Loyal Followers

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Malaysia - an Islamic Country?

Despite what our founding fathers had intended it to be and what the Federal Constitution has expressly stated, Mahathir Mohammad unequivocally pronounced that Malaysia is an “Islamic country”. It did not stop there. The current government fully endorsed that. Abdullah Ahmad Badawi of course agreed with what Mahathir had said. Najib, I suppose, would also say the same thing if he becomes the Prime Minister come March this year. Down the line, Zahid Hamidi insisted as such. Syed Hamid Albar, our Home Minister would even go and detain people without trial for “insulting” Islam. Khir Toyo, now ensconced in Oppositionsville, would kick up a ruckus if anything is said about “azan” in loudspeakers, even when the mosques officials deny that anybody had raised the issue. Well, in fact everybody in UMNO, either by acquiescence or active agreement, say that Malaysia is an Islamic country. On the other side of the fence, we of course have people like Zulkifli Nordin, who insists that it is his “fate” to defend Islam and consequently to impose his brand of Islam on everybody. As for PAS, well, let’s not even start talking about them.

The question then is, if Malaysia is an Islamic country, why in heaven don’t we practice true Islamic traditions? Put it another way, which part of Malaysia, as a country, is Islamic and which part is not? Or is it a fact that these politicians would offer such pronouncement if, and only if, they find that it is kosher for them to do so? And in the event kosherness dictates that it be pronounced that Malaysia is not an Islamic country, they would of course turn around and say Malaysia is not an Islamic country. Is that the case?

In Islamic history, the reign of the Abbasid Caliphate is generally and widely romanticised as the golden age of Islam. It was during the reign of the Abbasid that the Greek philosophical works were translated into Arabic, commissioned by none other than the Caliph himself. Cities were built with elegant and graceful architecture. Histories were revisited and written. Poems were composed and songs were sung at the Court before everyone would wine and dine into the night. Muslims, Christinans, Jews and even Zoroastrians would be invited to the Court where they would sit beside each other and partake in intellectual discourses and debates with none other than the Caliph himself.

It was during this time that Islam flourished. Islamic jurisprudence grew in stature and had in fact caught up with older and more widely accepted jurisprudence and schools of thoughts such as the Greek, Jewish and Christianity. The four major Islamic schools of thoughts had in fact been founded during the Abbasid reign. The four major people of the time, the Muslims, Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians in fact studied each other and drew from each other’s experiences and beliefs in formulating their philosophical thoughts of and approach to their own religion. The Sufis, for example, had fashioned their religious approach towards unity with God from the ways of the Jewish and Christian ascetics and monks.

In an atmosphere as culturally and intellectually vibrant as Baghdad was during the Abbasid’s rule, inter-faiths and inter-religions relations were at their best. In Baghdad, Christians lived near a Jacobite monastery on the bank of the Tigris. Muslims would take part in Christian celebrations such as the Palm Sunday and likewise the Christians would honour the Eid-ul-Fitr together with the Muslims. The people were free to practise their respective religion, without fear and without any kind of compulsion. A medieval Egyptian historian noted that the mixing and matching of festivals “was a sign of mutual respect and brotherhood between the religions...moreover, some of the converts to Islam, as Muslims, continued their old practices even after accepting Islam.”[i]

In fact, it is well established that it was the inter-faiths tolerance which the Muslims in general had displayed which had made the Islamic expansionism agenda all the much easier to achieve in some parts of Asia and North Africa. Years before the Islamic expansionism had spread its wing into Egypt for example, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt was locked in bitter disputes with Constantinople over the true nature of Jesus Christ. The Coptic adhered to “monophysitism” which states that Jesus had one nature and that nature was divine. That ran counter to the Council of Chalcedon’s position on the matter, which held the position that Christ had both human and divine nature. The result of that disagreement was the persecution and inquisition of the Coptic followers in Egypt by the Byzantine ruler although both people belonged to the same religion and God. The Nestorian Christians of Iraq had also grown resentful of Constantinople over the true nature of Christ and whether Mary shouldbe thought as the mother of God rather than of Christ as a person.

The tolerance displayed by the Muslims towards the Jews and Christians mean that Egypt would surrender to the Muslim army of not more than 5000 led by Amir ibn al-As. The Egyptian Christians would later fight alongside the Muslims and helped them defeat the Byzantine garrisons. The Nestorians, needless to say, almost welcomed the Muslim’s conquest. Despite the might of its army, conversion to Islam was never forced, true to the teaching of the Quran where it is expressly stated that “there shall be no compulsion in Islam”. The Quran also states that the “people of the book” should be respected and their teachings should be accepted as the words of God. During the Abbasid, the majority of the people were the Jews, Christians and the Zoroastrians.

Perhaps the Abbasid’s willingness to learn and to engage the people at an intellectual level, regardless of how stark the contrast of thoughts on any given subject matter would be, was what which marked its rule as the golden age of Islam. The Abbasid rule was known for its tolerance for freedom of expressions and thoughts, even when such expressions ran completely contrary to the Caliph’s belief and thoughts. Such was the tolerance that the Coptic and Nestorians were more willing to live under Muslim rules rather than under Byzantine rule, notwithstanding the fact that the Byzantine was itself a Christian empire.

The 2nd Abbasid Caliph, Al-Mahdi, for example, would invite Nestorian patriarch, such as Timothy 1 to the palace for a theology debate. The Caliph would confront Timothy with questions on the nature of Christ and the fact that God, under Christianity, would have a woman bore His own son. Timothy on the other hand would question the validity of the Quran being God’s words as they, according to him, have not been corroborated by signs and miracles.

Another Abbasid Caliph, Al-Ma’mun would engage a Greek Orthodox priest named Abu Qurra to a similar debate. In the Court, Abu Qurra would stand and defend Christian theology even when that means going against the Caliph and his faith. Such was the openness and readiness to embrace knowledge and seeking the truth that the Caliph himself would indulge in intellectual discourses with head of other religions in his Court.

Now, if we could all come back to present day Malaysia. Discourses are of course not solicited nor invited. Opposite views are not welcome and are in fact prohibited. Discussions are also not welcome under the guise of protecting national security.

To Zulkifli Nordin and Zahid Hamidi I would like to ask, which part of Islamic traditions are both of you practising when both of you made so much hoo haa over the Bar Council’s seminar on the problems which some people face resulting from conversion to Islam last year? Why are there so much fear of intellectual discourse and the likes? When is it that Islam demands the imposition of one’s personal belief on another?

To PAS I would like to ask, on what ground do you stand in imposing your own personal belief, over matters such as the Rihanna and Avril Lavigne concerts, on others? Which part of Islam are you talking about?

To Syed Hamid Albar, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and also Najib Razak I would like to ask, if Malaysia is indeed an Islamic country, where is the inter-faith and inter-religion tolerance and acceptance displayed by your administration? If the Caliphs could be debated face to face and be told that his belief was wrong by the head of another religion, why is it that this government even refuse to lend a listening ear to any opposite views at all? Since when has suppression of opinions and intellectual discussions become part of Islam? And which part of Islamic traditions allow you to detain a person with an opposite view?

To the National Fatwa Council I would like to ask, don’t you all think that mutual respect and understanding would be better for a multi-cultural and multi-faith Malaysia?

To the Institute of Islamic Understanding I would like to ask, where is the efforts to make us all, the Muslims, better in all aspects? What books and thesis have you all read? What foreign language intellectual works have you all helped to or commissioned to be translated in Bahasa Malaysia for the benefit of all Malaysians in general and Malaysian Muslims in particular?

To Mahathir Mohammad I would like to ask, which part of the Abbasid reign is similar to your reign?

[i] Qasha 110;G Stange, “Baghdad During the Abbasid Caliphate” (London;Oxford University Press, 1924)


koolgeek said...

Mahathir, UMNO and PAS will foam at mouth talking about how Islamic they are. But truth be seen, there are so much flaws in their way of life.

We are religious only on the skin, for display, for elections, for the unthinking mass.

sporting long beard, dressing up as holy men, but yet harboring so much hate and ill-thought.

if more Muslims think and live like you do, Islam will regain its glory.


Anonymous said...

If the government insists that Malaysia is an Islamic country, then they should first and foremost turn their attention to those hypocrites incites to become champions of Islam but who allows their loved ones to stray from the teachings and tenents of Islamic laws.

By default, the religious authorities, NGOs and whoever who cherish the values of Islam should scrutinise the activities of some of those who publicly seek to champion the cause of Islam but in private, goes against all the values of Islam.

Following the link below will uncover some of these skeletons in their cupboards......


Anonymous said...

Er..not sure if Bodohland is an Islamic Nation; looking the the gambling activities going on around the country, I don't think this is an Islamic Country.

We have 4Ds ,5Ds, 6Ds, Mega Toto, Super Toto, Big Sweep Lottery, Genting Casinos.
Horse racing by Selangor Turf Club, Perak Turf Club, Sandakan Turf Club.

Every Wednesday , Saturday and Sunday will be draw days by Berjaya Toto, Magnum, Damacai, Sabah Lotto88, Sandakan Turf Club and God knows what other gambling activities..

In fact I see Bodohland is a Gambling Nation rather than an Islamic Nation !

Anonymous said...

dear art harun

the similarity between abbasid reign and my reign was when i declare malaysia an islamic state in front of gerakan chinese. it was similar with the abbasid ruler intellectual discourse with non muslim.

for your information all the chinese accept it. the chinese said they love the Islamic state ala malaysia same as democracy ala malaysia

che det



We learn history so that we can look and move into the future with a better understanding of ourselves. We study history so that we can try and avoid where our forefathers did or went wrong.

To create any image of Malaysia as Islamic or otherwise, even by statute is wrong. Historically, Malaysia has been and continues to be a melting pot of races, cultures and migrants. Malaysia is a land of migrants. No one race or religion has a claim or right to this soil we know as Malaysia. No can deny history in that Islam probably came to Malaya from China. Hindu & Buddhist states ruled over what we now know as Asean. All languages and our basic traditions are derivatives of both western and oriental. UMNO can say what it wants and bets it breasts about it. It wont change what Malaysia and Malaysians are. We are a hodge-pot ( is that a correct word?) of derivatives. ASnd we will evolve into a Malaysian nation. The world is growing smaller and more integrated and we worry about beinga Islamic country? Dont make me laugh! Lets get real.

Richiee said...

Art, this is truly a well written and sensible article. Fortunately there are many more muslims like you in this country. Unfortunately, the country is governed by the hypocrite type of muslims who do not bring justice in portraying the true islam.

msleepyhead said...

Malaysia is an Islamic country and thus the casino at Genting Highlands and all Magnum, DaMaCai, Toto and gambling outlets must be closed immediately.

Talk is cheap. Why bother what the hypocrites say.

Anonymous said...

Dear Art,
A very well written piece that is easily understood by the layman with regards to the history and true teachings of Islam.

As for the Islamic teaching in Malaysia,it has been hi-jacked by the UNMO party long time ago and recently given a new brand-name and spin under the guise of Islam-hadari.

Only those that have been living under the tempurong are not aware that Islam religion has been used by UMNO regime to manipulate the muslims in Malaysia to justify UMNO's political cause, especially to stir-up the emotions to be wary of and incite hate against non-muslims. Its a play of the divide and rule policy.

The ruling government itself is responsible for resulting in the muslims in this country afraid of their own shadows. Unlike the learned caliphs of great Islamic kingdoms of the past, the UMNO government prevents dialogues and debates that could foster deeper understanding among others religious faiths in our multicultural environment.

Is it so because the muslims in Malaysia are so weak and shallow in the understanding of the Islamic faith that they need the government to shield them from the teachings of other religions lest they convert to other religious faiths in droves? We don't think so. Its just a ploy by the UMNO regime trying to show that they are the protectors of Islam in Malaysia.

In actual fact all the other races respect the fact that Islam is the official religion of Malaysia. The followers of non-Islamic faith do not feel threatened by this and has no reason at all for wanting to threaten Islam religion.

We have been living together here since the 14th century when the tradewinds landed our forefathers to this land of plentiful which we now called our home. In the beginning we were a united country but because of politics we are now divided by race and religion.

Art, please continue to educate the masses through your insights in your blog with the hope that one day the rakyat will be united as one.

abangjamboo said...

Dear Art,

What makes me furious is the government are simply saying that they are practicing islam for the sake of appeasing the muslim(malays). In the other hand, their actions are nothing as they preached. Coruptions are still rampant, intimidation etc.

Anonymous said...

Articulate Malaysia,that's interesting. When the stupids get tough, the rough gets growing. We are just 3rd world what do we expect ? Just wake up and grow up.
God is just things of the past and if we take it for granted b'cos your heart and my heart is just human and the ugly people willing to take up gods and goddess as an excuse to make a havoc to this tropical island.
Have u ever heard of the word austronesian? Good... it is just an awwtanation. We ancient country is just 4 to 5 centuries behind time with flooded 1st world consumers products that make us Malaysian forgotten where we stand as asian people. So wake up ! Bodoh ! Sohai country ! Too much type 1 or western movies but make us think very close but the truth is yet so far away.