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.