March 10, 2016
Message to Islamic Bimbo Harussani: Islam is not an Exclusive Club
by Azrul Mohd Khalib
Warning: If this column starts to sound like you have read it before and you think that you are having a déjà vu moment, you are probably right. It sometimes feels like a broken record dealing with and responding to our recalcitrant and wayward religious authorities (in particular this holier than thou Mufti of Perak).
We have just been told that it is a crime to publish, and to read the Quran in non-Arabic languages without accompanying Arabic text.
Stop the press! All printing of the Quran in Chinese, Spanish, Afrikaans, Russian, Chechen, Indonesian and English around the world must cease! After all, if it is supposedly a wrong practise here, it must be wrong elsewhere too. After all, Islam is a global religion.
The recent warning from Harussani Zakaria, Chairman of the Home Ministry’s Al-Quran Printing, Control and Licensing Board, is representative of what’s gone wrong with the practise and teaching of Islam in this country.
While Muslims in other countries are busy making their religion increasingly accessible, friendly and inclusive to those not of the Islamic faith, our religious authorities are moving in the exact opposite direction.
Far from sounding enlightened, progressive and welcoming, individuals such as Harussani are making Islam in Malaysia sound and appear to others as arrogant, irrational, suspicious and disdainful of other religions.
I am almost certain that this kind of paternalistic approach is neither in accordance with the teachings of Prophet Muhammad nor adhering to the principles of Islam. But what do I know? I don’t write or understand Arabic so Harussani can perhaps provide some enlightenment.
You are judged by the company you keep
I am tired of our religious authorities treating Islam like it is some exclusive club and they alone determine who gets to join and the conduct of those who are members. Historically, we have seen this behaviour before where the clergy of an institutionalised religion attempts to impose a monopoly on faith and its teachings under the guise of “only the learned and knowledgeable” (i.e themselves) can communicate with God and not be led astray.
The reality has less to do with God but more to do with the very earthly pursuit of power and control over others. Over the years, the ever-expanding sphere of influence of Islamic institutions in Malaysia have gone increasingly unchecked and it can be argued that through their actions, have repeatedly violated Constitutional limitations and even expressed disdain for those limits. Yet, very few have dared to challenge them and even fewer have stood to defend those who have done so. Just ask Rosli Dahlan and Kassim Ahmad.
I have travelled to many places in the world where Islam has taken root and flourished. Based on my own understanding, Islam is not and has never been about exclusivity and superiority of faith.
It is arguably a violation of Islamic teachings to insist on exclusivity as touted by Harussani as it prevents others from acquiring knowledge, learning and understanding Muslims and Islam.
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself, through his own documented practises and teachings, practised inclusivity, humility, and believed in the importance of knowledge and most importantly, sharing it with others.
Exclusivity results in misunderstanding, ignorance, conflict, bigotry and irrational fear. It breeds contempt for others and arrogance.
One of the most common complaints and gripes by the Islamic authorities and clergy in this country is that they are frequently misunderstood and that others must seek understand and learn about Islam.
Fair argument, until you make important texts like the Quran inaccessible. Read the notice from the Kementerian Dalam Negeri again and you will realise that what it is actually saying is that reading the Quran is off limits to non-Muslims (need to take Islamic ritual ablutions to touch and read the Quran) and to those not proficient in the Arabic language.
Speaking of reading, I have struggled to explain to those who are non-Muslims how it is possible for a person to be able to read the Arabic in the Quran yet not understand a single word of it.
Because that is how the Quran is often taught (can a person be taught when the language of the lesson itself is not understood?) here in this country.
Harussani’s statement itself affirms that you can read without understanding and it is okay. I really don’t understand that and never have. Wouldn’t it be meaningless without understanding the words of what you are reading? Maybe it’s just me but that is my individual cross to bear.
Oh, final question for the mandarins of the Kementerian Dalam Negeri: is it also a crime to download digital versions of the Quran such as eBooks or apps in other languages? Are we allowed to think for ourselves or do we need to ask for your permission?
Those who demand for exclusivity and impose such restrictions and monopolies of knowledge convey a lack of depth in their awareness and understanding of how Islam is practised elsewhere around the globe and of its co-existence with other world religions.