Category Archives: journalism

A debate on Islam will do us good



A debate on Islam will do us good
By Zan Azlee

The much-talked about debate between Ahli Sunnah Wal Jamaah Malaysia (Aswaja) president Zamihan Mat Zin and Perlis Mufti Datuk Dr Mohd Asri Zainal Abidin needs to go on.

It should happen in public and not behind closed doors. Everyone should be invited and, hopefully, it can also be streamed live online and even better, on mainstream television.

As far as I can remember in my short 38 years of life, I have never witnessed a debate based on religion between individuals who are deemed as having the “authority” to do so.

And not only that, these are two individuals who have such opposing views and interpretations of the same religion. It would be interesting to see what the conclusion would be, or if there will even be one.

Malaysians are desperately in need of religious intellectual discourse whether they know it or not. The indicator is that any opposing view that isn’t the mainstream gets rejected and even condemned.

It has come to a point where Malaysian Muslims feel that it is even wrong to question anything that is related to the religion, or what is stated by the official religious authorities.

And for those who do try to question or even explain things from a different perspective, they are told to shut up because they supposedly have no right to do so.

It is dangerous when such a culture of silence and blind faith is allowed to manifest. It will cultivate a society that does not know how to think for themselves.

When that happens, it opens up opportunities for the few who are in power to manipulate the entire society to their benefit and to the detriment of everyone else.

Not only that, this will also lead our society to fast become a backward society which isn’t open to different ways of thought and new methods of interpretation. Basically, stuck in an archaic religious period.

Society stops looking for ways to make religion, in this instance Islam, timeless as it should be. We think that only the old interpretations are how we are suppose to base our modern day life on.

The killing of reasoning and logical thinking has begun and Malaysia already shows signs that we are afraid to use intellectual thought.

The evidence is that when it comes to interpreting religion, because we have been conditioned to think that if we question, then our faith will be affected.

We forget to realise that the intention of questioning is to be able to convince and prove to ourselves why we should have faith in the first place. It is a way for us to understand religion deeper.

But this fear of intellectual thinking and discourse isn’t just a current problem that we face here in Malaysia. In fact, it has been something that has existed for centuries.

In the 8th century, a group of Muslim thinkers known as the Mu’tazilites promoted the use of reasoning and logical thinking to understand Islam better.

Among the famous Mu’tazilites included Muslims who we now revere such as Ibnu Sina, Ibnu Rushd and Al Farabi. But of course, during their day, they were also heavily criticised and condemned.

And those who did the condemning were the supposedly religious authorities who wanted to make sure that there was no challenge or discourse that might bring forward different schools of thought.

So with bated breath, I await the debate between the two religious figures. It would be interesting to see the reaction of society here and how they will accept the discourse and differing opinions.

[This article originally appeared at The Malaysian Insider]

Does the personal life of a politician influence his ability to govern?

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Does the personal life of a politician influence his ability to govern?
By Zan Azlee

What is considered off-limits when it comes to a politician’s or elected leader’s life? If we look at the media, both Malaysian and international, there would be a perception like there are no limits.

In Kedah recently, there was a tussle over the Menteri Besar position whereby the sitting MB, Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir was ousted and replaced by Datuk Seri Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah.

Of course, the political observers made their regular cheers and jeers. And being politics with no limits, I guess anything would go and we shouldn’t be surprised.

But there were no big shocking exposes when it came to these two characters. But some people took offence at some of the jeers, namely relatives of the two politicians.

The first to voice out her thoughts and feelings was Ahmad Bashar’s daughter, Azira Hafiza Ahmad Bashar, who called the public to stop name-calling her father. She did it on Facebook.

Feeling like she had to step in and defend her father’s honour, she wrote about how she saw him as a good and responsible father and human being – from the perspective of a loving daughter.

Then, as if on cue, Mukhriz’s daughter, Meera Alyanna Mukhriz, decided to do the same and also poured out her feelings about her father. And she did it on Instagram.

She too became a character witness for her father and vouched for his credibility, integrity and commitment to the state, even in detriment to his time with her and the family.

So here’s the thing, does the bias opinion of a daughter factor in the ability for an individual to govern a state or country well? And if not, then what are considerable factors?

I would say that bias character witnesses are not important. Neither are a lot of things that we see as good judge of character. But that’s a personal opinion of mine that might not be shared by many.

Take for example how we viewed sex scandals among politicians. Former MCA president and Cabinet Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Chua Soi lek, was caught in such a scandal in 2008.

The scandal cost him his Cabinet post and his (then) vice president post in MCA. But he staged a comeback and won back the VP post. He also won the presidency in 2010.

Here’s my other question. Would an individual’s sexual life be of concern when it comes to his ability to govern the country or his political party? Or would it be a private matter that isn’t a concern to the public?

Many of our former national leaders such as Tunku Abdul Rahman and his peers were known to lead very hedonistic and enjoyable lives outside of their official capacities.

And we never held any of it against them and their abilities to lead the country. In fact, many saw this generation as the benchmark for the country’s political governance.

Now let’s also take a look at the world’s so-called ‘great’ democracy – the United States of America. Some of their more recent leaders have been embroiled in sexual scandals too.

Former president Bill Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky being the most famous one out there. He was impeached after significant attention from the press and the public (but acquitted).

But, if you go back into a little bit of history, just like Malaysia, there was a time in the US when political scandals were known but never given any attention, neither by the press nor the public.

John F. Kennedy was said to have had several extramarital affairs (Marilyn Monroe was said to be one of his sparring mates) which was known publicly but never made into something detrimental to his political career.

The turning point, as told in an interesting story on the Radiolab podcast, was the reporting of the US presidential candidate Gary Hart’s affair with model Donna Rice.

Reporters from the Miami Herald actually staked him out to catch him red-handed with Rice. Although hurt, Hart decided to continue the race because he felt that the accusation was irrelevant.

It’s not just sex and family members as character witnesses. It could be many things. A penchant for partying hard, being friends with tattoo artists and rock stars, a habit of buying expensive paintings, or whatever else.

Would an accountant who likes to smoke cigarettes make him incompetent in his job? Would a librarian who has a penchant for pornography be bad at organising books and information?

The point I am trying to make is that human beings are many things. And when do we (or should we?) start seeing the merging of the personal and political?

Basically, shouldn’t we be able to distinguish what is personal from what can and cannot affect an individual’s professional ability and competence?

I have to admit that I am someone who believes that the personal should not affect the political. It shouldn’t matter how someone chooses to live. If they are professional in their jobs, then so be it.

But veteran journalist Cokie Roberts, who was interviewed in the Radiolab podcast made a valid point. A person who has extramarital affairs, like Hart, would have it reflected in their professional political capacity.

Someone who will be entrusted into public office and hold a position that will influence public policy should not be someone who uses and disposes women the way he was perceived to have done.

Hence, the blurring of the line between personal and professional. But I guess that will be a constant challenge that the voting public will have to face – differentiating between what is relevant and what is not.

[This article originally appeared at English.AstroAwani.Com]

Two ministers, an MB, an A-G, and it was that easy?



Two ministers, an MB, an A-G, and it was that easy?
By Zan Azlee

In the past seven or eight months, we have seen three top leaders in Umno who have been forcefully and dramatically removed from their positions unwillingly.

The most recent one that is still fresh in our minds is that of Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, who is now no longer the menteri besar of Kedah. He was forced to resign two days ago after losing majority support.

The other two might not be so fresh in our minds. I dare say that some of us might even have forgotten who they are. So let me remind everyone.

July of 2015 saw Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, the deputy prime minister who also held the education portfolio, and Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal, then rural and regional development minister, being dropped from the Cabinet.

Oh, and then there was also the removal of Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail as the attorney-general in the same month, with Putrajaya citing his health as the reason.

And now, I am seriously wondering if in a few months, we would also start to forget about Mukhriz, just as how we are slowly starting to forget Muhyiddin, Shafie and Gani?

The reason I wonder is because it seems to me that the dropping of these three top leaders from Umno went ahead without much resistance or fight.

There was hardly a fight given by Muhyiddin and Shafie when they were dropped, while Gani had to accept his removal. And now, we can also see how easy it was for Mukhriz to go with just a simple resignation.

What I was really hoping for is that the three Umno bigwigs would have put up a strong fight to remain in their positions if they really felt that their removal was unjustified.

I can’t really say what I was expecting them to do to defend themselves, but I definitely wasn’t expecting them to go so easily as they did. Did any of you?

In Mukhriz’s case, does this set a precedent now? Anyone can be replaced without any strong reason? All it needs is a vote of no confidence? And even then, it doesn’t have to be in a real assembly sitting?

But then again, nothing illegal was done. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had full prerogative and authority to drop both Muhyiddin and Shafie from the Cabinet.

Gani resigned a few months short of his retirement and Mukhriz quit when he realised he did not have the support of a majority of the state assemblymen from his own party.

If that is the case, then I am very worried with how the governance of the country is going to be in the near future. It means that a few people at the top of the chain have the most power.

I realise that when we dish out criticism, it is always best if we also provide suggestions and potential solutions. But at this particular point in time and situation, I am scratching my head as to what to offer.

Hopefully, my lack of positivity will not last long and will not spin me into eternal scepticism and cynicism. And I hope the same for my fellow Malaysians too.

[This article originally appeared at The Malaysian Insider]

And here’s a little #ICYMI!

Fat Bidin presents
The Minute Men (Ep 80) – Political funding in Malaysia

All you need to know about political funding in Malaysia in ONE MINUTE!

New episodes out every Mondays.

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Blasphemy is man-made, so question away



Blasphemy is man-made, so question away
By Zan Azlee

ISLAM is a fairly unique religion in the sense that everyone is considered equal no matter who you are. It doesn’t matter what race or creed, and especially not in rank or position.

It is one of the few faiths where ordinary people have the right to be leaders. For example, any sane adult is allowed to be an imam and lead a congregation in prayers.

And, there is no intermediary between an individual and God. We do not need any religious authority figure in order to pray or to communicate with God. The line between us is always open no matter who you are.

What that means is that there is no one who is above the other when it comes to the religion. And in that sense, Islam is quite democratic, to put it in modern terms.

So when certain quarters say that people should stay silent and not comment about the religion because they are not in the position to do so, I find that highly oppressive.

Any Muslim (or anyone for that matter) should be able to question or even voice out concerns when it comes to Islam because it is their right to do so and no one can take that right away.

And this is especially so when it comes to public matters such as governance and jurisprudence because as it already so obviously states, it has everything to do with the public.

There is such term as Shura in Islamic governance whereby the consultation of the people is obligatory in order for a particular government to function.

The Majlis Shura should also consist of members from all layers of society and not just those deemed to be of authority. Hence, everyone is represented when consultation is made.

This, in essence, already shows that Islam strives to achieve a society that gives equal opportunities to every and any individual to have a voice and to participate in society.

It should also be pointed out that there has never been, in Islam, the concept of blasphemy. This is a concept that was created by those who didn’t want their authority to be questioned.

I truly believe that Islam is a religion that calls for it’s followers to constantly criticise and ask questions in order to gain as much knowledge as possible in order to improve themselves and society.

Society will only be able to open up to intellectual discourse and debate when there exist a culture of constant questioning and criticising, This should definitely be encouraged because only then will we evolve.

We should not be scared to question and discuss things we do not understand because how else will be able to find the answers and to clarify things?

I would like to take a peek into history to see how a civilisation that does not consult the people and denies them the right to question things fared in its survival.

One of the greatest Islamic empires was the Abbasid Empire which ruled their land from 750 to 1517. They ruled all of the Arab peninsular, North Africa and parts of Asia Minor.

But their downfall came when they became too authoritarian. They felt that their rule was bestowed upon hereditary terms and that they were born to do it. Hence, they became more feudal.

They ceased to realise that individuals must have a say in how their lives are governed. And their empire that had lasted for centuries came to an abrupt end.

So let’s encourage constructive criticism, questions, discourse and debates. Everyone has a right to comment. Hopefully, society will benefit and we will evolve into far better people. It’s just the Islamic way.

[This article originally appeared at English.AstroAwani.Com]

And here’s a little #ICYMI!

The Fat Bidin Vlog
Ep 25 – An ancient train ride to Johor Bahru!

Took the overnight train from KL to JB to spend a foodgasmic weekend with the family!

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The Fat Bidin Film Club (Ep 40) – Flower In The Pocket

The Fat Bidin Film Club (Ep 40) – Flower In The Pocket

Zan and Aizyl revisit Flower in the Pocket (2007) by Liew Seng Tat, which was recently released online on Vimeo. You can watch it here (but you have to pay a tiny amount):


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The Fat Bidin Film Club Pic