Of religion, rituals and blind faith


Of religion, rituals and blind faith
By Zan Azlee

MANY years ago, I made a documentary about dogs and Islam.

It was called Samak. Samak is actually the required way for a Muslim to cleanse himself or herself after touching either a pig or a wet dog and its saliva.

It is almost ritualistic seeing as the procedure involves washing the affected area a total of seven times: one has to first rinse the body part that came in contact with the animal with earth and water. This is then followed by six more rinses with water. The process is also known as sertu.

In my documentary, I touched on the issue of dogs and how the Malays tend to see them as dirty animals. I also discovered an innovative product called the Taharah soap, which is made of soap elements mixed with earth. It makes cleansing oneself so much more convenient!

The documentary received some attention and it was screened at several small film festivals here and there. Eventually, I posted it online for others to watch.

Here it is below:

One day, I received a call from a number I did not recognise.

A Malay lady on the other end of the line told me she was in a predicament and needed my advice. She called me ustaz, which means Islamic religious teacher.

Now, I am not an ustaz. I am a journalist, writer and documentary filmmaker.

But this phone call amused me so I played along. I said I would help if there was anything I could do that was within my power.

She said she and her husband just bought an apartment and the previous tenant was a Chinese family. So she was wondering if she needed to clean the whole apartment with earth and water before moving in.

Oh and she said she had seen my documentary on YouTube!

Perplexed, I asked her why she felt the need to do such a thing. She replied saying the family that moved out could have had a dog as a pet or maybe even cooked pork in the kitchen and ate it in the dining hall.

I calmly told her if that was her reasoning then we’d have to wash everything with earth and water – the road we drive on, the grass we walk on, the water we drink and the air we breath because dogs and pigs could have contaminated everything!

The phone went silent for a good 30 seconds before the lady responded. In a meek and tiny voice, she said I could be right and thanked me before hanging up the phone. I have to admit though that I did laugh out loud as soon as the call ended.

Such is the way many Malaysians seem to view religion: without logic or reasoning and merely rituals and blind faith. This so irks me because I am a practising Muslim and I find the religion encourages us to use our God-given intellect so we can lead fulfilled lives.

Recently, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (or PAS for short) held their general assembly in the northern state of Kedah. Unfortunately, bad weather struck and a storm blew a tent down and more than a dozen people were injured.

What followed were comments claiming PAS had evoked the wrath of God. For context, PAS was once a part of the opposition but has since expressed its wish to break away. Hence, the reason for God’s so-called “wrath”.

Of course, senior leaders in PAS rubbished the claim. The party’s deputy president Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man said it is merely a test from God and beyond human control.

What is funny is that PAS leaders themselves have a history of being overzealous when it comes to religion. For example, the uproar last year over a Selena Gomez concert was cited as one of the key reasons why PAS no longer wanted to be part of the opposition.

The argument was that the Selangor government led by the People’s Justice Party (PKR), a key component of the federal opposition pact Pakatan Harapan (alliance of hope), had given approval for the concert despite protests from PAS members and other conservative Muslims. Protesters had wanted the concert cancelled because they felt Gomez was too sexy for Muslim Malaysians.

Another recent story to make the news is an incident where a 12-year-old girl who was participating in a chess tournament was alleged to have been forced to withdraw from the competition because one of the officials deemed her outfit immodest.

To most people, there was nothing seductive about the outfit. It’s just a plain maroon dress that falls well below the knees. It’s not sleeveless, sheer or even body-hugging.

Many people are now questioning the official’s perception of sexy… after all, how could anyone have regarded the dress on the 12-year-old as “seductive” and “tempting”?

Instead of focusing on the appropriateness of the dress, maybe we need to be asking how it is that a grown man like that official thought this 12-year-old to be sexually attractive.

Malaysia, oh Malaysia.

Sometimes, I find this all just so amusing. But most times, I just find myself wondering why we can’t simply be a matured society.

[This article was originally written for and published at AsianCorrespondent.com]

Get Zan Azlee’s latest book ‘JOURNO-DAD: The chronicles of a journalist who just happens to be a dad!‘ today!

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