Tag Archives: muslim

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 radicalisation of Malaysia



The radicalisation of Malaysia
By Zan Azlee

Since when has “liberal” and “pluralism” been considered bad words by Islam? This is quite surprising for me since I consider myself to have traits of both these words, and yet I consider myself a Muslim.

It was reported in the media recently that certain Islamic authorities in Malaysia are of the belief that thoughts relating to liberalism and pluralism has the potential of being radicalised, and hence, is a threat.

As far as I can observe, there are yet to be any person or groups of people who picked up arms and acted violently and also considered themselves liberals or pluralists.

But please do let me know if you have evidence otherwise because I could be biased since I identify with these thoughts. Then I would need a light to be shone down on me.

This is extremely disturbing, especially when Islam is facing extreme challenges (with the likes of Islamic State). Radicalisation is a serious problem and it should be dealt with accordingly.

We need Islamic leaders who are forward-thinking and not those who have an archaic perspective on life and of the religion. Because what is radicalisation if not the rejection of contemporary ideas?

I used to think that those who were attracted to Islamic radicalism were those who were uneducated and lacked knowledge. Hence, it would be easy to manipulate and fool these people.

But I think I may be wrong since it seems that there is an increasing number of people with high formal education joining the ranks of the Islamic State (Isis) in the Middle-East as well as in Southeast Asia.

Another thought that I had is that extreme poverty would cause people to be desperate enough to join a cause that took extreme measures in order to justify the desperate times.

But again, I think I may be wrong. There is evidence that shows that many of those with respected and professional jobs are leaving their comfort zones to join Isis as well.

Then I heard something that made sense. A professor of foreign policy at Georgetown University in Washington DC, Haroon Ullah, said that mainly well-read and well-fed people of the middle-class were attracted to radicalism.

In a short video, Haroon, who also works with the US State Department, explained that these people craved for order and wanted a stop to inefficient governance and corruption. And Islamic radicals offer these, even if it is at a high cost.

If you think about it, out of all the different countries that are trying to battle radicalisation, Malaysia, although wanting to battle it as well, seems to be the only one that is actually embracing it.

The Pew Research Centre recently conducted a survey and it said that 11% of Malaysians actually have a favourable view of Isis and another 25% more say they don’t know.

More shocking is that 80% of Malaysian Muslims also think that suicide bombings are justified. Now this is a very scary thought indeed for me. I don’t know about you!

The one thing people need to do is to show that Isis and similar militant groups actually do not bring about change. What they do bring is more violence and deaths and this cannot be glorified.

The political leaders in Malaysia also have to stop the politicisation of Islam because it could well be that it is one of the reasons that is conditioning such thoughts to develop among Malaysian Muslims.

And definitely the government has to address the fact that people are desperate for change. Hence, they need to make sure that there is efficient and clean governance.

The recent attacks by Isis in Jakarta and the arrests in Malaysia show that the situation is critical in this part of the world. Maybe it’s time to really do something about it.

[This article originally appeared at The Malaysian Insider]

Hindus do it, so why can’t Muslims?



Hindus do it, so why can’t Muslims?
By Zan Azlee

A good friend of mine is a Hindu priest.

He told me that Hindus are not polytheists: the different deities they pray to are just avatars of the same one God that they all believe in.

So, Hindus are actually monotheists who worship different manifestations of the one God.

He went on to explain to me that the different avatars are meant to appeal to different types of people from different backgrounds, customs and what-not, so that they can relate to the faith.

Hinduism is one of the world’s oldest religions, and over thousands of years, I guess this is one way for the religion to remain relevant.

I like that. It shows that a religion can be organic, adaptive and interpreted for the times so people can get the best out of it.

And if I relate it to my own faith, which is Islam, I feel there are extreme similarities, especially in the fact that it claims to be a religion for all time.

For a religion to be timeless, it needs to evolve with the times. And before the fundamentalists start calling for my head, let me clarify that I am not suggesting for a change in the basic tenets.

The core beliefs of the religion will always remain the same. However, there is a need for intelligent discourse and proper study of how this way of life can remain just that in this day and age.

Many of the references and interpretations of how we practice Islam are rooted so deeply in what happened hundreds of years ago that one may find it of no relevance today.

I think it is high time for Muslims to move forward, especially so in Malaysia where everything related to Islam has been stagnant for too long.

All we’re obsessed about are rituals, rather than forward thought. Discussions that dominate the public sphere seem to be more about how many times wash should wash our hands before we can pray, or the position of your index finger while sitting during prayers.

I remember reading a passage from ‘Desperately Seeking Paradise’, a book written by British Muslim scholar Ziauddin Sardar, of which I will paraphrase below.

He had travelled to the heartland of Pakistan to visit and study Islamic madrasahs. While he was at one particular hall observing students memorising the Quran, one young boy approached him.

The boy, puzzled as to why Sardar didn’t have a beard like most of his teachers, asked him why he didn’t keep one like the Prophet Muhammad and that it was sunnah.

Sardar responded with a question. He asked the boy if he would rather travel by riding on the back of a camel today than sit in a modern car. Of course in a car, said the boy.

But the Prophet rode camels everyday so it should be sunnah, said Sardar. Sardar went on to say that he believed that if a shaver was commonplace during the Prophet’s time, he would have used it.

What the Prophet did was a product of his time. What should be sunnah is really the spirit that he embodied such as his kindness, patience, tolerance and ability to easily forgive.

I think that in the challenging times we face today, with Islam’s reputation under seige by the likes of DAISH and other un-Islamic groups, reinterpreting the religion to make it more relevant is key. And it’s one thing we can learn from our Hindu brothers and sisters.

Which reminds me, to all Hindus (and all Malaysians), have a happy and blessed Thaipusam.

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


The Minute Men (Ep 78) – Islamic radicalisation in Malaysia & Indonesia

Fat Bidin presents
The Minute Men (Ep 78) – Islamic radicalisation in Malaysia & Indonesia

All you need to know about Islamic radicalisation in Malaysia & Indonesia (yeah… sure!) in ONE MINUTE!

New episodes out every Mondays.

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There’s still hope for Malaysia’s Muslims



There’s still hope for Malaysia’s Muslims
By Zan Azlee

I remember when my youngest brother was still in kindergarten. He came home and he said “Bismillahirahmanirahim Pak” when he was done said “Alhamdulillah Pak.” And so my father corrected him by saying that the ‘Pak’ isn’t necessary.

Of course my brother, being four years old at that time, insisted he needed to say ‘Pak’ almost to the point of wanting to cry. I hope you can deduce that ‘Pak’ is really his ustaz who taught him to recite those words.

Being the smart and great parents they are, they took my brother out of that kindergarten and enrolled in another one run by more intelligent people. And here lies the problem with most Malaysian Muslims (not my parents, but the situation!).

Malaysian Muslims have a problem with being gullible and easily fooled when it comes to religion. A slight deviation from what they are used to (whether right or wrong according to the faith) and their whole belief system gets turned topsy turvy.

And that is why the authorities have to work over time banning books and also constantly having to remind the rakyat not to believe this ustaz or that ulama. The rakyat is even reminded how to vote so they can go to heaven.

The fact is that Malaysian Muslims have had their minds ingrained with petty rituals and rules so much so that they don’t know any other way to live their lives. There don’t know how to adapt or even interpret the religion. They just do as they are told.

That’s how I remember religious class was like when I was growing up. We were told to memorise all kinds of doas and remember how many times water washed over our body parts so that our prayers won’t be rejected by God.

We never learned anything about philosophy, new developing thoughts and ideas in the Muslim world or comparative religion (not even between different Islamic sects, let alone between Islam and other different religions!).

Go to a bookstore and see how many books on Islamic thought and development you can find, especially in Malay since most Muslims in Malaysia are Malay. Then compare that with the number of books on Islamic rituals. I bet you it will illustrate my point.

Now, my daughter is in kindergarten and we opted for her to take additional religious studies classes after school. My wife did convey our concern to the teachers that we wanted her to enjoy the classes and understand it (as much as a four year old can).

Then a few days ago when I picked her up from school, she said to me “Pops. You know what I learned in amagama (that’s how she pronounces ‘agama’) class today?”. Here we go, I thought to myself.

“Do you know how Allah made the world? He just said ‘Be!’ and it became. He also said ‘Be’ and made the ocean. Maybe it’s like magic. But the buildings all around us, that was done by people. Cool right Pops?” she said.

Yes, it is cool indeed. The way the teachers teach the kids is more like storytelling and having fun. Hence, I think that my wife and I picked the right school. At the very least, it has given me hope that there might be a better future for Malaysian Muslims.

[This article originally appeared at The Malaysian Insider]