A major disease which afflicts the Muslim Ummah at present is the disease of hypersensitivity. We Muslims have an extremely high sensitivity rate and whenever an incident occurs which is perceived to be insulting, we are called upon by the Islamic Priesthood to rise and defend the religion. In Malaysia, not just defend the religion but Malay-Muslims are called to defend ‘Race, Religion and Nation’. If we were to deconstruct this, deep contradictions would come to the surface. Do these calls come from Allah’s own commands to ‘defend the faith’. Is it true that Islam needs defending? Or perhaps certain parties are worried that their power and influence may be compromised if the Ummah is given the freedom to think?
A hobby of mine is to observe the reactions of people when I inform them that I am a Muslim from Malaysia. Oftentimes, that person would express admiration and how beautiful and technologically developed Malaysia is. However, I do often hear less than positive reactions. This is especially true if that person is an avid follower of social media where he or she would hear of the superficial policies of Malaysia’s various political and religious institutions.
Perhaps the second biggest example of this superficiality (the biggest example will be announced below) is the ‘Allah’ issue. In this unfortunate display of crass insensitivity, politicians and members of the Islamic priesthood claimed that they ‘defended Islam’ by disallowing people of other faiths from using said word. They forgot that before the coming of Prophet Muhammad himself, the Pagans of Makka had been using the very same word (Quran, 23/84-85). Moreover, Allah Himself does not have a problem allowing those who call Isa ‘Son of Allah’ from using this term (5/72). Therefore, according to the logic of the Malaysian ulama, Allah Himself has compromised the Muslims’ faith! It therefore comes as no surprise that Malaysia became the laughing stock of Arabs as Christians have been using the term ‘Allah’ for centuries before Muslims!
Recently, the Octoberfest (a drinking festival of sorts) was scandalised as ‘insulting Muslims’ because Malaysia is an Islamic nation. I do not deny that for me, Islam prohibits the consumption of alcohol (5/90) as it is a destructive habit to self and society. However, why should we take alcohol consumption as an insult to Islam? Octoberfest is only a celebration for those who wish to enjoy alcohol. If we distance ourselves from this habit, then the act itself should not be insulting to us. After all, the Messenger was told not to be a compeller but rather one who reminds (50/45). What is even more strange about this is the glaring lack of reaction by the Malaysian Muslims about fast food chains. Although the food served there is halal (permissible) in Malaysia, they are far from wholesome (tayyib). Allah told us to consume the permissible as well as the wholesome (2/172) yet the latter is of little concern.
This essay would not be complete without discussing the superficial politics of Ibrahim Ali (the chief of Perkasa, Malaysia’s equivalent of the British National Party or the Tea Party). Ibrahim’s politics has now descended to the level where he called on Malay Muslims to burn Bibles which contain the word ‘Allah’. Impotent Malay politicians, fearful of losing Malay-Muslim support, excused Ibrahim’s act as ‘defending Islam. Such is the weakness of their political integrity! I would like to ask these politicians, if a Malaysian Christian leader threatened to burn Qurans for containing the word ‘Allah’ (since Christians used it before Muslims), would Malaysian politicians take it lying down? I think not. Such is the hypocrisy of Malaysia’s political and religious institutions.
As promised, we now come to the most superficial excuse ever used as a pretext for ‘insulting Islam’ – the ‘I Want To Touch A Dog’ event held recently in Malaysia. During this event, Malaysian Muslims were encouraged to bond with man’s best friend. Unfortunately, Malaysian ulama saw it as blasphemous (in the Shafiee legal code) and an ex-mufti said called it an attempt to denigrate the ulamak. He has of course forgotten the differences of opinion among the ulama themselves regarding this issue.
The funny thing is, the teacher of Shafiee himself, Malik ibn Anas (founder of the Maliki school of law) disagrees with Shafiee here. Would this not mean that Shafiee was insulting his own teacher by disagreeing with him? Why did the aforementioned ex-Mufti not factor this in? Perhaps because the insult was not to Islam but to the egos of some ulama who see themselves as the privileged owners of Islam.
And what of the Quran? In the Quran, Allah has permitted for believers food caught by hunting dogs so there really is no problem at all in this issue. The proof of this can be seen on the Malaysian fatwa committee’s website on which not a single Quranic verse is quoted on this issue.
It is very heartening to see that Malaysian Muslims are now waking up to this elaborate con. We are beginning to see that claims of ‘insulting Islam’ and calls to defend its sanctity are nothing more than facile excuses used by certain parties to emote the Muslim masses. Once emoted, we become more pliable to accept their religious authority. The ‘I Want to Touch A Dog’ event was organised by a Muslim and he should be saluted for daring to think. There are now hundreds and perhaps thousands lik him. Slowly, we are bringing normalisation to the issues which are presently sensitive to the Ummah. Our hypersensitivity will soon erode and we are likely to become more peaceful.
As a matter of fact, islam is an ideology. That is, a system of ides which interact with the human being. The ideology of islam can be practised or not. It is not a living being which gets insulted or needs defending. That isn’t Islam but rather the egos of certain parties. We should transcend their superficial mindsets to attain success. To end, I would like to ask you to support the Facebook page ‘I Support Syed Azmi Alhabshi and I Love Dogs’ at this address: https://www.facebook.com/supportsyedazmi
Farouk A. Peru is a Phd Candidate in Islam and Postmodernism and has taught Islamic Studies at King's College, London.