Challenging Obscurantism with Reformist Mindset


 

October 15, 2017

Challenging Obscurantism with Reformist Mindset in Malaysia

When reason gives way to dogma, obscurantism, anti-intellectualism and un civil discourse, Malaysia enters neo-Stone Age.–Din Merican

by Dr. Ahmad Farouk  Musa

Image result for Din Merican and Dr Farouk Musa

“Verily, We did offer the trust [of reason and volition] to the heavens, and the earth, and the mountains: but they refused to bear it because they were afraid of it. Yet man took it up – for, verily, he has always been prone to be most wicked, most foolish”.
[Surah Al-Ahzab, 33:72]

cherepno-mozgovaja-travma-klassifikacijaMany interpreters derive various meanings from the word ‘trust’ that is connected to this verse; but perhaps the closest definition that describes the meaning of ‘trust’ – as per Muhammad Asad’s explanation in his commentary ‘The Message of the Quran’ – appears to be ‘reason’ or ‘intellect’, and ‘the faculty of volition’. Thus, it is primarily the superiority of intellect or the force of reason that allows for that volition. And, it is this ‘reason’ and ‘intellect’ that becomes the basis to differentiate us from all other celestial beings, including the angels.

The angels were once commanded to prostrate before Adam because of the superiority of reason bestowed unto no other creation but the creatures called humans. In this matter, Muhammad Asad, greatly influenced by the views of Imam Muhammad Abduh, clearly establishes the importance of ‘reason’ in his debate surrounding the following verse:

“And He imparted unto Adam the names of all things; then He brought them within the ken of the angels and said: “Declare unto Me the names of these [things], if what you say is true.”
[Surah Al-Baqarah, 2: 31]

2.Para5.RightThe term ‘ism’ (name), according to philologists, shows an expression of “imparting knowledge (about something)”. According to Muhammad Asad, in philosophical terms, it signifies the meaning of a “concept”.

The subsequent verses indicate that based on the impartation of knowledge achieved from God in the form of a “name” or concept of thinking; man is therefore, in some situations, higher in status than Angels. “Name” is a symbolic expression of the formidability in defining an expression, the formidability in elaborating the views that form the unique characteristics of humankind and which makes it possible for them, in the words of the Qur’an, to become God’s vicegerent on earth.

Image result for Din Merican and Dr Farouk Musa

 

It is with that, therefore, the mission and aspirations of the Islamic Renaissance Front to rejuvenate or renew Muslim thinking or in other words, to champion the superiority of reason or simply ‘the rise of reason’. Consequently, it is not an exaggeration to say that it manifests a form of rethinking and a rejuvenation of the Mu’tazilites (Rationalists) course of rationalism in the modern world Islam.

However, the question often asked is, what about ‘iman’ or faith? Is reason required to experience it? On this point, Imam Muhammad Abduh opines that faith is incomplete so long as it is not based on reason. According to his view reason is the only source of faith. It is due to reason that Man can recognise the signs of Divine power, not through reckless confidence by merely following along.

The Challenges

Image result for Din Merican and Dr Farouk Musa

Malaysia’s Obscurantist in-Chief with India’s Fugitive Zakir Naik

Indeed, all the challenges we face now are the same challenges the past reformists faced, that is, intellectual stagnation. And, as a result of this decline in rationalism amongst modern Muslims, we witness the decay of the Islamic world today.

3.Para10jpgTo think that we were once a people proud of our great civilisation at time when the West was still in the dark ages. We had thousands of scientists, physicists, mathematicians, chemists, astrologists, physicians and many more fields of expertise all of which were established at the House of Wisdom in the Rationalists era. But, all of that only remains recorded in the folds of history.

The Rationalists at that time believed that one of the ultimate traits of God was justice. This is as embodied in their usulul khamsah (five principles) or one of the five principles of the Rationalists’ doctrine. And since God is just, Man must therefore possess the will to endeavour.  Man should we willing to use reason as endowed by God to differentiate between what is right and wrong and to endeavour to uphold justice.

And for the Rationalists, since God is most Just, verily, God will not respond to what is good and bad arbitrarily. Man will receive God’s response be it the blessings of heaven or the torture of hellfire as a result of his own choices made based on his own free will.

Thus, whoever believes that God is the most Just, will witness the reality that man is the maker of his own actions. And accordingly, he is responsible for whatever response God gives him based on his actions by his own hands.

This certainly conflicts with what has been extracted from works of the Ash’arites (Traditionalists). For the Traditionalists, God is most Compelling; who with His strength may cast someone who is pious and just into the hellfire and place someone who is cruel and evil into the heaven. Because that is the reality behind the power of God who is the most Compelling and the most Powerful.

But what remains clear, God in the view of the Rationalists, is a God who is Just and not a God who is a dictator; and this is the cause behind the theological problem that existed once upon a time. And this is what we have inherited for generations.

How Does God Interact with Us?

Verily, God who is Most Compelling delivered to us, His creations; the message primarily in two ways, through his Revealed Book or from the Book of the Universe.

Embodied in His Revealed Book sent down to us, i.e. the Qur’an, is the verse:

“Verily, this Qur’an shows the way to all that is most upright, and gives the believers who do good deeds the glad tiding that theirs will be a great reward.”
[Surah Al-Isra’, 17:9]

However, we often forget that God also speaks to us through the universe He created. Was it not in Surah al-Imran where it was stated:

“Verily, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the succession of night and day, there are indeed messages for all who are endowed with insight, [and] who remember God when they stand, and when they sit, and when they lie down to sleep, and [thus] reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: “O our Sustainer! Thou hast not created [aught of] this without meaning and purpose. Limitless art Thou in Thy glory! Keep us safe, then, from suffering through fire!”
[Surah Al-Imran, 3:190-191]

4.Para19.RightIt was based on that, according to Imam Muhammad Abduh, someone could not possibly have faith in his God other than mobilising his mind and intellect to think about the creations of God the Almighty.

This Mu’tazilite rationalism also brought them to summarise, that God, and the firmaments of His creation, should operate in accordance with rational rules that He himself has created. It was this view that successfully brought the Muslims to direction of scientific research and to the pinnacle of scientific excellence in various dimensions.

This realm operates through a system that is determinate in as much as it is orderly, where everything functions in an organised manner, from the smallest atom; proton, neutron and electron; to the biggest planets and stars that revolve in their respective orbits.  All of them revolve in a manner that is neatly arranged by the divine natural rules.  All these natural rules are entirely pure, and many of them have mathematical properties. Water will boil at 100°C and it will freeze at 0°C. Everything that is thrown from above will land on the ground due to the attractive force of gravity.  All of these are the natural laws of the universe created by God. Only when we understand and study these natural laws and universal rules, it is then that we understand how a particular phenomenon occurs based on scientific knowledge, knowledge which itself originates from God Himself. And by pursuing and equipping ourselves with such scientific knowledge, it is only then that we may spur ourselves towards shaping a new civilisation.

The Rationalists at that time were a group of people who deeply understood all these natural laws. They studied this various wealth of knowledge from the East and the West, translated these scientific ideas and improved upon those ideas without assuming such knowledge was obtained from a people who held agnostic beliefs about God. Due to that, they advanced in all fields of knowledge with the peak of which lead to the building of the House of Wisdom. They were the people that held to this rational theory that everything that happens must be in accordance with the natural laws determined by God, which in modern language, would be scientific knowledge.

However, Muslims influenced by the Traditionalists’ doctrine today, assume that God who is most Compelling can do whatever that conflicts with the natural law. Because He is the God who is the most Compelling. Thus, His power does not require Him to abide by the natural laws that He created, just as how He is empowered to cast someone pious into the hellfire or to place an evil person in heaven.

It is this kind of belief that creates so many shamans who proclaim to be able to perform all sorts of otherworldly surgeries to remove gallstones and all other kinds of spiritual surgeries. And it is belief such as this that fan the development of various pseudosciences that only use the incantations of magical spells based on the belief that because God is the most Compelling, He may do whatever He pleases to displace the laws of nature and He doesn’t have to operate within these natural laws.

The Modern Problem

5.Para25This issue of pseudoscience is but one of the problems that exists amongst Muslims impeding their ability to advance in the field of science. However, what is more severe is in the field of politics and statecraft. What is clear is that as result of this assumption that the Qur’an is to be executed without any room to consider the created Qu’ran which with it brings the implication that the Qur’an should be viewed from the angle of historicity, that makes it possible to face compelling issues of this age including issues like fundamental human rights, democracy and pluralism.

Such rigid and literal views in understanding the Qur’an entraps Muslims in the Medinan  State concept or to use Professor Tariq Ramadan’s terminology from his book “Radical Reform”, an obsession with model rather than its underlying principles. In fact, for us to advance and to prove that Islam is a religion suited to and in line with fundamental human rights and the modern concepts of nationhood, the religion of Islam must, therefore, be in line with sound logic.

Unless we can manage to achieve unanimity in giving reason and intellect its appropriate standing in facing the shifts of time and the various challenges of the era, we will not be able to free ourselves from the clutches and burdens of the past generation to move forward and to rebuild the glorious civilisation that has been lost.

The Solution

“Verily, God does not change men’s condition unless they change their inner selves”
[Surah Al-Ra’d, 13: 11]

Muhammad Asad interprets this phrase to be an illustration to the Revelation regarding cause and effect (sunatuLlah). This Revelation encompasses the life of the individual and the community. And makes the rise and fall of a civilisation depend on the quality of morality in humankind and on change “from within themselves”.

Accordingly, Muslims will, therefore, cannot expect change merely by sitting idly and praying and hoping that a miracle will happen. They have this mistaken belief that every matter on Earth has been determined for them just as how the Traditionalists believed that our fate has been predetermined and that any effort is merely an illusion. No matter how hard we try, what has been fated will not change. With that, Muslims will therefore become the most backward people and the most unproductive in their contribution to science and technology.

6.Para31.RightThe earliest generation of Muslims did not idly await for the arrival of al-Mahdi to rescue and to lead them. Due to that, we may see the renowned sociologist and historian, Ibn Khaldun in his ‘Muqaddimah’ (Prolegomena) fiercely opposed to the concept of the Mahdi (Islam’s Awaited Messiah) as well as rejecting all possibilities of such an event taking place as it serves only to make Muslims a more passive people.

Indeed, the understanding of the Qur’an shook Arabia, and freed the Muslims from the shackles of tribal conflicts. Within the span of a few decades, the Qur’an spread its worldview across Arabian borders and gave birth to the first ever ideological community in history through its insistence on awareness and knowledge. It enlivened amongst its followers the enthusiasm to seek knowledge and to research freely based on rationalism and the natural laws which ended with an era which captivated others in research and scientific discovery that raised the Islamic world to the highest peak of its culture.

This culture pioneered by the Rationalists penetrated middle-age European thought in many ways and through many paths. Ultimately it sparked a revolution in the European culture which we named as Renaissance, and later the passing of time played a major role in giving rise to what is termed as the “scientific age” in which we live in at this time.

And this is what we currently hope for so that the culture of thinking and researching based on science of technology can be reignited again to return to the success and the glory of our past predecessors.


AFMusaDato’ Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa is a Director at Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF), a think-tank advocating reform and renewal and the empowerment of the intellect.

https://irfront.net/post/articles/articles-english/restoring-the-reformist-mind/

 

Increasing Islamisation will trigger mass hijrah


October 2, 2017

Increasing Islamisation will trigger mass hijrah

by Dr. M.Bakri Musa
Morgan-Hill, California

Image result for Pious Malay Leaders

This is what will remain in Malaysia with increasing Islamization

In his recent blog “Hijrah To London,” Datuk Zaid Ibrahim wrote on the Erasmus Forum lecture he attended celebrating Martin Luther. Zaid highlighted the exemplary humanist qualities of both great Christian leaders. He went on to make a short side comment urging young Malays to emigrate.

He had a torrent of responses, not on Erasmus or Luther, the focus of his essay, rather his side commentary, which was more an expression of his despair and frustration over the increasing role of Islamist extremists in Malaysia, as well as Malay (and thus Muslim) leaders’ egregious corruption and mind boggling incompetence.

Image result for Pious Malay Leaders

Zaid urged young Malays not to repeat his mistake in not undertaking Hijrah (emigrating).

For Muslims, following the seerah (the Prophet’s sayings and practices) is the highest expression of faith. Malay men already ape it with gusto in such areas as having long beards and multiple wives. So why not hijrah?

Zaid is no ordinary Malay, Malaysian, or mortal. After qualifying at a local MARA institution, he went on to London University to get an additional law degree. He later founded Malaysia’s largest law firm, and the first to have foreign branches. He is also an entrepreneur and philanthropist.

Zaid remains unique in that he is the only Malaysian Minister to have resigned on a matter of principle. To be historically meticulous, Dr. Ismail did too, but he was ailing and had contemplated retiring. More telling, Zaid’s reputation soared with his resignation. No minister or even prime minister could claim either point.

Image result for Pious Malay Leaders

PAS’Nik AbduhA Member of P.Ramlee’s Tiga Abdul (remamed Abduh)

Boundaries are meaningless in today’s globalized world. In practice however, that’s true for only two groups. First are the poor, destitute, and desperate. For them, survival comes ahead of visas and passports, or political boundaries, as Western Europe now discovers. Second are gems like Zaid. With their wealth, language fluency, entrepreneurial flair, and social graces, they are welcomed in London, Sydney, and New York, or even Dubai and Bahrain.

Most Malays, young or old, male or female, are not like Zaid. Most lack skills, could speak only the local kampung dialect, and have minimal entrepreneurial desires. The Rempits, both Mat and Minah, are more typical. No country would want them. Even Malaysia would be better off without them. At least the Minah Rempits could work abroad as maids, a la the Filipinos and Indonesians. The Mat Rempits are but a road menace.

Image result for Mat Rempits

Mat and Minah Rempits–By-Product of Islamisation

After over sixty years of Malay rule, with the sultans, prime ministers and most ministers being Malays, and public institutions in Malay control, how come we produce a glut of Rempits and scant few of Zaids? If you leave things alone, simple momentum would dictate that the Zaids would grow in number, his sterling success inspiring others.

It would not be far wrong to suggest that it is not incompetence, stupidity, or even dereliction of duty by Malay leaders that we are inundated with the Rempits and not blessed with the Zaids, rather a deliberate policy, the willful intent of Malay leaders, incredulous as that may sound.

In mid 1960s in Canada, I met a Malay graduate student from Brunei who would later become his country’s top educator. I remarked on the splendid educational opportunities afforded young Canadians and added that wouldn’t it be wonderful if a rich country like Brunei were to do likewise for its young. Then Brunei could again assume its pivotal role in Malay civilization.

Image result for Mat Rempits

The Father of Mat Rempit-ism

I was stunned when he disagreed, and with atypical Malay forcefulness. Educating them would only make them uppity, dissatisfied, and rebel, he thundered. Brunei had then gone through a near-successful coup with Ahmad Azahari sending the sultan scooting off to Singapore. He would have remained there if not for the Gurkhas.

Such a sentiment was also shared by my kampung folks. Educate your children, especially daughters, and they will marry someone from outside the village and never return. Who would then take care of you in your old age?

I was tangentially associated with Universiti Kebangsaan in 1976. I suggested then that it drop its proposed MMed program and instead have its trainees sit for the FRCS and MRCP. Those learned Malay professors, all from English-medium universities, disagreed. They would then migrate, one academic sniffed. He was no different from my fellow villagers or that Brunei guy.

Perhaps UKM was traumatized when its first Professor of Surgery, one Hussein Salleh, absconded to Australia the moment his received his professorship.

Image result for Professor Nik Safiah Karim

The language nationalist Nik Safiah Karim (pic above), also the product of English education right up to her doctorate, asserted that Malaysia needs no more than five percent of her population to be English-fluent. Rest assured that her children and grandchildren would be in that select group.

Tun Razak too exhorted the masses to support Malay schools, but then sent his to England! His children, today’s leaders, and others like Khairy Jamaluddin, are doing likewise. Hypocrisy is a now the norm with Malay leaders.

Image result for KJ Polo

Those Malay leaders remind me of the ancient Chinese who bound the feet of their infant daughters so when they later got married, they could not run away from their husbands. Trapping by handicapping.

While I share Zaid’s concerns, I have a contrarian take. Let the likes of Zakir Naik, Hadi Awang, and that Perak Mufti loose. Their zeal would force Malays, young and old, and especially the Mat and Minah Rempits, to grab the nearest sampan to escape Malaysia.

Millions of Muslims today are forced to undertake their Hijrah not by the crusaders and atheists invading but by their own leaders. Millions are forced out of Syria not by the Israelis or Americans but by Islamic radicals.

Zaid is on to something profound. Ironically, the current frenzy of Islamization may just be the tipping point for a Malay mass hijrah.

Anticipating that, young Malays should prepare themselves for the global stage; the old kampung panggung won’t take you far. Learn another language, acquire some skills, and go beyond mere tolerating to embracing the differences we have with others.

Image result for hadi, zakir naik, harussani and najib

UMNO’s Islamic Imam–An Fugitive from India

To non-Malays, encourage Malays to be consumed with hadith and revealed knowledge. The fewer of them pursuing STEM, the less the competition for you. Support them when they want to build more Tahfiz schools, introduce hudud, or ban modern banking and finance. Not only would that make you a hero to Malays, you would also make tons of money. Malaysia’s increasing Islamization is not a crisis but an opportunity, and a very lucrative one.

Thayaparan’s Response to Kayveas’ Confused Values


October 1, 2017

Thayaparan’s Response to Kayveas’ Confused Values

https://www.malaysiakini.com/columns/396818

 

I personally have great skepticism about the theories extolling the wonders of ‘Asian values’. They are often based on badly researched generalisations and frequently uttered by governmental spokesmen countering accusations of authoritarianism and violations of human rights…”

– Amartya Sen, Foreword to ‘The Passions and the Interests by Albert O Hirschman’ (1996)

COMMENT by S. Thayaparan| Before I begin, I would just like to say that it is not constructive engaging in ad hominems with M Kayveas for presenting a contrarian view – in the alternative press – on celebrating “Asian values”. Indeed, I wish that more space was available (unlike the mainstream press) to pro-establishment types to peddle their views.

I am going to answer all the questions the PPP President posed because the reality is that these questions are rhetorical traps. These traps are deployed by those who would wish to silence people who believe that Malaysians, regardless of creed or race, have rights that the state wishes to infringe on using religious and political norms, all under the guise of “Asian values”.

 

Here goes.

Kayveas wrote: “So where is the extremism that we are screaming and hurling in every direction, in the wake of this demand to have or have not a beer festival in public space, if I may ask?”

The extremism comes from the so-called security threat that people opposed to this public event pose and the capitulation of the state to these extremists. It really does not matter if non-Muslims enjoy the right to “celebrate” in private, there is no law that says that these rights are denied in public spaces.

“So why do we fight over so-called ‘rights’ to have a beer festival in the public space when we could have gracefully enjoyed to the last drop in private space like a hotel’s grand ballroom?

The “fight” is not about celebrating alcohol. The fight is about our right as non-Muslims/Malaysians to hold activities in public even if those activities may cause “sensitivity” to certain religious groups.

 

“Should we not be thankful that alcohol is not peddled and celebrated in public venues where our young frequent to chill out?

You just claimed that non-Malays/Muslims enjoy unrestricted access to alcohol and we should be grateful for that. We can assume that young people have access to alcohol in this country. How does holding a public beer festival where young people would be restricted from publicly drinking a bad thing?

“Should we not let our Asian values triumph over this imported foreign carnival fads that often leave much to be desired in comparison to our own rooted Asian values?”

Certain towns in America are dry towns. There are laws that restrict the sale of alcohol in countries in the West. There are laws in the West about public intoxication. Therefore, when you say let our Asian values triumph, what values are you talking about which are distinct from Western values?

“Where do we go from publicly-held beer festivals?”

Yes, we should ask ourselves, what other types of festivals would the state ban and who in the state decides which festivals to ban. What if Muslim agitators decide to ban Christmas carols in public – which has happened – because Christians can listen to their carols in private?

Or what if Hindu processions were deemed “violent” and offended the sensitivities of certain racial and religious demographics? Would the triumph of Asian values still apply?

 

 

Selangor MB Azmin Ali (photo) is under pressure from religious extremists as to his decision not to ban Octoberfest in Selangor using that heinous excuse that the majority in Selangor are Malay/Muslims.

This is where we go from here.

“How about fashion festivals as in the likes of carnivals in Rio de Janeiro or Jamaica?”

Do you understand the origins of these festivals? These carnivals are a melding of Portuguese and African culture (after a troubled history of slavery), not to mention a potpourri of other influences.

It is about couture and music, dancing and joy, straight and gay, in other words “this” and “that”, mixing in peace. It is much more than scantily-clad men and women.

Take a look at social media if you want to watch naked Malaysians engaged in various sex acts.  However, if you want to have a street party, have a carnival or better yet, a Bersih march.

“Or if you would, some form of revived Woodstock that spills and oozes with drugs in the open?”

Woodstock is a music festival. Music festivals are currently “allowed” in Malaysia. What are you suggesting? That we ban music festivals, too?

I would not worry about people scoring drugs in such events. I would much rather worry of the corruption that allows for the free flow of drugs in this country. The rural meth labs. The drug traffickers who collude with elements from the state security apparatus. They pose more danger than the drugs that ooze out of music festivals.

“Or even a gay festival of sorts now that it is becoming very much a ‘westerner’ penchant?

“Penchant”? Sexuality Merdeka was banned for whatever reason and politicians and extremist activists talked of going after the “gay menace”.

 

 

Religious extremists, their apologists and collaborators did not acknowledge that Wikileaks exposed the fact that there are homosexuals in government.

I think a gay festival is exactly what this country needs if only to expose the hypocrisy that defines Asian values.

“…what is so wrong in Malaysians respecting the Asian values of moderation, consideration and believe in the eternal truth that promotes self-restraint, respect and endorsement of everything Asian?

The problem here is you haven’t defined what separates Asian values from so-called Western values.  You do not want people having beer festivals. You do not want young people exposed to drugs and alcohol.

You obviously do not like scantily-clad women because you object to Brazilian-style carnivals. You do not want homosexuals having marches and you do not want to be “Westernised”- which is kind of strange because you have no problem wearing nice Westerns suits.

These are not exactly “Asian” values. These are values that are exhibited by groups of people (normally religious) all over the world. There is nothing distinctively Asian about them unless you consider hypocrisy a distinctively Asian trait.

Also, I do not think you understand what you mean when you write this – “All Malaysians know and do cherish our superior Asian values which must remain as the bedrock of a distinctly progressive future.”

A progressive future means abandoning silly ideas about the superiority or inferiority of Asian and Western values and embracing values that do not divide us along racial and religious lines.

 

 

I wish I could say that you have voiced the genuine agenda of the UMNO establishment but the reality is that many in the opposition probably support your perspective. Hypocrisy is the most overt trait of religion, and as we can tell, the basis of “Asian” values.


S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

Beware of Religious Zealots of All Stripes–Not The Christian Threat


September 29, 2017

Beware of Religious Zealots of All Stripes–Not  Christian Threat

I have retitled Ambassador Dennis Ignatius’ article . The reason is that the subject of his article is not only of the perceived threat of Christianity (and Christmas) but also of religion and politics. It is about the present state of relations between Malaysians of the Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and  others, and Malaysian Muslims.

Hannah Yeoh is not the only one to be brutalised. We have just read about the treatment of Mustafa Akyol, a scholar, author and researcher who is a Muslim, by JAWI (read my post on this blog).

Image result for Najib Razak and Zakir Naik

Ambassador Ignatius is right to point the finger at our Prime Minister who has been playing the religion card for his political advantage. His tacit endorsement of Islamic zealots and open endorsement of Indian preacher Zakir Naik has produced a reaction from members of other faiths. As a result,  he created a climate of fear of the other. He has, of course, done a lot more so that we have become a nation divided along racial and religious lines. He should stop stoking the flames of bigotry and racism before he loses control and bring irreparable harm to the soul of our country. Our Prime Minister should emulate HRH Sultan of Johor.–Din Merican

 

By Dennis Ignatius @www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Yet again, a Muslim group is raising the specter of a Christian threat to the security of the nation and the position of Islam in Malaysia.

A group of NGOs led by Jaringan Muslimin Pulau Pinang (JMPP) is demanding that the police investigate a “seditious” video by a foreign pastor which they claim would incite local Christians to start their own jihad to take over the country. The group also claims that references to “building the Kingdom of God” were somehow a sinister plot against Islam.

Image result for Hannah Yeoh

In addition, the group gormlessly regurgitated baseless allegations that Hannah Yeoh, the Speaker of the Selangor State Assembly and arguably Malaysia’s most prominent Christian, is using her book Becoming Hannah to spread Christianity and cause confusion among Muslims.

I wouldn’t be surprised if her book makes it to the Guinness Book of Records for having attracted the most number of police reports in the world.

Lost in translation

Admittedly, Christian phraseology does not often translate well in non-church settings and can give rise to misunderstanding.

“Invading” a country with the presence of God or building the “Kingdom of God”, for example, might sound ominous even though it simply means to pray that God’s presence and godly values will fill the land. It has nothing whatsoever to do with a physical invasion or a call to wage war against non-Christians. Similarly, the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with acquiring political sovereignty.

Christians certainly need to be more sensitive about how their phraseology might be perceived in a pluralistic culture, particularly when everything these days quickly ends up on social media. It might help, as well, if Christians are more judicious in what they put out on social media; not everything needs to be broadcast to the whole world.

Notwithstanding this, however, only the most delusional, irrational or obtuse would actually believe that Christians are planning an armed invasion or plotting to overthrow the government.

Becoming confused

As for Hannah’s book, as far as I know, Hannah has not encouraged Muslims to read her book and neither has she promoted it among Muslims. In fact, the vast majority of Muslims in the country would never have even heard about Hannah’s book if extremist groups had not created a fuss about it.

There are, in fact, thousands of Christian books, videos and articles available in Malaysia and, of course, millions more on the internet. That JMPP would single out the book by Hannah, who also happens to be a DAP politician, suggests that their motives are more political than religious.

In any case, it is simply asinine to blame Hannah, or any other author for that matter, if some confused and insecure person somewhere feels threatened by a book. Going by that kind of logic, we would have to close bookstores and shut down the internet just to ensure that no one gets confused. Or, perhaps, to let them remain confused and unable to think for themselves.

A spiritual matter

JMPP and its fellow travelers might also want to note that Malaysian Christians have always eschewed violence. We don’t go around threatening to attack those who don’t agree with us, burn down their places of worship or rowdily demonstrate against religious events we don’t like.We don’t resort to guns and swords because our struggle is purely spiritual. Our “weapons” are prayer and intercession, the kind you use on your knees before God rather than with your fists raised in anger.

Image result for Mustafa Akyol-- Islam without Extremes

Like other Malaysians, we love our nation and we want to see peace, justice, good governance, integrity and godly values prevail. We pray for the prosperity and success of our nation and for all its citizens. We pray constantly for our rulers, our prime minister, for the government and for the security forces too, because our Bible demands it of us.

And we try to reach out to all who are in need and defend the rights of the persecuted and marginalized irrespective of race or religion. Many Christians, including Pope Francis and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have, for example, spoken out forcefully against the persecution of the Rohingya. In Malaysia, churches and Christian NGOs are also in the forefront of caring for refugees and other disadvantaged groups.

Rising intolerance

Of late, our nation has witnessed increasing incidents of racial and religious intolerance that threaten our very existence as a plural society. Unfortunately, intolerance and extremism appear to enjoy the tacit approval of some politicians and officials.

Image result for Mustafa Akyol-- Islam without Extremes

Every time the lalang moves somewhere in the country, PAS, for example, immediately seems to conclude that it is part of some Christian conspiracy against Islam and jumps into exploiting it for maximum publicity and political mileage.

A few months ago, they went to town on a church event in Malacca. Using highly provocative and inflammatory language, they accused the church concerned of challenging the sensitivities of Muslims and of conspiring with Zionist interests to target Malaysia. They went so far as to call on the ummah “to rise before it’s too late” as if Malaysia was on the verge of being invaded.

Even Special Branch plays to this sort of anti-Christian messaging by participating in Muslim-only seminars that discuss the so-called Christian threat. And this at a time when real jihadists and terrorists are threatening our security and well-being.

Image result for Hadi Awang the Extremist
UMNO-PAS partnership will result in a talibanisation of a liberal, open and inclusive Malaysia

 

Whatever it is, those who make much of the Christian threat ignore the obvious reality: after nearly 500 years of Christianity in Malaysia, after decades of educating countless millions of Malaysians of all faiths and all walks of life in Christian schools, Malaysia remains as Muslim as ever.

Clearly, groups like JMPP do their fellow Muslims an enormous disservice when they make them out to be weak, vulnerable and frivolous in their faith. Let me suggest, if I may be permitted to, that Muslims in Malaysia are a lot more resilient than they are given credit for.

The only ones who appear to profit from all the scaremongering are the politicians and the extremists who cynically exploit religion for their own nefarious ends to the detriment of all Malaysians.

A leadership vacuum

Thankfully, Christians in Malaysia, unlike Christians in the Middle East, do not have to stand alone. It is heartening that several moderate Muslim NGOs and leaders are challenging the rising tide of extremism and intolerance in our land.

What’s missing, however, is leadership from the government itself. The Prime Minister, in particular, has allowed things to drift for too long. His silence, indifference even, on many of these sensitive issues has created a leadership vacuum which fringe groups and extremists, including some from his own party, are now rushing to fill. His abdication of responsibility only allows sensitive issues to fester and infect our society as a whole.

Each day, our values, culture, politics, and religion are being reshaped and redefined by extremists; the longer it goes on, the harder it will be to get back on track again.

HRH Sultan of Johor has shown what inspired leadership can do in curbing extremism and intolerance. By firmly and decisively taking a stand on intolerance in his state, overruling even his own religious officials, he quickly nipped a dangerous trend in the bud.

Little wonder why Johoreans, and a great many other Malaysians as well, look up to him. If only all our politicians would follow his courageous example.

Dennis Ignatius is a former ambassador.

A Proposal for Islam


September 29, 2017

COMMENT: As a Malaysian Muslim, I offer my sincere apologies to Dr. Mustafa Akyol of Wellesley College for the shabby treatment he received from JAWI, an agency in the Malaysian Prime Minister’s Department during his recent visit to my country.

Image result for Farouk Musa and Din MericanDr. Farouk Musa of Islamic Renaissance Front and Din Merican

 

My friend Dr Farouk Musa  of The Islamic Renaissance Front  who sponsored your visit must have been embarrassed over what had happened. We hope you will not hold it against us,  Malaysia and the moderate Malaysian Muslims. It is unfortunate that the moderates are silent and timid  and have to depend minorities to express disgust on their behalf.

The blame rests entirely on the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak who is afraid of his own shadow and who feels he must pander to religious bigots and extremists if he is to survive politically.

Image result for Malay Islamists

Practise Islam the Jawi Way, or hit the Highway

Prime Minister Najib is known for trying to project himself to the world that he is an enlightened and moderate Muslim. That is purely delusional. He is a janus-faced politician. In addition, by associating him with Hadi Awang, President of PAS (a discredited Islamic party), he is seen to be someone deficient in character and devoid of integrity.  He, therefore, cannot be relied upon to keep his word.

The Malaysian Prime Minister’s conduct in your case, among other matters, is deplorable and unacceptable. He is polarising Malaysians instead of uniting us.

So Dr. Akyol, I agree with you that “there is a major problem in Islam today: a passion to impose religion, rather than merely proposing it, a mind-set that most Christians left behind at the time of the Inquisition.”  Malaysian religious authorities  are imitators for the wrong reason. They want my co-religionists and I to practice Islam their way. No way.–Din Merican

The New York Times

A Proposal for Islam

by Mustafa Akyol

Muslims should not be compelled to practice the religion in the way authorities define.

I am writing this column from an airplane, on my way from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to my new home, Wellesley, Mass. I’m in a comfortable seat, and I’m looking forward to getting back to my family. About 12 hours ago, though, I was miserable, locked in a holding cell by Malaysia’s “religious police.”

Image result for Mustafa Akyol

The story began a few months ago, when the Islamic Renaissance Front, a reformist, progressive Muslim organization in Malaysia, invited me to give a series of lectures on Islam, reason and freedom. The group had hosted me three times before in the past five years for similar events and also published the Malay version of my book “Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty.” I was glad for the chance to visit Malaysia again.

I arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Septembr. 22. The next day I gave my first lecture on the suppression of rational theology by dogmatists in early Islam, making the point that this “intellectual suicide” still haunts Muslim civilization.

The second talk was on a more controversial topic: apostasy from Islam. I argued that Muslims must uphold freedom of conscience, in line with the Quranic dictum “No compulsion in religion.” I said that apostasy should not be punished by death, as it is in Saudi Arabia, or with “rehabilitation,” as it is in Malaysia. The practice of Islam must be on the basis of freedom, not coercion, and governments shouldn’t police religion or morality.

It turns out all you have to do is speak of the police and they will appear. At the end of my talk, a group of serious-looking men came into the lecture hall and showed me badges indicating that they were “religion enforcement officers.”

“We heard that you just gave an unauthorized talk on religion,” one of the men said. “And we got complaints about it.” They took me to another room, photographed me and asked questions about my speech.

When they were done with their questioning, they handed me a piece of paper with Malay writing on it and told me that I shouldn’t speak again without proper authorization. They also warned me away from my next planned talk, which was going to be about my most recent book, “The Islamic Jesus: How the King of the Jews Became a Prophet of the Muslims.”

“We heard that you will speak about commonalities between Islam, Judaism and Christianity,” one officer said. “We don’t like that kind of stuff.” Then they left.

After all this, I consulted with my hosts, and we decided to cancel the final lecture. I assumed that was the end of the matter and went shopping for gifts for my wife and children.

Later in the day, I went to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport to begin the 30-hour trip back to Massachusetts. When I gave my passport to the border police, I realized that my experience with offending Malaysia’s Islamic sensibilities wasn’t over.

“You need to wait, sir,” said the woman who checked my passport. She called some police officers, who called other police officers, who took me to a room where my arrest order was read to me. Apparently the religious police, known as JAWI, wanted to interrogate me again for my “unauthorized” talk on religious freedom and had issued that arrest order to make sure I didn’t leave the country.

I was taken from the airport to a police station, then to another station. Finally, I was taken to the JAWI headquarters, where I was locked up.

To be fair, nobody was rude to me, let alone cruel. Still, I was distressed: I had been arrested in an alien country whose laws and language I did not understand. I had no idea what would happen to me — and, most painfully, when I would see my wife, Riada, our 2-year-old son, Levent, and our 2-month-old baby, Efe.

In the morning, I was taken to a Shariah court, which is used in Malaysia to adjudicate religious issues, where I was interrogated for two hours. At the end, to my surprise, I was let go. Soon I learned that this was greatly facilitated by the diplomatic efforts of my country, Turkey — and especially the contact made by a former Turkish President, Abdullah Gul, with Malaysian royalty.

This incident showed me once again that there is a major problem in Islam today: a passion to impose religion, rather than merely proposing it, a mind-set that most Christians left behind at the time of the Inquisition.

Luckily, there are antidotes within Islam to this problem. One of them is the Quranic verse that the JAWI officers repeatedly chided me for daring to recite: “No compulsion in religion.”

In fact, mainstream Muslim tradition, reflecting its illiberal context, never fully appreciated the freedom implied by this verse — and other ones with similar messages. “The ‘no compulsion’ verse was a problem to the earliest exegetes,” as Patricia Crone, a scholar of Islamic history, has noted. “And they reacted by interpreting it restrictively.” The verse was declared “abrogated,” or its scope was radically limited.

This is still evident in a parenthetical that is too frequently inserted into translations of the verse. “There shall be no compulsion in religion (in becoming a Muslim).” I’d known that Saudi translations added those extra words at the end. Now I have learned that the Malaysian authorities do, too. They append the extra phrase because while they agree with the Quran that no one should be forced to become a Muslim, they think that Muslims should be compelled to practice the religion — in the way that the authorities define. They also believe that if Muslims decide to abandon their religion, they must be punished for “apostasy.”

One of the officers at my Malaysian Shariah court trial proudly told me that all of this was being done to “protect religion.” But I have an important message for her (which I didn’t share at the time): By policing religion, the authorities are not really protecting it. They are only enfeebling their societies, raising hypocrites and causing many people to lose their faith in or respect for Islam.

I came to understand that while I was being held in the JAWI headquarters, listening to a loud Quranic recitation coming from the next room. I heard the Quran and for the first time in my life it sounded like the voice of an oppressor. But I did not give in to that impression. “I hear you and I trust in you, God,” I said as I prayed, “despite these bigots who act in your name.”

Mustafa Akyol, a contributing opinion writer, is a visiting fellow at the Freedom Project at Wellesley College.

Home and away, Najib has a China dilemma


September 22, 2017

Home and away, Najib has a China dilemma

While the Malaysian leader relies on Beijing for economic succor, he’s still viewed skeptically by his country’s ethnic Chinese voting bloc with tight polls on the horizon

Singapore
Image result for Najib's Chinese Dilemma
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak looks on duringIndependence Day celebrations in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia August 31, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Lai Seng Sin

 

Prime Minister Najib Razak addressed Malaysia’s Chinese community at a well-attended gathering last week to urge support for his Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition government ahead of new national polls.

The leader called for stronger Chinese representation in his United Malays National Organization-led (UMNO) government and doubled down on promises of delivering prosperity and quality education across all of the country’s ethnic groups.

“If the Chinese voice is stronger in BN, then you are able to shape the policies and possibilities of this government even better and even stronger,” Najib said. “Without peace in the country, the Chinese will be the first to be targeted and that is why we are a moderate government committed to peace and mutual harmony.”

Image result for Najib's Chinese Dilemma

While Najib placed emphasis on Malaysia as a multiracial nation and struck an overall moderate tone, others interpreted his remark as a fear-mongering veiled threat. Opposition parliamentarian Liew Chin Tong accused the premier of trying to win votes by “singling out the ethnic Chinese,” a move he said would actually undermine support for his government.

Malaysia’s next election is due by August 2018, though there is speculation that early polls could soon be announced. Najib’s outreach to the Chinese community signals an attempt to re-engage the minority voter bloc following general elections in 2013 where the BN coalition delivered its worst-ever election performance.

At the time, Najib acknowledged how ethnic Chinese voters had supported the opposition in droves, controversially characterizing their voting behavior as a “Chinese tsunami.” Najib initially vowed to undertake national reconciliation following the electoral upset, but instead has moved to burnish his Islamic credentials in a bid to consolidate support from conservative and rural ethnic Malay voters.

Ethnic Chinese communities make up around 23% of Malaysia’s population and are seen to be largely in opposition to Najib’s continued rule. His term has been defined by the international multi-billion dollar money laundering controversies related to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state development fund he created and until recently oversaw.

Lesser noticed, however, have been perennial allegations of money politics, elite corruption, stark political polarization and a widening cultural divide between Malaysia’s ethnic and religious groups that some fear could tip towards instability if not effectively reconciled.

Image result for Najib and HadiThis strange alliance with Hadi Awang may prove costly to Najib Razak in East Malaysia where Islamisation is viewed with anxiety and suspicion.

Recent studies show nearly half the country’s ethnic Chinese population have a strong desire to leave Malaysia due to perceived discrimination, political disenfranchisement and fears of Islamization. Nearly 88% of the 56,576 Malaysians who renounced their citizenship in the decade spanning 2006 to 2016 were ethnic Chinese.

Shortly after assuming office in 2009, Najib introduced the 1Malaysia national concept, a governing philosophy which placed emphasis on ethnic harmony, national unity and efficient governance. Following the 2013 election, the Prime Minister has placed less pretense on the talking points of the scheme, opting to posture as a defender of Islam and Malay unity.

“Political parties from both sides of the divide are centered around the Malay agenda, winning votes in Malay majority constituencies. Meanwhile, government efforts like 1Malaysia and its subsequent rebranding has neither substance nor strategy,” political analyst Khoo Kay Peng recently wrote. “The concept of unity is not even at the forefront of societal discussion.”

An important aspect of Najib’s domestic agenda in recent years has been the formation of a loose alliance with the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), which has an electoral stronghold in Malaysia’s rural and conservative north and advocates a hardline sharia punishment code known as hudud.

Abdul Hadi Awang, PAS’ influential President, was given tacit government approval to table a controversial hudud bill in parliament in 2015, which sought to ease some of the constitutional restrictions imposed on sharia courts in order to implement more severe punishments, subjecting offenders to longer prison sentences and corporal punishment.

Though observers were initially dismissive of Najib’s support for hudud, his government attempted to take over Hadi’s bill last year. The prime minister reversed course in March due to strong opposition from other BN coalition partners – notably from the Malaysian Chinese Association and other ethnic minority parties – and concerns it would dampen foreign investor sentiment.

Against a backdrop of political controversies and a deepening cultural divide, Malaysia’s upcoming general election is expected to be one of the tightest in decades. The political opposition, once a fractured grouping of disparate parties, appears more cohesive under the leadership of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who defected from UMNO and embraced opposition parties to form the Pakatan Harapan coalition.

Comeback kid: Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, 92, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Putrajaya, Malaysia, March 30, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Lai Seng Sin