You reap what you sow

Raja Petra Kamarudin

Hi Raja,

My uncle has posed this question and I have tried to seek your past write-ups on this which I cannot seem to find.

1] What damage have Osama and his extremist followers done this century to the world’s perception of the great man and the religion he established?

2] Why are his true followers (amongst whom I am privileged to know the best there is of humankind, including my closest nephews and nieces) so silent about the abuse perpetrated against their great religion by those who falsely claim to be its adherents and indeed its champions?

Dear Azlan Shah,

I will try, to the best of my ability, to reply to your two questions above. First, your second question. Most Muslims — and I mean Malays when I say this because this does not necessarily apply to non-Malays — do not like to raise what they view as confrontational questions. And your questions are certainly confrontational in various ways. Malays would rather use proverbs than call a spade a spade. I suppose this can be taken as the good traits of Malays and should not be perceived as negative. Being direct or confrontational is considered insolent (biadap) in Malay culture. Remaining silent on the other hand is considered good manners.

Now, before I go on, let us reflect on what one-time Deputy Prime Minister Musa Hitam said 20 years or so ago. He said it is time for Malays to become kurang ajar (rude, uncultured or insolent). And what did he mean by this? He meant that no longer must we remain silent just to be polite but should instead speak out and question those elder or senior to us (meaning the leaders).

If you were to attend the Friday congregational prayers (solat Jumaat), you will notice that the imam tells us in his sermon (kutbah) that we are not supposed to dispute Islamic teachings. Further to that, we are not supposed to argue (what we would call debating but they call argue) with the religious teacher (ustaz) or doubt what he says. The ustaz is supposed to be learned, speaks Arabic, has memorised most, if not all, the contents of the Quran, plus knows what it means when he reads it. The ustaz is also ‘licensed’ (bertauliah) to teach religion and even people like the PAS President, Ustaz Haji Abdul Hadi Awang, though he is a university graduate from the Middle East, is not licensed to preach religion in some states — such as in Selangor — and he can get arrested if he does.

So, if even a man like Haji Hadi cannot preach religion unless licensed to do so, can you imagine those lesser equipped than him, like me? We can go to jail if we were to teach religion. So religion is reduced to a personal matter between one and God, and everyone else will have to manage on their own, or go look for a licensed religious teacher. Malaysia is probably the only country in the world where one requires a licence before one can preach religion. And those who preach without a licence will be classified as deviants and can be taken to task for this. And those who oppose the government will find it hard getting a licence.

I have attempted in the past to set the record straight by posting articles on Islam but many of Malaysia Today’s Malay readers whacked me and told me to shut up. It is not that they are more knowledgeable than me. It is just that they feel I am most unqualified to talk about Islam and I should therefore leave this to the experts. I do not pretend to be an expert. I just go by the Islamic teaching that one must never accept anything that cannot be verified. And since I am not able to verify certain things, and these matters have raised doubts in my mind, I question them. This, my belief tells me, is what Muslims must do. But Malays are quick to label such people as murtad (apostates). So most would clam up rather than be called a murtad.

Even the Prime Minister is not exempted from this. Remember when Dr Mahathir Mohamad commented on Prophet Muhammad’s beard? Malays accused him of mocking the Prophet and said he should be put to death. Maybe Dr Mahathir was a bit out of order. He was in fact trying to say that just because one sports a beard does not mean one is pious. No doubt Prophet Muhammad too sported a beard and Islam says it is optional (sunat) for Muslims to follow the Prophet’s example. But the Prophet sported a beard, said Mahathir, because there were no Gillette shaving blades in his time.

Dr Mahathir had a good argument here but unfortunately he used the wrong anecdote. Of course they had shaving blades in the Prophet’s time, though not the Gillette brand. Arabs had been shaving their heads during the annual pilgrimage to the Kaabah long before Islam. So they must have had shaving blades even before the Prophet’s time. If not how could they have shaved their heads? What Dr Mahathir should have said is that external appearances like beards do not mean one is pious. After all, pirates of days gone by all had beards as well. Does this mean they were pious? Many did not even believe in God.

Anyway, I am not out to defend Dr Mahathir. What I am trying to demonstrate here is that even the Prime Minister is not spared contempt when he makes a wrong statement with regards to Islam, notwithstanding he meant no malice but spoke in all sincerity. This makes the common man like me wary. At the end of the day, we just throw up our arms in despair and say, “What the hell. Do what you want. I don’t care a damn.” The whole concept of amar maaruf nahi munkar is defeated. We just can’t be bothered anymore. It is safer to ignore all issues related to Islam rather than show concern and then get whacked by others who condemn you as murtad, jahil, and more. “Go learn first before talking,” is the common response you will receive. Just because your views differ, they assume you are jahil and do not know what you are talking about. They cannot accept that probably it is because you have gone deep into religion is the reason you have different views from them.

So that, Azlan, in a nutshell, is why most would rather, as you said, remain silent. And I have now also taken that stand as well. I don’t care anymore. Let Muslims do what they want. I am not bothered. I am, after all, as they say, not qualified to talk about Islam.

On your first question, I will not directly address the issue of Osama but speak generally. What is being done by Osama and, as you said, his extremist followers is the result of the US attacks on Muslim countries. Of course, the retaliation has done much damage to the image of Islam which is now viewed as militant and extreme. But then we choose to blame this on the West, the enemy of Islam, who, we say, is out to destroy Islam. This, we argue, has been written in the Quran. The kafir (infidel) will not rest until we abandon the true path and follow their misguided path, argue the religious experts.

Okay, I will not even attempt to dispute this argument. You know how sensitive it can be when we disagree with the ulamaks (religious scholars). But don’t we, especially Malays, always say that all the good comes from God while all the bad is our own doing? Countless times have I heard speeches where the speaker sums up by minta maaf (apologising) in the event he said something wrong or his words slighted anyone. The good, say the speakers, comes from God and the bad from our own weaknesses.

If this is what we believe, how come when anything bad befalls Islam we blame others for it and not accept it as our own weakness? For example, we are angry with the US and Bush for invading Iraq. Would anyone have been able to invade Iraq if the Muslim nations had remained united? Would they have been able to invade Iraq if Iraq had not given them an excuse to (like the more than one million Muslims killed by Muslims)? Can the US invade Iraq if none of the Muslim countries allow the US to use their countries as military bases — plus fly over their air space and use their territorial waters? What I am arguing here is, the US managed to invade Iraq because the other Muslim countries allowed them to. In fact, it was not only allowed, the other Muslim countries wanted the US to invade Iraq. Then we argue that all Muslims are brothers and Muslims must not side with non-Muslims against Muslims. Which one is it now? It cannot be both. It can only be one or the other. The truth is; many Muslims see the US as their ally instead of regarding their fellow Muslims as brothers. So why are we upset with the US?

I always say that it is intrinsic (sifat semula jadi) in the fox to eat chickens. Why get angry with the fox when it does? We should be angry with those who brought the fox into the chicken run (reban ayam). In this case, the US is the fox and Iraq the chicken. So, who brought the fox into Iraq if not the other Muslim countries — or at least allowed the fox to trot past their territory on the way to the reban ayam?

One important point to note is that Muslims always do things in the name of Islam. So, when they do something wrong, then Islam gets the bad name. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Castro, Pol Pot, Ho, Mao, and many, many more are probably as bad as or worse than Saddam. But did they kill millions of their own people in the name of Christianity or whatever religion they subscribe to? Cruelty (kezaliman) recognises no religion. Bad people come from all religions and races. But only Muslims commit cruelty in the name of God or Prophet Muhammad. Sure, one thousand years ago, Christians too killed in the name of Jesus. But that was so long ago and has not happened since the last couple of centuries. But Muslims till today are still doing this and they label it as jihad. Then Muslims point out that jihad is an obligation in Islam and all Muslims must perform jihad. When jihad is interpreted as killing, especially by non-Muslims and those who do not understand Islam, what do you expect? Islam equals jihad equals killings. This is what people are led to believe. So how do we counter this perception when it is still going on?

One last thing Azlan, Muslims, in particular Malays, carry this superior and holier than thou attitude and this upsets many. For example, we say Muslim or non-Muslim and Malay or non-Malay. Do the Chinese say that Malays are non-Chinese? Or do the Christians say that Muslims are non-Christians? We use Muslims and Malays as the ‘accepted norm’ or benchmark and all those who are not Malay or Muslim become non-Malay or non-Muslim. Considering that Judaism is the first Abrahamic religion, which even Islam agrees, should therefore not all Christians and Muslims be non-Jews? But which Muslim would agree to this? It is Muslim first and all others last. And all others are non-Muslims (or non-Malays in the case of race).

I really don’t know whether I have answered your questions. I suppose not, but can you see that trying to be honest with your views is not tolerated in Islam and even I, how direct I normally am, find it very hard. Well, I am over trying to reform the mentality of the Malays and Muslims. This mental revolution cannot happen in my lifetime and I have accepted the fact that Malays and Muslims do not tolerate criticism. For example, Muslims like to draw the line between ‘them’ and ‘us’, as if they would like to isolate themselves or live separately from those who are not Muslims (I am trying to avoid the use of the word ‘non-Muslim’ here). We come out with Islamic banking, Islamic hospital, Islamic insurance, Islamic food, and so on. Do the Christians have Christian banking, Christian hospital, Christian insurance or Christian food? Or do the Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc., for the matter? The Jews no doubt have kosher food, but then this is just like halal food or vegetarian food. To the Muslims, Muslims are ‘us’, and everyone else ‘them’, and ‘us’ and ‘them’ can never be ‘fellow mankind’. This is why Muslims are isolated, because they choose to isolate themselves and not because others isolate them.

As what Malays always say, I apologise to anyone who may have been slighted by what I said above. The good comes from God and the bad from my own weaknesses, not from the kafir, the Americans, the Jews, or enemies of Islam.