MCA and hudud: Final part

By Stanley Koh, FMT

At a 2006 forum to discuss problems that non-Muslims face as Malaysian officialdom continues to assert the predominance of Islam in the country, a prominent scholar acknowledged – “with “sadness”, he said – that there was great confusion about the religion, especially among Muslims themselves.

Syed Ali Tawfik al-Attas, director-general of the Institute of Islamic Understanding (Ikim), said that Muslim administrators and Islamic activists generally had a poor understanding of the Islamic view of “knowledge” even as they examined the religion with a fine-tooth comb.

“That is the problem with the Muslim world,” he declared.

He explained that in Islamic scholarship, knowledge is generally separated into three types: interpretation of the meaning of what is perceived, revealed knowledge, and derived knowledge that is beneficial. This effectively means that non-beneficial knowledge is not construed as knowledge.

He stressed the importance of having the correct understanding of such terminologies as “freedom”, “democracy” and “Islamisation” and the equal importance of recognising that they were open to different conceptualisations.

Citing an example, he said the word the Arabs use for “democracy” could be translated as “preservation of the mind”, which implies a wealth of meanings.

“Yet, this preservation is today limited to halal-haram issues,” he said, adding that this was one symptom of “the truncation and tragedy of Islam”.

The forum that Syed Ali addressed, which was organised by a group of think-tanks, shed much light on issues raised during the 2001 forum that MCA held following Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s declaration that Malaysia was an Islamic state.

Many of those issues centred around the unhappiness of non-Muslims with the arrogance of the civil service in deciding on and implementing policies that affected the religious practices of non-Muslims.

Syed Ali’s presentation made it quite clear that such arrogance was born of ignorance.

The Moorthy controversy

Referring to the case of Everest climber Maniam Moorthy, who died in 2005 and was buried as a Muslim in the face of his family’s objections, Syed Ali said it would not have been such a big issue if the officials in charge had been more knowledgeable and less arrogant.

He explained that in Islam it does not matter where one is buried. He said the Moorthy controversy illustrated how it was the mind of Muslims, and not Islam itself, that was limited.

At the MCA forum, representatives from the Inter-Religious Council of Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism spoke of difficulties in getting approval for land on which to build places of worship and even for the renovation of those places.

Rev Wong Kheng Kong said civil servants carried out their work with a clear bias for Islam instead of sticking to the constitutional provisions on religious rights. He feared that Mahathir’s declaration would make matters worse.