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]

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