Message to Perak’s Mullah Harussani Zakaria

May 27, 2016

Message to Mullah Harussani Zakaria–Islam is not about exclusivity

by Azrul Mohd Khalib

Perak’s Mullah Harussani Zakaria with his political patron, Najib Razak

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.

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 practice 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.

Maybe Harussani is more knowledgeable than I am in this matter, but 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.

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.

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.

Get a grip.

Religious Terrorism in Malaysia–Part 1 and Part 2

May 15, 2016

Religious Terrorism in Malaysia–Part 1 and Part 2

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

The headline news that young Malaysian children are play acting with guns and fighting to defend Palestinians and presumably, their religion wherever the need is seen to be, should begin serious soul searching among Malaysians, especially within the Muslim community even if other manifestations showing that religious extremism has taken deep root in the country, may not have caused concern or are being ignored.

The revelation came to light when lawyer Siti Kasim uploaded on her Facebook page photos from an Instagram user that depicted a teacher wearing a full face veil and little boys carrying toy guns and little girls in long headscarves and robes.

Siti asked in her Facebook “What kind of Islam do you think they are teaching the kids …? I hope the authorities will look into this….”

Our authorities responded with a statement that the kindergarten where the playacting was carried out has been under police radar since last year and that the police are monitoring kindergartens nationwide to ensure they were not being used to train child soldiers.

That assurance is inadequate and meaningless.How can the Police possibly monitor the thousands of early education schools and teachers for content and activities related to religious extremism?

What is taking place in the tadika seems to be the nurturing of potential Islamic jihadists – a development which is probably taking place in many other privately and state operated Islamic tadikas throughout the country.

Religious Indoctrination and Exploitation of Children

We have seen the exploitation of children by terrorist groups such as ISIS, Boko Haram, and the Pakistani Taliban who have used children to carry out their activities.

This exploitation of children by terrorist groups is not new. But the tendency of extremist religious groups to use children to carry out their activities is relatively recent. It has been postulated that the move is strategic as it provides heightened media attention, especially over social media, and allows terrorist groups to groom more loyal members.

It has also been noted that children are easier to indoctrinate and less likely to resist, since they do not fully understand their own mortality. Moreover, because children appear less suspicious, using them often leads to more successful missions.

For now, the phenomenon of child soldiers or terrorists has been confined to poorer countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Malaysia does not yet fit into the category of failed states where recruitment of children and their indoctrination and deployment for violent activities can take place in the open or clandestinely.

Although not a failed state, that does not mean that we should be complacent. This is because the link between childhood indoctrination and adult terrorist behavior in support of religiously sanctioned and ‘righteous’ causes has been well established.

Childhood Indoctrination and Terrorism Link

Our dilemma with homegrown religious extremism – different from the failed state model – is akin to that found in developed nations such as Britain, France and Australia where some young children who grow up in relatively affluent households, totally different in conditions from their counterparts in poor countries such as Pakistan or Nigeria, share a common characteristic in being influenced by religious indoctrination during early childhood.


Harussani Zakaria–Malaysia’s Zakir Zaik

These children – and it must be emphasized that they comprise a small minority – for reasons that are not easy to fathom – at some later stage in their life become religious fanatics who have no compunctions with engaging in murderous activities to kill off the enemies of their faith, or whoever may be seen as an appropriate victim to call attention to their allegiance to their religion, and new found – but often long simmering – piety.

Besides family and friends, indoctrination and the inculcation of extremist and fanatical values in Britain has been found to emanate from Muslim private schools where religious education is said to deprive the students “from the chance of open minds and critical ways of thinking. It prevents them from accepting different points of view and turns them into nothing but dogmatic fanatics. This picture becomes serious under the Islamic education syllabus.”

(See, Samir Yousif, “Religious Indoctrination and the Creation of Terrorists (April 2015) in Yousif/Religious_Indoctrination_and_the_Creation_of_Terrorists/)

The Malaysian tadika in the spotlight, Tadika Hidayah Bestari, may be staging a play which is perfectly in line with its Islamic education syllabus. But their message for the child performers appears to be not dissimilar to that of ISIS.

Recently an Australian Broadcasting Corporation news report on ISIS’s focus on indoctrination of children noted that the latest of the terror organization’s many propaganda videos featuring child fighters this time showed a purported 15-year-old suicide car bomber.

“It is the road to victory and Paradise, Allah willing. Let me just do the operation, because if I stay longer I might sin and the sins will increase,” the teenage bomber said in the 22-minute ISIS video “I know my opponents are apostates who left Allah and His Messenger and became loyal to America.”

According to a London based think tank,the Quilliam Foundation, during the past six months alone, minors have appeared in 250 ISIS messages, which have included a dozen releases depicting children as executioners of prisoners or “spies”.

When explaining the playacting, the headmistress of Tadika Hidayah Bestari disclosed that the play was held in 2014 in collaboration with a non-governmental organisation, the Malaysian Consultative Council of Islamic Organisations (Mapim), that had raised funds for war victims in Palestine and Syria.

“Mapim is a registered organisation. Parents who attended the play donated to Mapim, hoping the sum collected would help Palestinians. It is an annual event, where students will perform in plays. We will have slideshows and show videos of those affected by the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to expose our pupils and their parents to the suffering that war victims go through”, she is reported to have said.

What this disclosure also reveals is an alarming situation of quasi-state and state bodies engaged in supporting and encouraging such early childhood brainwashing and indoctrination.

We should not be surprised that we will end up with large numbers of homegrown ISIS and other types of Islamic jihadists and wannabes, and the imminent and uncontrollable proliferation of religious terrorist activity, in our part of the world.

Note: This is the first of a two part post on religious terrorism in Malaysia. The second will examine the socio-economic impact of religious terrorism. 

Part 2:Social and Economic Impact of Religious Terrorism

The first (above)  of the 2 part post focused on the link between early childhood religious indoctrination and adulthood fanaticism and extremism; and how this can lead to acts of terrorism based on misguided religious fervour.

In this second part, we shall look at the socio-economic impact of religious terrorism – a subject matter receiving attention in affected countries, though not yet in Malaysia – at least in the public sphere.

The first important consideration is that any act of terrorism – in particular a large scale one that involves mass violence and killing – is bound to have ripple effects through the society. When such terrorism is not random or isolated, and emanates from religiously inspired causal factors, the ripple effects will be magnified and of longer duration.

The immediate impact will be felt in the economy where we can expect a sharp fall in the share market and other financial indicators and barometers. Back here, we may be comforted that financial markets elsewhere have proven to be relatively resilient against terrorism. Hence, it could be that after a few days, or longer, of sell off and losses, the KLSC and country’s financial markets could recover.

In the United States, in the aftermath of the 9/11 events, Dow Jones was closed for a few days and fell sharply after re-opening. However it was able to recover all its losses within a month, although its has been estimated that the terrorist outrage may have reduced GDP growth in the US that year by half a percentage point. By comparison in July 2005, when suicide bombers attacked the London transport network, the UK market recovered more quickly.

Although we can expect a similar rebound in our stock market, less responsive to recovery will be the tourism and sectors such as hotels, travel and services that are dependent on foreign and local spending.

In 2014, the tourism sector was the 6th largest contributor to the national economy, contributing a total of RM161 billion (14.9%) of GDP. The over 27 million tourist arrivals generated RM72 billion in receipts and created 1.77 million jobs. The blow to our tourism sector will be devastating if it is foreigners that are targeted by terrorists, either because they are easy victims or are seen as symbolic representatives of hostile governments.

Besides tourism, we can expect repercussions in such disparate sectors as education and the property market which will have adverse multiplier effects on the larger economy.

Sheer Hypocrisy

How will locals be affected?

It is not only foreigners – potential tourists, investors, business people and other parties with interests already in place in the country or intended – who will reconsider their positions, reduce their stakes or give up entirely on Malaysia.

More damaging will be the impact on the local population. The views of our citizenry with respect to any act of religious terrorism – including one originating from ISIS-inspired extremists – are likely to vary.

According to a recent study, 10 per cent of our country’s population have a favourable opinion of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The Pew Research Centre in its 2015 Global Attitudes survey found that Malaysia was tied for second place with Senegal among 11 nations with significant Muslim populations polled for the support level for the group. A quarter of respondents here also said they “don’t know” how they viewed the IS, despite all indicators pointing to it being a terrorist organisation.

Generally the adverse effects of religious terrorism in countries which have experienced bombings or other forms of terror recede over time.

But ours is a multi-racial and multi-religious society in a different developmental stage from countries such as France, Britain or the United States.

Should an initial episode of religious terrorism be followed by another or be seen as part of an unpreventable cycle of violence, then we can expect a potential melt down of the entire economy, and unprecedented shocks to our way of life.

There is also likely to be political turmoil and instability on an extraordinary scale, resulting in the imposition of martial law and emergency rule, and the suspension of democratic rights and freedoms.

With the non-Malay and non-Muslim population (and also a small segment of the Malay Muslim community), we cannot rule out the possibility that any attack by religious terrorists replicating what has taken place in Bali, Bangkok, London or Paris – and carried out by home grown terrorists – will trigger capital flight and an exodus out of the country by those who can afford to do so, mainly the wealthy and highly educated.

Out-migration, however, will not be a realistic option for the great majority of Malaysians. Those unable to migrate or preferring to remain in the country will have to live with the aftermath of the terror attack. Basically they will have to come to terms with hardened positions, polarization and greater levels of intolerance with respect to religion, race and other aspects of life related to these two identity markers.

We can also expect that among non-Muslims, Islamophobia, and prejudice against fellow Malaysian Muslims and Islam, will increase markedly, despite efforts by government and civil society organizations to repair the damage caused by religious extremism; and repeated calls for reconciliation and goodwill.

As for the Muslim side, it is difficult to predict the community’s reaction due to the rising tide of Islamization and its penetration into every sphere of Malay life. There is likely to be a range of responses, with some segments of the community sympathetic to the victims of the terrorism, others indifferent, and a possibly sizable grouping of the thinking (even if they do not say it aloud) that equal, if not more, blame should be accorded to the anti-Muslim forces that have been responsible for pushing their Muslim ‘martyred’ brothers beyond the brink.

Mistrust, fear, suspicion, anger and hatred arising from religious terrorism will drive our communities further apart. But it could be that the scars will eventually heal and the country can recover its social equanimity.

It could also be that, in the worst case scenario, the country’s racial and religious divisions reach a breaking point. And that will mean the end of Malaysia as we know it.

Johor’s Intellectual HRH Sultanah Zarith Sofiah launches Visions for Peace

May 13, 2016

Johor’s Intellectual HRH Sultanah Zarith Sofiah launches Visions for Peace

by Zaid Ibrahim

The Star Online

Malaysia needs an extensive communications channel committed to explaining concepts which remind us of the value of multiculturalism, diversity and understanding.

Permaisuri of Johor Raja Zarith Sofiah Idris Shah tonight launched a book entitled 'Visions for Peace' at the KLGCC Bukit Kiara in Kuala Lumpur April 23, 2016. — Bernama pic

Johor’s HRH Raja Zarith Sofiah Sofiah with Datin Halimah Zain Yusuf of PCORE

THE launch of the book Visions for Peace by the Permaisuri of Johor, Raja Zarith Sofiah Sultan Idris Shah, who is also patron of the Association of Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason (PCORE), at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club on April 23 was memorable for many reasons.

The main attraction for me was Raja Zarith’s speech, which was short but full of courage and hope. “I have often lamented on the erosion of values and principles which stand in the way of our hopes and dreams for a better Malaysia,” she said.

It was especially poignant when she asked, “Why should we not uphold these noble values? Why should we not have lofty principles to guide us in life? Why should we not be guided by the tenets which our faiths and religions teach us?”

This was a brave and timely call, especially when many are already asking if it is not already too late. The continued struggle by the people for Malaysia’s heart and soul, between the religious and secular, is the source of our difficulties. While some are comfortable with democracy, and want to accept the reality of multiculturalism, believing that we can find true peace and unity only by harnessing the strength of our diversity, others are totally opposed to this idea. They prefer the “unity” of one racial or religious group over all others and seek to maintain control on the basis of identity.

Some believe in the value of fairness and human rights, as evident in our religious obligations to treat all of God’s creations with fairness and justice, but others see this as inimical to their beliefs and even as a threat to their culture and morality; even posing a threat to their positions as “political masters” of the land.

Many believe that democratic rights and common values should be the foundation of society and are willing to trust political leaders elected by the people to manage the affairs of the country.

Many others, however, are making equally strong demands for a religious country where theologians are the true leaders of the land and where democracy is desirable only if politics can be won by the new class of leaders whose claim to fame lies in their “divinely inspired” knowledge.

As a result, the narratives of the past – the Rukun Negara, democracy, human rights, religious freedom and fundamental liberties – are spoken about today without conviction and only in terms of their “limited” application.

Religious morality has become the new tool of social differentiation, which makes it impossible to integrate the various communities in our country. It’s indeed laudable and gratifying that HRH Raja Zarith and her team of dedicated reformists have initiated a movement to bring back the values of the “old school” into the lifeblood of the country, as a modern and civilised democracy where people are guided by reason and conscience and want to live in peace and harmony.

At the book launch, it was evident that PCORE was made up of well-educated Malaysians who could provide a fresh outlook to help the country move forward. I did observe, however, that many who attended the launch (including myself) were in their 50s and 60s – many were ardent voices of reason and moderation, perhaps because they were educated under the “old school system”, have an open mind and live in middle class suburbs.

I just hope the young and those living elsewhere in the country share the same mindset. It is a blessing that we have as leaders of the moderate movement those privileged elites who are willing to engage with political leaders on major issues and make the case of reform in key areas such as education and politics.

At the same time, the message articulated in the book and other PCORE seminars needs to penetrate the far reaches of the country so every Malaysian regardless of background has the opportunity to listen to these views.

The effectiveness of PCORE as a group will be more widespread if they have the ability to influence and lobby policymakers effectively. Politicians will take notice of public initiatives only if they sense that support for such initiatives is strong and that the lobbyists are influential individuals themselves.

Towards this end, I suggest that Visions for Peace and other works be translated into Bahasa Malaysia (if not already done) and that the chapters on various topics such as unity, multiculturalism, harmony, balance of the environment and social cohesion be read and explained over a special radio service.

Malaysia needs an extensive communications channel committed to explaining concepts such as those articulated in Visions for Peace to remind us of the value of multiculturalism, diversity and understanding.

These broadcasts should be made on a regular basis and I call on the Government to allow the establishment of a dedicated national radio station, which I think could be managed admirably by PCORE.

The significance of radio is two-fold: if the Government truly believes that fresh ideas on national unity, diversity and democracy are important, then it must be willing to be a partner in disseminating these ideas. The Government should not fear a fresh view of these concepts if it is useful for national development.

For PCORE, radio can be a useful tool to spread the message of moderation, conscience and reason while discussions and debates on air about some of the key issues will help enlighten people who are otherwise subjected only to a fixed line of thinking.

Unless PCORE has the tools and is allowed by the Government to have access to these tools to do its work in spreading new ideas, its ability to change values and mind-sets, and its efforts to help give voice to those seeking to find the light at the end of the tunnel, will be limited and this would be most unfortunate.


The University of Cambodia Launches Global Network of ASEAN Study Centers

May 12, 2016

The University of Cambodia launches The Global Network of ASEAN Study Centers (GNASC)

All ASEAN/Southeast Asian Study Centers, some 70+ throughout the world, will be invited to be members of The Global Network of ASEAN Study Centers (GNASC). The objectives of GNASC are clearly stated in the Press Release from The University of Cambodia.

All are welcome to participate in this open and inclusive network. There will be an international conference named ” ASEAN Global Dialogue” to be held in Phnom Penh in November, 2016. to which all leaders of ASCs around the world with be invited. You will be hearing from us soon.–Din Merican, Dean, Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations, The University of Cambodia.



 All are welcome to participate in this open and inclusive network. There will be an international conference named ” ASEAN Global Dialogue” to be held in Phnom Penh in November, 2016. to which all leaders of ASCs around the world with be invited. You will be hearing from us soon.–Din Merican, Dean, Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations, The University of Cambodia.