over Malaysia. Prostitution, then, was not prohibited and was practiced openly. Even police personnel in uniform patronised these prostitute dens.

No doubt the religious teachers told us that liquor, gambling and prostitution are haram (forbidden). But when the Prime Minister drank, the Sultan of Perak operated a casino in the palace grounds, and policemen in uniform visited prostitutes, going by the concept of leadership by example, liquor, gambling and extramarital sex were clearly minor and forgivable sins.

And this is the Islam we were ‘taught’ in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. One, as the Umno Terengganu State Assemblyman said today in the Terengganu State Assembly, must follow what the government says. So, if the ‘government’ drinks, gambles and visits prostitutes, does this not mean then that the rakyat (citizens) can also do the same? And Muslims then could openly drink, gamble and visit prostitute dens without fear of running foul of the law.

Then, the heads of the government; the Prime Minister and Sultans; changed, and the rules changed. Today we have different Sultans and a different Prime Minister in office, so new rules are drawn up. What is going to happen tomorrow when the present Sultans and Prime Minister are no longer around and we have new ones in their place? Will the rules change again?

Does the government know how confusing it is for Muslims when the rules keep changing with every change of regime?

I also find that the Islamic rituals and beliefs differ from one religious scholar to another and with every change of government. Sometimes we do not know whether we are coming or going.

Let me give you one example. Hussein Yee, a renowned religious scholar who used to give talks on the government-owned TV stations, tells us that there are only eight rakaat in the Tarawih prayers. The Tarawih prayers he conducts during the fasting month of Ramadhan are performed so. And he only performs the prayers, none of the Salawat and other rituals attached to the prayers. In fact, he does not perform the prayers in sets of two rakaat but does four rakaat at a stretch. Then after the first four rakaat, he delivers a sermon. After that he performs another four rakaat, also at a stretch and not in sets of two.

Then, the one-time Mufti of Selangor says this is wrong. There is no such as eight rakaat, it must be twenty rakaat in all — and it must be done in sets of two rakaat, so ten sets of two in total. This ex-Mufti then tells the congregation that all those who wish to do only eight to please get out off the front row and go stand behind so as not to disturb those who want to correctly do twenty rakaat.

Then, we move to another mosque and the imam there, another religious scholar, does eight. At the mosque of another religious scholar, he also does eight. Then the ‘government’ mosques all do twenty and the government appointed imams says those who do eight are sesat (lead astray).

Finally, I solve this dispute my own way. I no longer go to any of the mosques but pray alone at home.

I know what many are now going to say: why quarrel over whether it is eight or twenty. As long as you pray is all that counts. If you believe it should be eight rakaat then pray eight. If you think it should be twenty then pray twenty. Do what your conscience tells you is the right thing to do. One should not argue about such minor details.

Exactly! When it comes to whether one must pray eight or twenty rakaat, the reply we get is: no need to argue, just pray, and pray according to your conscience. If we can, or should, follow our conscience when it comes to how many rakaat we should pray during our Tarawih prayers, then why can’t we also follow our conscience as to what kind of Islam we would like to follow? Why must we follow only the government’s version of Islam?

The government feels it knows best what is good for us. It allows us to decide whether we want to become Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists or freethinkers. If we decide to follow another faith, or we have no faith at all, then the government does not disturb us anymore or interfere in our life. But once we have chosen the path of Islam, then the government decides on the ‘right’ path we should follow.

We are now told that the governments of the late 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and 1980s were wrong. Islam prohibits drinking, gambling and prostitution. But the government then did not prohibit them. In fact, the ‘government’ indulged in what today we say is prohibited.

If the government then was wrong, how do we know the government today is right?

The bottom line is, let me decide what kind of Islam I want to follow. Once upon a time you taught me the wrong thing. Today, you have proven that the government then misled me. I am not sure you are still not misleading me.

You can keep your Islam Hadhari. I do not want any part of it. I will follow my conscience and decide what version of Islam I would like to follow. And if my version happens to be the same as yours, well and fine. But if my version, which I believe is the Prophet’s version — and which my conscience tells me is the correct version — differs from yours, then too bad. That is my problem and I will have to suffer the consequences later. Anyway, it would be most interesting to find out from that Terengganu State Assemblyman, who wants to put all those who reject or criticise Pak Lah’s Islam Hadhari in jail, what his stand on Hukum Hudud is.