Tag Archives: The Malaysian Insider

A debate on Islam will do us good


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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]

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


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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]

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The radicalisation of Malaysia


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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]

Sacrifice education last during financial crisis


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Sacrifice education last during financial crisis
By Zan Azlee

A man has just lost his job and is on the way home to his family. He is feeling sad, confused and nervous. He doesn’t know how to tell his wife that he is now jobless.

When he arrives home, he sees his two daughters playing in the yard. His wife is in kitchen about to get dinner ready. He hugs the two kids and walks straight to the kitchen.

He tells her the bad news. She looks calm and tells him that everything will be alright. Her part time food business is still going on so they aren’t totally income-less.

In the morning, they sit down to plan out their finances. They realise they need to start cutting back on the spending. They just need to prioritise and see what has to be sacrificed.

First thing to go is the regular eating excursions on the weekends. They will still go out to eat every once in awhile, they just need to cut down and not eat at expensive restaurants.

Then, they next thing they have to sacrifice are the annual holiday trips overseas. They know that they can still enjoy time together as a family even if it is just Cuti-Cuti Malaysia.

Still going down the list of cutbacks, he realises that he can’t indulge in his love for cameras anymore. He needs to contend without any upgrades like new lenses and whatnot for now.

They continue to see where else they can reduce spending. She hesitantly agrees to brew her own coffee instead of always going for expensive designer coffee at fancy cafes.

Slowly, as they work down the list, they start seeing that it would actually be possible to survive the current financial predicament that they have found themselves in.

Also by prioritising on what they cut back, they have been able to preserve what is truly important, and that is to still afford to send their daughters to the school of their choice.

The regular savings that they make for the future education of their children will also not be affected. They can’t because they realise that education is something that cannot be sacrificed.

They will scrimp on anything else except for education. That is the promise the man and woman made to themselves. They will sacrifice so their children won’t have to.

Now cut to the bigger picture.

I think that it is unfair that the government has decided at such an early stage of the financial and economic crisis that the country is facing right now to sacrifice something so important.

The move to freeze the Public Service Department’s (JPA) scholarships for students who want to pursue bachelor degrees and pre-university programmes is a bad one.

I am sure that there are many other areas the government can cut back on when it comes to financial spending and costs instead of cutting back on education.

The government can take a page learning from the the man and woman from the story above. It’s pretty simple. Just prioritise and determine what is important and what isn’t.

Sacrificing education is like killing our future. By doing so, when Malaysia comes out of this crisis, what would be the state of our society when so many had been denied an education?

I really hope that the government will reconsider the freeze. And what I really, really hope is that they won’t cut expenditure for another important area – the public health and medical services.

[This article originally appeared at The Malaysian Insider]

There’s still hope for Malaysia’s Muslims


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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]