The Demise of A Secular State


October 16, 2017

The Demise of  A Secular State

by S. Thayaparan

http://www.malaysiakini.com

“What the State can usefully do is to make itself a central depository, and active circulator and diffuser, of the experience resulting from many trials. Its business is to enable each experimentalist to benefit by the experiments of others, instead of tolerating no experiments but its own.”
John Stuart Mill, “On Liberty”

Malaysiakini columnist P Gunasegeram ends his latest piece, ‘I am a pendatang and proud of it,” with the appropriate “And know that I am here to stay whether you bloody like it or not because this country is mine too!” which is exactly how most non-Malay/ non-Muslims feel whenever they read about the use of the weaponised Islam in this country.

All you have to do is read the comments on social media when Johor’s HRH Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar stands up for what is right and decent when it comes to countering the agendas of Islamists in this country, who would use religion as a demarcation line to understand the frustrations non-Malays have with a system that on the one hand, finds utilitarian value in non-Malay contribution to this country, and on the other, is disgusted by their very existence as Malaysians with hopes and agendas of their own. These agendas are not necessarily different from each other but are anathema to the agendas of these state-sponsored Islamists.

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Johor’s HRH Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar stands up for what is right and decent when it comes to countering the agendas of Islamists in this country. The Malaysian Opposition led by Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and his sidekick DAP’s Lim Kit Siang is deaf and dumb on this issue.
 

People often miss the larger narrative when it is easier to digest sound bites. When a religious school burns down, this should have been an opportunity for a national discussion on why these religious schools exists in the first place, what values they are promoting, how safe are they and the corrupt practices that goes in the creation and maintenance of these schools. Instead, nobody was really interested in this, but carried on putting all their eggs in the 1MDB basket.

The Muslims-only launderette issue becomes about how:

1)HRH The Sultan of Johor was the line in the sand when it comes to this type of religious mischief because politicians offered only mild condemnation which sounded more like bemusement, and

2) the relevance of an institution like Jakim (Islamic Development Department) to state religious bodies is questioned by the moves of the Johor Sultan, who, by cutting off contact between the federal religious authorities and his state’s religious department, is making it clear that – for the time being at least – he does not want religious extremism from the federal level contaminating Islamic moderation at the state level.

Where is our glorious opposition in all of this? As I said before – “If you are waffling on your commitment to a secular state, then you have to make your case for an Islamic state and this is where the trouble begins and ends. If oppositional Muslim political operatives and their allies would just stop using religion as the basis of critique and concentrate on furthering the agenda of the secular state, oppositional Muslim MPs would not have to worry about attempting to ‘out-Islam’ their rivals because this would not be the grounds on which they battle for votes.”

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Prime Minister Ayahtollah Najib Razak, Malaysia Al-Islam

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Ayahtollah Abdul Hadi Awang–Deputy Prime Minister, Malaysia al-Islam

Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki  reminds us that BN – not Umno but BN – is committed to make Malaysia an Islamic state and of course, we will not hear anything from the MCA and MIC about this glorious agenda. Neither will we hear anything from our doughty opposition, because they have convinced themselves that they need to be “Islamic” to win the votes of the majority of the Malay community to replace the current Umno poohbah who is apparently the enemy of the state.

Which brings up the uncomfortable question of what kind of state? The enemy of an Islamic state or a secular state?

Forsaking the Constitution

Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak blathers on about how we should embrace new politics – whatever that means – and not abandon the Constitution, but the reality is that by chipping away at the Constitution which is what Umno is doing in its attempt to create an “Islamic” state, it is just further evidence that the Constitution is not worth the paper it is printed on.

Meanwhile, the opposition is doing nothing about this. Nobody in the opposition has ever made statements that reaffirm the primacy of the Constitution or the opposition’s agenda of ending the Islamisation process. We do not even know if this is one of the reforms that would “save Malaysia” that the opposition intends to carry out.

 

Remember, “this meme that by benching UMNO, we as Malaysians, whatever our religion or credo, would be safe from the machinations of Islamic extremists, is irrational considering that we neither have a committed secular opposition nor Muslim politicians who openly commit to secular agendas. As long as this remains the default setting of Malaysian politics, there will never be a period where secularism is safe from encroaching Islamic extremism.”

I mean really, this whole idea of making Malaysia an “Islamic” state is really about making Malaysia more like Saudi Arabia. And you know what the Johor sultan thinks about that, right? Here is a reminder – “If there are some of you who wish to be an Arab and practise Arab culture, and do not wish to follow our Malay customs and traditions, that is up to you. I also welcome you to live in Saudi Arabia.”

But what I really want to know is, what does the opposition think of that? Does the opposition think that Malay culture should emulate Arab culture and if so, does the opposition advocate that Malays who don’t want to follow “Malay” customs and traditions are welcome to live in Saudi Arabia?

Depending on your point of view, the balkanisation of Malaysia is something that is a very real possibility because of this agenda of turning Malaysia into an “Islamic” state. This is not something that any rational person would want and I am including the Malays in this equation, because if they really wanted to live in an Islamic paradise, they would have voted for PAS a long time ago.

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Young Malaysians on a Mission: #TangkapNajib

Writing for Malaysiakini has presented me with opportunity to talk to young people from all over Malaysia. This is purely anecdotal, but what young people tell me is that they are disgusted by politics in this country. They voted for change and even on a state level, this has not happened. Most, if not all, of them say that if UMNO stops “playing” with race and religion they will vote BN because they know all over the world politicians are corrupt.

A common complaint or some variation of the same, is that Pakatan Harapan is not doing anything to stop Malaysia for becoming an Islamic state. Most young people who choose to leave do not leave because of corruption, but because of race and religion.

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Pakatan Harapan is not doing anything to stop Malaysia for becoming an Islamic state.

I am beginning to realise that the idea of voting for the opposition to create a two-party system and the almost zealous advocacy (mine?) of such, is an idea of diminishing returns.

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.

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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

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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/

 

Only Malaysians can save Malaysia


October 9, 2017

Only Malaysians can save Malaysia

by Mariam Mokhtar@www.malaysiakini.com

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Two Respected Malaysian Activists–Farouk A. Peru and Mariam Mokhtar

COMMENT | The Malaysian Special Branch is one of the most effective in the world. Its main role is intelligence gathering and the analysis of the information, for use by other government departments.

Predictions of the Special Branch about voting patterns and trends are highly respected. However, recently it was unable to tell Najib Abdul Razak and his cabinet the lie of the land, and how the rakyat will vote in the 14th general election (GE14). That does not augur well for the prime minister, who must call GE14 soon.

We are a divided nation, with Malays pitted against non-Malays, Muslims against non-Muslims, and East Malaysians against peninsular Malaysians. Fracture lines also exist within the communities, for example among the Malays.

The saying “Divide and conquer” has been used by successive Malaysian governments. Despite Najib’s boasts that the economy is doing well, and that everything is under control, he has delayed calling GE14? Why?

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Is Prime Minister Najib unable to contain UMNO extremists and Zakir Naik or is he fermenting unrest  by using race and religion so that he can declare Emergency Rule? 

The recent steep rise in religious and racial intolerance, which has resulted in events like the Oktoberfest being cancelled and deemed a national security risk, is indicative of Najib’s increasing loss of control over the overall situation in Malaysia.

The bigots in the various government departments need to control the masses. Religion is their answer and Najib has provided them the means. Enter Abdul Hadi Awang, the leader of PAS. They are like a tag-team. Hadi has provided Najib the legitimacy to act in the name of Islam. Take one away, and their grip on the Malays is rendered useless.

Rallying call to reject the opposition

On a daily basis, we find the Malays being fed an unwholesome diet of the lies that the non-Malays would conquer them, if the Opposition, in particular the DAP, were to triumph in GE14. The rallying call to reject the Opposition is that the Malays will be driven back to the kampung, Islam will cease to be the official religion, mosques will be removed and Malay will soon be a forgotten language.

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Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Zahid Hamdi  who refuses to be outdone by his boss also embraces Indian Fugitive Zakir Naik

You may laugh and wonder why anyone should believe this rubbish, but when you tell this to many so-called “educated” Malays, you will discover that they actually believe this inflammatory rhetoric.

So, why should the Malays feel threatened? They hold top jobs in the civil service. They have no problems obtaining government grants, government contracts and government licences. Education is tailored to their needs, especially after one former  UMNO education minister decided that the pass mark be lowered for Malays who sit for public examinations.

The Malays are  admitted into the civil service and the armed forces. The royal households are all Malays. You are correct to point out that only those with “cable” (connections) to the top will prosper. But then, who are these people? Are they not mostly Malays? In other countries, this knowledge would be seized upon, questions asked in Parliament and protests demanding swift action, but not in Malaysia. Are we that cowed?

More fearful of Jakim’s officials, than of God

The Department of Islamic Development in Malaysia, Jakim, with its RM1 billion budget, spends much of its time policing our morals and telling us how to live our lives. Many of the Malays who do as Jakim tells them, are more fearful of this department’s officials, than of God. The irony is that we ignore the Quran because we are too lazy to learn.

Malaysians who can afford the fees send their children to study in international schools. Malaysians buy properties overseas so that they can send their children to schools in that country. This shows that they have no faith in the Malaysian education. Instead of demanding that the government improves the situation, they simply allow the system to get worse.

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Mat Rempit and Minah Rempit in Action and then this (below)

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Why are many local graduates unable to get jobs? Why do many Malay teenagers drop out and end up being Mat Rempit in stead of finishing school?

Many Malaysians are rant and grumble about with the state of economy, the education system and the simmering tensions in the country, but they are too scared to do anything about it. Why do they leave it to a few activists  when they can take part in the movement for change?

You, too, have the power to change Malaysia. You can contribute your best. It may be in the form of one article, one poster, one talk, one interview, or one vote. It takes  a flutter of a butterfly to create a tsunami to  remove UMNO-Baru from the seat of government in Kuala Lumpur/Putrajaya, which it has held since Independence.

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.

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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.

Malaysia: How can a beer fest be a security threat?


September 22, 2017

MY COMMENT: Actions taken by bureaucrats (most of them with degrees from local universities and abroad) at the behest of their hypocritical UMNO political masters make us a laughing stock to the rest of the world. My colleagues at The University of Cambodia and my students look at me as if I were from another planet of saints of the Islamic variety who say one thing and do something else, worse still when no one else is watching.

Image result for Din Merican

The beer fest affair is just of one of those stupid things our politicians of the Islamic faith do to our citizens by depriving them of their rights to be themselves as long as they respect the rights of their Muslim brothers and sisters. What irreparable harm is being done when we and our friends gather socially for a glass of beer!

My friend Nades is gutsy enough to say what he thinks about this affair. By giving security concerns as the excuse for calling off the event is not only flimsy and cynical,  but also nonsensical. Furthermore, in this case, Malaysians are being treated as “kids and fools”. It is alright to treat MCA, MIC and Gerakan leaders and their supporters that way. After all, they have grown  accustomed to being scorned and insulted by their UMNO bosses in Barisan  Nasional. But doing that to us all by infringing upon our fundamental rights to  be ourselves and choose our friends is unacceptable.

I can only add my disgust at the attitude of our authorities. I am wondering how  much more we as Malaysians can tolerate this patronizing attitude of the current Administration. It has been trampling on our rights to freedom of speech, association and expression since Najib Razak took office in 2009 with a 1Malaysia slogan, Rakyat DiDahulukan, Prestasi DiUtamakan. What he has shown over these years is Rakyat diKetepikan, Prestasi diAbaikan.

To think that Najib Razak’s UMNO-BN will be returned to power come GE-14 makes me throw my hands in the air. If that happens, unless our East Malaysian brothers and sisters vote to reject his leadership, I think I can say that we deserve the government we choose, one that uses religion to differentiate and divide us.–Din Merican

How can a beer fest be a security threat?

COMMENT | There are some moments in our daily lives when we ask ourselves, “Do we deserve to be treated this way?” The answer is always, “We deserve the government we elected.” Really?

When government leaders treat citizens as children and expect us to accept everything they say – hook, line and sinker – the anger seethes and churns in our systems. While many can take it with a pinch of salt and laugh at their antics, there are times when their puerile statements make us wonder why they are sitting up there.

When they tell us the “political sensitivity” and “security threat” have similar meanings and connotations, we are compelled to stand up and ask: “Sir, are you taking us to be kids or fools or idiots?”

Now before anyone takes up the cudgel and tar our leaders with the same brush, let it be specific.

On Monday, Sinar Harian had quoted Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s (DBKL) Corporate Planning Department Director Khalid Zakaria as saying that an application to hold the Better Beer Festival had been rejected because of “political sensitivity”. On the same evening, Kuala Lumpur Mayor Mohd Amin Nordin Abd Aziz has declined to comment on this matter.

The organisers – Mybeer (M) Sdn Bhd – issued a statement which read: “We were further informed that the decision was made due to political sensitivity surrounding the event.”

Of course, right-minded citizens expressed their disgust over this insisting that their rights are being impeded. Joining the chorus were politicians on both sides of the divide. Well and good. Every inch of their support, although in some cases, couched in politically-correct language, was needed to stop this intrusion into one’s personal choice.

The MCA asked City Hall to be “consistent and accountable”. Its religious harmony bureau chief Ti Lian Ker, said: “They cannot arbitrarily reject the application and threaten to take action against the organiser without giving a proper account or reasons for the rejection.”

But on Wednesday, there was a complete turnaround. MCA president and Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said the authorities had told cabinet during its weekly meeting that safety was one of the reasons why the craft beer festival was cancelled.

If security had been “real” reason, why was it not conveyed to the organisers? Why did City Hall have to lie by saying “political sensitivity”? If security was an issue, surely the organisers would have made other arrangements and beefed up security.

From Joe Public’s standpoint, all this appears to be an afterthought and a shameful charade. We have no intention of causing alarm and panic, but are we to assume that any congregation of people would require them to look over their shoulders while sipping their beer?

Held to ransom

Two Saturdays ago, a group of friends were at a screening party where the match between Liverpool and Manchester City was telecast on a large screen. The venue was a pub in Sri Hartamas and there were more than 100 people. Fans of both clubs enjoyed the beers and game. Liverpool fans drowned their sorrows while City fans celebrated.

Every weekend, there are scores of such screening parties in pubs, restaurants and mamak shops. Are they targets too? Will they ban such screenings?

If the mantra previously was “moderation”, it has now become “security”. What purpose do sloganeering, walks and campaigns serve when our rights are being disregarded and dismissed summarily?

Six years ago, in one of the hallowed halls of University of Cambridge, Prime Minister Najib Razak extolled the virtues of Malaysia’s moderation quoting the Quran, the Bible and even the Torah.

Today, such notations are in shambles; the nation is being held to ransom by a handful of zealots. Yet, the government is watching with folded arms and refuses to stand up to this kind of bullying.

Even the civil service has become subservient to the frolics of the few. All and sundry have got their priorities wrong for political expediency.

At every turn, religion is creeping into our daily lives unabated. Despite espousing moderation both verbally and in writing, these so-called advocates of temperance and reasonableness retreat into their cocoons when confronted with issues.

We cannot continue putting up our hands and saying, “What can we do?” We have to say, “Enough is enough”, and collectively drown the voices of the few who are trying to impose their values on the rest of the citizens.


R Nadeswaran.