Would God place an infidel in heaven?

Would God place an infidel in heaven?
By Zan Azlee

I’m a Muslim and I have been to several non-Muslim funerals and most of them have been of dear family members. I mourn and pay my respect during these times, and yes, I do pray for the soul of the dead.

So it really angers me when Muslims use religious difference to disrespect the death of others and I definitely take personal offence to it. It does not matter what religion the deceased is, respect should always be given.

We are all aware, especially since yesterday, how Malaysia’s main Islamic religious authority, Jakim, warned Muslims not to pray for the souls of non-Muslims as they are infidels and are confirmed condemned to hell.

We are also well aware of how many people have countered this with the story of the Prophet Muhammad standing up in respect of a Jew who had died. A friend had asked him why he stood up and he said that a Jew is still a human being.

This reminds me of a discussion that I have regularly with my friends regarding non-Muslims, or infidels, who died but had lived a life that was righteous and noble without ever committing any major sin aside from being an infidel.

Maybe he or she had fought against injustice, helped the oppressed and underprivileged, sacrificed for others, committed his life to the betterment of humanity, but was a Sikh, Christian, Jew, Taoist or atheist?

How would God, the all merciful and compassionate, treat these individuals? Would he decide to overlook all the good this person had done and dump him or her in hell just because he or she prays differently than Muslims? [Click to read the full article at The Malaysian Insider]

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No place for racial and religious supremacy


No place for racial and religious supremacy
By Zan Azlee

I believe everyone is created equal. And Indian is created equal as a Chinese who is also created equal as a Malay. And so are the Ibans, Dayaks, and all the ‘dan lain-lain’. I believe so much that everyone is created equal that I actually even believe that a Christian is created equal as a Hindu who is also created equal as a Muslim, a Taoist, and even a Scientologist. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure not many people share this belief with me. In fact, I’m sure that many people reading this article might not even believe that everyone is created equal.

I recently read an article by popular American essayist Michael Muhammad Knight, a Muslim, who wrote that many white Muslim converts seem to take the religion and think that they alone own it. Knight, a controversial figure not only in America but also in the Muslim world, explained that many well-known white Muslim converts in America have done this.

He mentioned how Alexander Russell Webb (1846 – 1916), one of the first American converts who significantly promoted Islam publicly, actually did his dakwah. Webb apparently thought that they were so intellectually superior that everyone else who are practicing Islam in other parts of the world were just not practicing it right.

He had framed his thoughts from the point of view of a white supremacist and that everyone else were just too inferior that their tradition and culture adulterated their practice of the faith. But that’s not the point of contention in this article. What I do want to discuss is how any certain groups of people who feel that their way of thinking and belief is the only right way is practicing the same elitism as Webb.

This has been happening in Malaysia and I am inclined to mention an article yesterday in a local news website of an interview with retired Court of Appeals judge Datuk Mohd Noor Abdullah. [Click to read the full article at English.AstroAwani.Com]

I agree with Ridhuan Tee


I agree with Ridhuan Tee
By Zan Azlee

I never thought in my entire life that I would one day state publicly that I am in support of my self-declared arch nemesis Ridhuan Tee Abdullah. But here it is, on this good Friday, that I am writing my column (which is usually utilised to condemn Mr. Tee) to show my support of his recent columns on Prophet Muhammad.

He wrote in his past two columns in Sinar Harian that although it is condoned for Muslims to praise the Prophet, we should not go to the extent of being too obsessed with him. The action and reciting of the selawat to the Prophet is encouraged in Islam because it shows love for the messenger and also the unity of Muslims. [Click to read the full article at The Malaysian Insider]

MH370: A tipping point for the media?


MH370: A tipping point for the media?
By Zan Azlee

The media is subservient to the happenings of the world, and there are major events that happen over the years that can be considered turning points in the way the media world spins. Between 1914 and 1918, World War 1 contributed a lot for newspapers as more and more people wanted to stay abreast with happenings in Europe and sales experienced an unprecedented spike.

World War 2, from 1939 to 1945, became the era of the radio as people tuned in live to listen to the famous broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow narrate the bombing of London. The Vietnam War, throughout the 1960s and 1970s, was really the boom of photojournalism as pictorial news magazines made their mark in the world.

The first Gulf War in Iraq occurring from 1990 to 1991 was the era of television news as we saw how 24 hour news channels fed live broadcasts of bombings into people’s living rooms. The next major incident that happened changing the face of media was the 9/11 terrorists’ attack on the World Trade Centre in New York City.

Traditional media like newspapers, television and radio were almost totally ignored as people turned online to the Internet to get immediate alerts of what was unfolding in New York. That was the tipping point for the online news, and twenty plus years on since that day, the Internet is now the main source of news for the world community.

In fact, traditional news outlets such as newspapers are suffering so much from the switch in audience’s habits that they are facing a major financial crisis and many have even closed shop. And now it looks like the media world is facing another tipping point that is going to change the way the world community consumes their news and information and of how news organisations will create their content.

This will be the time when established news media organisations will have their legitimacy challenged as they are pitted with conspiracy theories that are spread online by the public. [Click to read the full article at Enlish.AstroAwani.Com]

The many theories of MH370

The many theories of MH370
By Zan Azlee

Amongst my friends and family, it seems that I’ve become sort of an aviation expert specialising in the field of missing aircrafts. They ask me all sorts of questions about the missing MH370 flight.

My answer is always the same – “It’s aliens, obviously.”.

It’s funny how an accountancy degree holder who turned into a writer, documentary filmmaker and journalist has now become an aviation expert.

After thirteen days, so many experts have formed theories of their own. Even ordinary folks with no aviation background have been in the limelight just because they have an interesting theory.

Like a friend of mine said, “I used to fold paper airplanes when I was in primary school. I’m willing to share my thoughts on MH370 with any reporter out there.”. [Click to read the full article at English.AstroAwani.Com]

Raja Bomoh needs to be brought down

Raja Bomoh needs to be brought down
By Zan Azlee

Malaysian Christians who are practising an Abrahamic faith, as is Islam, are forbidden to use the Arab word “Allah”, which means “God”, because it might confuse Malay Muslims. The reasoning for this is because the word “Allah” has been used so much by the Malay community that in Malaysia, the word is almost considered a Malay word.

This will confuse Malay Muslims because they might think that the God that the Christians are referring to is the same God as the ones they refer to. All the ultra-Malay political groups and NGOs aggressively protested against non-Muslims in Malaysia using the word “Allah”, even bordering on violence. Those non-Muslims who don’t comply are dragged for investigations and even to court for only practising their freedom of religion.

I totally disagree with this because I think a word is just a word, no matter what language it is. For example, the English word “yellow” is the same as the Malay word “kuning”. Also, of course there is the jarring fact that the God that the Christians refer to is in fact the same God that the Muslims are referring to (and the Jews, too).

If the Malay Muslims in Malaysia don’t realise this, then they obviously don’t understand their religion well enough as they should. What religion did Islam evolve from if not Christianity? And what religion did Christianity evolve from if not Judaism? And all these religions teach its followers that it comes from the one God.

So, what happens when a group of Malay Muslims come out in public using the word “Allah”, but obviously practising something that is so detached from the actual teachings of Islam? Yeah, that Raja Bomoh guy (Ibrahim Mat Zin) who says he can see where the missing MH370 plane is at currently by using a method he claims is Islamic. [Click to read the full article at The Malaysian Insider]

MH370: Empathising with the families


MH370: Empathising with the families
By Zan Azlee

I’m a pretty hardened human being. I’ve gone to conflict zones and disaster areas for my job as a journalist and I’ve seen quite devastating scenes with my own eyes. As much as I sympathise and feel for the people involved, I have always felt that I could separate my emotions from the situation. But things in my life have changed. It’s quite surprising to see how getting married and having a child can change your entire outlook of life.

So, I got the call at 8:30am last Saturday from one of our executive editors, Noor Azam Shairi, while I was having breakfast with a friend and my book publisher.

“Zan, I think we have to go in today. A plane went missing,” he said.

Flight MH370 had departed from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing at 12:40am and had gone missing nearly 2 hours into the journey. Journalistic instinct kicked in and I rushed to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport to catch the first press conference… in my pyjamas. What ended up happening was me eventually staying at KLIA for three days (and the first day, I was doing all my live reports on camera in my pyjama t-shirt).

The scene was utter chaos. Reporters and cameramen were swarming all over the airport and at the attached Sama-Sama Hotel where the press conference was held. [Click to read the full article at English.AstroAwani.Com].

The new breed of ‘Generation 5D’ journalists

Zan Azlee with Zebolon Simantov.

The new breed of ‘Generation 5D’ journalists
By Zan Azlee

I wish I could categorise myself as a “Generation 5D” journalist. Unfortunately, I can’t because according to Spencer Chumbley, the person who coined the term, I’m a little bit too old.

If you don’t know, “5D” really refers to the Canon EOS 5D digital SLR camera model which was one of the first of its kind to combine high quality still photo and video capturing capabilities in a single camera (this was around 2008).

Chumbley is in his late 20s and when he started out in his career, these cameras with multimedia capabilities were already the norm and he took to it like a fish in water (I, on the other hand, am fast approaching my late 30s!).

So these “Generation 5D” journalists can be considered natural multimedia journalists who have the skills to tell stories in a myriad of ways, combining text, still photos, audio and video.

And because this is a new way of telling news stories (and not to mention told by storytellers who were youthful and energetic), the stories themselves have a different approach and perspective.

It isn’t of the old style of journalism where objectivity is sacred and format is what determined if a news story was worthy or not. These “Generation 5D” journalists have a voice and an opinion.

Subjectivity, which was an evil curse word to the elders, is now almost mandatory in journalism. Of course, just because an opinion is included, it doesn’t mean that honesty is thrown out the window. [Click to read the full article at The Malaysian Insider]

Frozen feminism

athena painting

Frozen feminism
By Zan Azlee

My friends and family all know how fiercely protective I am when it comes to my daughter Athena’s exposure to anything princess-ey. I pray that she never develops the dreaded princess syndrome where she kills all ambition and passion just to be rescued by a prince charming.

Just think about it. Snow White just lies down unconscious waiting for prince charming to rescue her from an eternal coma with a kiss. The Little Mermaid was willing to give up her beautifully talented voice just to be beside her prince charming. And so on and so forth.

So when the Disney film Frozen came out in the cinema, I was slightly apprehensive about bringing Athena to watch it. But I did and I was not disappointed. [Click to read the full article at The Malaysian Insider]

I’ve been to church and surprisingly, I’m still a Muslim!

zan smayang

I’ve been to church and surprisingly, I’m still a Muslim!
By Zan Azlee

When I was in primary school, I went to a school called SRK St. Joseph in Johor Bahru. Yes folks! It was a Christian missionary school complete with a church attached! I used to wander the church grounds with all my friends and sometimes, actually often times, we even had the opportunity to enter the hall itself.

I still went to my Pendidikan Islam class with my other fellow Muslim classmates and I knew, even at that young age, that I am a Muslim.

Going to church never confused me. I am a mixed breed child and come from a mixed breed family. So I have many relatives who come from many different race and also religious beliefs. I have been to many a church weddings, like the one between my Uncle Tuck Meng and his wife Aunty Renuka, which was held at that big church in Kelana Jaya by the LDP highway.

I still continue to believe that I am a Muslim and still attend mosque to do my prayers and even read the Quran to understand it better. Going to church never confused me. [Click to read the full article at English.AstroAwani.Com]

Being objective in the case of Azizul and Shalwati

azizul family

Being objective in the case of Azizul and Shalwati
By Zan Azlee

This week, Malaysians who have been following the case of Azizul Raheem Awaluddin and Shalwati Norshal, detained in Sweden for abusing their children, got the shock of their lives.

After two months of being held under remand, the prosecutor has finally charged them in court, and the list of what they have been accused of is a long one.

Both of them are accused of a total of eight counts of gross violation of integrity of their children, and all includes beatings, inclusive of the use of rotan, belt and even a carpet beater.

The shock is because everyone in Malaysia were of the thought that it was an obvious case of a clash of cultures.

In Malaysia, moderate corporal punishment is mainly accepted. Initial reports in the media (including here at Astro AWANI) stated or implied that the abuse was merely a smack due to one of their sons not performing his prayers. [Click to read the full article at English.AstroAwani.Com]

Get that RM1,200, Teresa Kok!

Get that RM1,200, Teresa Kok!
By Zan Azlee

Time and time again I have said it. Malaysians have no appreciation for satire, sarcasm and humour. And that is just so laughable that it just is not funny. Everyone is now familiar with the parodic Chinese New Year video produced by Teresa Kok, the DAP MP for Seputeh, and her team. I was very amused by the video and found it hilarious, and quite true too (my Cantonese is atrociously mediocre, but I think I got a bit of the nuances!).

Okay, fine. I can accept the fact that not everyone would understand the video and that many might even be offended by it. That is okay. These people have all the right and freedom to oppose and object to the video. They can write articles, make statements, or even hold peaceful protests. Heck! I think the best way would be to actually produce another video to mock or even oppose the video by Teresa Kok and her team.

But then a group of so-called Muslim NGOs came out to prove my thought that Malaysians do not seem to have the intellectual capability to comprehend satire. By offering a cash reward to commit violence (RM1,200 for anyone who slaps Teresa Kok and provide photographic evidence) cannot be very Islamic. One of the most common phrases in Islam is “Bismillahirahmanirahim”, which means “In the name of God, the most compassionate and most merciful”.

That in itself proves that the basis of Islam is about compassion and mercy. And wait a minute! What does “Islam” mean? I think it actually means “peace”! I am sure that this group, which goes by the name The Council of Islamic NGOs, must be very proud that they are encouraging violence in the name of religion.

But I think I have a suggestion for Teresa Kok to turn the tables around and play another joke. This time at the expense of this so-called Islamic council. [Click to read the full article at The Malaysian Insider]

Culture is never wrong… except for Swedish culture?

My attempt at cheering the kids up.

My attempt at cheering the kids up.

Culture is never wrong… except for Swedish culture?
By Zan Azlee

One of the subjects I used to teach undergraduates many years ago was Human Communication. It was one of my favourite subjects to teach. I loved it because it was the study of how people communicate with each other, taking into consideration the context of different cultures, languages and beliefs.

A core principal of good human communication is to understand that there are many different people in the world. And being different doesn’t mean being wrong. In fact, it is important that we never judge people based on their culture because culture is never wrong.

Vietnamese and Koreans enjoy eating dog meat and it is considered a traditional dish. But most Americans would find it wrong to eat an animal that is normally a pet. Who is right or wrong? It is a norm in Chinese culture (and many Asian cultures) to have the extended family all living in one house together. But in Europe, this is not accepted as children are suppose to leave the nest when they grow up. Right? Wrong?

And now that the world is getting smaller, people are more exposed to different cultures and clashes start happening. It’s not wrong to have these clashes. People just need to be understanding and open-minded. But of course there are cultural practices, after being compared with others, come out as totally wrong.

And through education, these are slowly expected to disappear. For example, many indigenous tribes in Borneo practiced head-hunting a long time ago. Now that everyone is more educated and ‘civilised’, the practice has been totally wiped out. Which is a good thing. Genital mutilation may be the norm in some African cultures but with more knowledge, campaigns are now being conducted to educate the people so they know that it is not a good thing to do.

But one thing that cannot be done is to blame these people for their tradition and culture. It is what they’ve been doing for generations without thinking it is wrong. It’s the way they are wired to think. But of course, the key word is education.

With more clashes of culture happening, the more our minds are exposed and opened up. We get to see things from many perspectives. And that will eventually cause the entire human race to progress and evolve.

Now what am I actually getting at? It’s quite obvious I’m going to relate all of this to the Malaysian couple, Azizul Raheem Awaluddin and Shalwati Nurshal, detained in Sweden for allegedly abusing their children. [Click to read the full article at English.AstroAwani.Com]

Wayang kulit, pigs and Islam

Wayang kulit, pigs and Islam
By Zan Azlee

I remember many years ago, I directed a documentary film about Dollah Baju Merah, the last classically trained wayang kulit dalang in Malaysia from Kelantan. He has since passed on and I was the last person to officially interview him and to document his last wayang kulit performance on camera.

What I remember most about the interview was how he tried to explain to me his relationship with his art using a pig analogy. During an election year, he thought he was being religious by voting for a religious party (guess what party?), but it ended with him being ostracised for practicing his art.

“Those whom I voted for declared that wayang kulit is haram because it has non-Islamic roots. And whoever practices it is committing a sin,” he said.

“But let me explain to you about pigs. A pig is an animal created by God. The pig itself isn’t haram. It’s just an animal like any other animal in the world. [Click to read the full article at The Malaysian Insider]

Does Sweden own your children?


Does Sweden own your children?
By Zan Azlee

I don’t believe in corporal punishment when it comes to disciplining children and neither do my parents. So I have never laid a finger on my daughter.

I would much prefer to have a heated and honest argument which eventually ends in a better understanding for both parties than a quick smack on the buttocks. But when it comes to Azizul Raheem Awaluddin and Shalwati Nurshal, the Malaysian couple detained in Sweden for ‘abusing’ their son for not praying, I think I would sway in their defence.

Its quite easy why my rational logic tells me that corporal punishment isn’t the way to go with children, because it is just the Islamic way. Islam’s main principles are compassion, mercy and sincerity. And that is how I base almost all of my dealings in life with.

What is one of the most common phrase in Islam? Of course it is, bismillahirahmanirahim, which means, in the name of Allah, the most compassionate and most merciful. And there is ikhlas,or sincerity, which is the foundation of any and every single deed in Islam if it were to have any meaning at all.

The prophet Muhammad himself had never hit a woman, child or even animal. So that must say something about the negativities of corporal punishment. But now back to the issue with the Malaysian couple who has been detained while their four children have been separated from them and are in the Swedish foster care system. [Click to read the full article at English.AstroAwani.Com]

Don’t mock us typical, average Malaysians


Don’t mock us typical, average Malaysians
By Zan Azlee

The way the government is trying to appease the public with regard to all the price hikes that have been implemented is quite farcical at the least. Firstly, Malaysians were told that if they did not like the increase in highway toll prices, they could always opt for using different roads that have no tolls.

Then they said if chicken was too expensive for consumption, then eat other sources of protein like fish, which ironically is even more expensive. Now we have the huge vegetable fiasco that has become an internet phenomenon and also a treasure chest of content for the media.

Right before I started writing this week’s column, I had breakfast with a friend of mine. And over our meal, we had a nice long, conversation about life. [Click to read the full article at The Malaysian Insider]

In times of controversy, we focus on what’s important


In times of controversy, we focus on what’s important
By Zan Azlee

What better time than right now, with all the controversy going around the entire social and traditional media world about vegetable prices, for me to talk about one of my favourite topics?

That’s right, folks! After months of not writing about this subject matter, I am now going to touch on it once again. The topic is none other than the most important thing in my life – my daughter.

I like to believe that I am a world traveller. I love traveling to places around the world like I love my two thumbs.  At the age of 35, I have been to a total of 32 countries. And I ain’t stopping!

I honestly believe that by seeing different countries, different societies, different cultures and different people, one will become a more wholesome human being.

With all the different experiences that traveling can offer, one will be more open-minded, more accepting, more understanding, more empathic and more cultured.

So, when my daughter, Athena Azlee, was born, I promised her (and myself) that I would show her the world. And I’ve been trying very hard to keep that promise to her and not break it.

She is now two and a half years old (she will be turning three this year) and she has been to a total of five countries. And I’m going to make sure she ain’t stopping! [Click to read the full article at English.AstroAwani.Com]

In bleak times, faith in Allah should prevail

In bleak times, faith in Allah should prevail
By Zan Azlee

Three years ago, I remember shooting a television reportabout the “Allah” issue in Malaysia for a Dutch news agency. I had interviewed Herald editor Father Lawrence Andrew, PAS parliamentarian Khalid Samad, the then home minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein and several Malaysians.

The situation was tense then. The court case against the Catholic weekly Herald was taking place and a church in Klang was set on fire. It was a sad, depressing and humiliating time for Malaysia and its people when racial and religious tension was at an all-time low.

I have always used my column here at The Malaysian Insider as a platform to try and encourage discourse and understanding towards multiracialism and pluralism. It’s been so many years and I continue to use this platform, including every other media platform I have access to, for that purpose.

Now, we are in 2014. And what is the situation we are facing with regards to racial and religious tension? Has there been an improvement? The case against the Herald still exists. The issue of the word “Allah” being used by non-Muslims is being brandied around. And protests are happening.

It seems like Malaysia and its people haven’t gotten very far ahead since that television news story I did five years ago for that Dutch news agency. [Click to read the full article at The Malaysian Insider]

Yuna – brilliant talent or just plain exoticsm?

Yuna – brilliant talent or just plain exoticism?
By Zan Azlee

Congratulations to Yuna for making it to number 19 onHuffingtonpost.com’s top 20 artists to listen to in 2014. It’s quite an achievement for her and for Malaysia. Even the paragraph that introduces her in the article seems to acknowledge this achievement by stating:

‘There’s a good chance you don’t have any Malaysian musical artists in your current music library, so let Yuna be the first.’

Before I go on, let me state that I’m not much of a Yuna fan. Although I don’t think her music is awful, I also don’t think it’s extraordinary. But that’s beside the point. What I really want to highlight here is to wonder what could be the real reason of Yuna’s success in America.

After the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York City, followed by wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States has had a terrible relationship with Muslims. They have had to go through very damaging racist accusations due to their racial profiling activities in the name of national security.

The negative implications and treatment towards Muslims, especially those living in the United States, were huge and quite shocking actually. And now, the former superpower of the world is on a big crusade to try and fix this problem internally by attempting to improve Muslim and non-Muslim relationship. [Click to read the full article at English.AstroAwani.Com]

Tighten your belt before ours, Najib


Tighten your belt before ours, Najib
By Zan Azlee

Ahh… the eleven steps taken by the government to cut their spending. This was announced earlier in the week by Prime Minister Najib Razak. Let’s see. There is a cut of between 5 to 10% in the allowances for ministers and deputy ministers as well as senior government officials.

Then there are the cuts in utilities costs in all government offices and reduction of road transport tolls for senior government officials as much as 30%. There will also be reductions in the ordering of buntings, of food for meetings, seminars and workshops as well as more efficient office space architecture.

Let’s see. Cutting down the allowances of ministers, deputies and senior government officials is a good move. However, it doesn’t reduce costs by that much. What would be a much better move would be to remove certain ‘retired’ ministers from the government payroll altogether. There are several of these individuals who have been given special posts and are probably getting paid as much as ministers are, including allowances and benefits.

And then there is the reduction of bunting orders. How significant of an amount is that? Unless, of course, the government prints a gazillion buntings a year! As for the excessive ordering of food for meetings, workshops and seminars, well I can’t argue with that one as it is quite true. [Click to read the full article at The Malaysian Insider]


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