Straight thinking


Zaid Ibrahim

Last week I wrote about the religious authorities’ wrongful exercise of power on Kassim Ahmad for expressing his opinion. I would venture further to suggest that there are many other things that the religious authorities can do for Muslims to improve their lives. But this does not include continuously looking for ways to prosecute those with nonconformist views, or providing lengthy lists of dos and don’ts to ensure safe passage to the Hereafter.

Those who are incensed by my position on Kassim Ahmad ask what else the religious authorities can do to punish those who have strayed from the righteous path. According to them, prosecuting those who challenged the authority of the state deters others from spreading “false teachings.”

I am not about to argue the points all over again, except to say that there must be other, non-punitive measures that can be taken to ensure Malaysian Malays can become “good” Muslims. There’s the option of religious community discussions, for example, which can be moderated by a sensible community leader to discuss social and religious issues.

These discussions should be frank, meaningful and constructive rather than didactic and accusatory. One of the hallmarks of a successful community is the ability of its members to discuss conflicting viewpoints without killing one another. A community hall discussion on matters in the public sphere, such as those championed by Kassim Ahmad, should be discussed openly, with the government religious authority taking an active part.

Kassim Ahmad repeatedly asked for a public debate in the 1990’s but the state religious authorities were unwilling to engage in such a discourse. They are still unwilling today. This has led some to wonder if the authorities are unwilling to help Muslims understand the issues and only want them to accept what they are instructed to believe in without question. The essence and beauty of Islam lies in the simplicity of its belief system, where we give ourselves in complete submission to God, but this should not and does not mean we are to submit to the religious authorities and all their dictates as well.

Another area they can participate in is helping young Muslims to develop the ability to “think straight”.  I can give you some examples of what thinking straight entails. When I proposed that Muslims should be able to own casinos and hold gaming licences in this country, there was a huge outcry from UMNO and other Malay/ Muslim parties. What is clear, however, is that there areMalays/ Muslims working for these businesses, either directly or indirectly. If a Malay/ Muslim is permitted to become the Chairman, a Director or an employee of corporations such as Genting, Magnum and Sports Toto, and is allowed to earn attractive salaries and allowances, but is forbidden to own these companies, what do you call this type of thinking? I call it muddled and hypocritical.

Just the other day, young Muslim executives of a social media company were unhappy that their employer was seeking to obtain a contract from a gaming company. They felt that as Muslims, they should not be a part of such a company. I feel sorry for Muslims who feel their faith is somehow compromised by living and working in Malaysia. They should be advised properly by a religious body like the Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM). According to my religious teacher who lived in the 1960’s, sin is not so easily transferable. I remember him telling me that we are only responsible for what we do or do not do, not for the actions of others.