June 21, 2016
Before Hudud: Chink in Malaysia’s Islamic Armour
by Lim Teck Ghee
In December 2015 Mansour Jamal Ibrahim, a 22 year old Muslim student studying in Belgium wrote a post, “Racism in the Muslim community: Are we really one?” in the website, MVSLIM.
In it he addressed the following observation which should be a wake up call to the Islamic world:
The Muslim community is a global community of diversity, variety and color.
We are taught to accept every Muslim (and non-Muslim) with complete disregard to their color, nationality or ethnicity. Yet somehow black Muslims (and Muslims of color in general) experience racism for our brothers and sisters in Islam.
Every attempt to tackle these issues has been swept underneath the rug with the phrase “One Ummah brother, we accept no racism in Islam”. How can you explain the feeling of superiority towards black and brown people?
In our part of the world, the issue of racism in our national version of Islam has similarly been swept under the carpet as in the case with black and other coloured Muslims.
Some may argue that this issue or allegation arises from a misleading or imagined perception. That it is really a problem trotted out by enemies of the religion, and not worthy of attention.But can we dismiss it so easily?
To understand or make sense of any phenomenon of prejudicial thinking, we need to first test the assumption or hypothesis; that is, we need to determine scientifically whether it is true or untrue.
We know that racism has no biological or apparently religious basis. But could it in reality be deeply embedded in the religious sector just as it has permeated into every other pore of Malaysian society and life?
Acknowledging the reality of racism and therefore asking difficult questions about it is possibly the biggest hurdle to overcome in helping the country fight against this dehumanizing ideology. This hurdle is one which mainstream and establishment Islamic organizations as well as progressive Islamic NGOs and think tanks are either indifferent to, or regard as unworthy of concern.
Although hundreds, if not thousands, of workshops and forums have been held on a vast variety of Islamic subject matters, there is none that appears to have directly dealt with this apparently “taboo” topic.
It is noteworthy too that our foremost Islamic body, the National Council for Islamic Affairs (JAKIM), which has issued numerous edicts that have legal implications such as ruling against Muslims practicing yoga (yoga is seen to have elements of other religions that could corrupt Muslims) apparently has nothing to say about the issue of racism in Malaysia’s Islam; what racial acts are to be deemed haram or halal; etc.
We have also heard little or nothing of our Islamic and religious leaders’ ability to cite parts of the holy Koran dealing with race or race relations that may serve as an example to the Muslim or even non-Muslim community.
Second Class Muslims
One exception though has been Dr Mahathir who, in his capacity as patron of Perkim or the Muslim Welfare Organization of Malaysia, referred to the plight of new converts. We all know that Dr Mahathir is very adept at calling a spade a spade. At the same time he can be the most circuitous of leaders when it suits his objective.
Speaking at a Perkim event in the country in December last year, Dr. Mahathir, although avoiding the “racism” word, called on Malay Muslims to treat new converts as brothers in the following way:
“There should be no discrimination. Sometimes we feel that they are ‘second-class Muslims’. That is wrong. There is no difference between one Muslim and another except from the view of ‘taqwa’ (piety/fear of Allah). That (Taqwa) is the only thing that differentiates us,” he was reported to have said to reporters.
Ironically, the two-day seminar was aimed at strengthening Muslim solidarity and to serve as a platform to gather opinions in uniting Muslims.
To any outside observer, it is very clear that unless and until the issue of racism in Islam is addressed and resolved – within and outside the Muslim community – most people in the minority religious and ethnic groups will not see any reason why they should consider embracing the brotherhood of Islam, either through conversion or other means.
And that surely is a fatal blow to the dream of Islamic authorities who would like to see a more Islamic country in every way possible.
Zakir Naik, during his recent tour, may have showcased one or several converts to his audience but this must be considered poor – even paltry – returns on the conversion front, given the enormous resources put into the government’s Islamic missionary and conversion machine
To be fair, it needs to be pointed out that it is not just in Malaysia’s Islam that we need to ask the race question. Other religions in the country also need to ask similar questions of their faith and congregation; and the way their faith treats members of minority communities – whether converts or not; doctrinal and in actuality.
An inter-faith dialogue on this would be useful. It would certainly be an improvement on the present state of religious discussion which seems to be stuck endlessly on the “hudud” question.