I WALK into the mosque Sunday morning as I would every year on the first day of the Muslim month of Syawal, which is Aidilfitri (or Eid).
I am here to attend Aidilfitri prayers, and what I always look forward to is the sermon usually delivered after prayers are done.
For this year’s festivities, I am in Cherating, a small town on the east coast of Malaysia. I am excited to hear their sermon as I would usually celebrate Aidilfitri in the capital (Kuala Lumpur).
It all started out quite pleasant. The khatib, the person who delivers the sermon, spoke about how everyone in our society needed to live together in harmony. He advised the congregation to set aside their differences, especially their political differences, to get along.
Then as the sermon progressed, the khatib began contradicting himself.
He started talking about how some segments of the Malaysian society are protesting the “RUU355” and then accused these people of acting against Islam.
RUU355 is “Rang Undang-Undang 355” or in English, “Act 355”, the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965. The khatib was referring to efforts by the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) to amend the law to broaden the punitive powers of the Syariah courts when handling criminal matters.
Many in the Malaysia are against the idea of tabling these amendments in Parliament. Although it has been on the agenda for a number of sessions, the tabling of the motion has been deferred indefinitely. There is also a belief that the issue is being exploited by some to rile Malaysians, especially the country’s pro-opposition non-Muslims.
There is no way the amendments would actually make it through Parliament anyway because in a multiracial and mutireligious country like Malaysia’s, enhancing the Syariah courts’ powers would not fit well in a system supposed to be secular.
The only reason the issue is being raised by PAS and supported by the ruling United Malays National Organisation (Umno) is to gain brownie points from the rural Malay voters, who form a bulk of the Malaysian electorate, and the religiously conservative.
As if Malaysia isn’t already polarised by religion, the khatib seemed to be perpetrating further divisions with his remarks. According to what he said, this political divide over RUU355 will lead to apostasy – by his claim, if you are against RUU355, you are against Islam.
As we have witnessed in demonstrations against RUU355, many urban Malaysians disagree with efforts to strengthen the Syariah or Islamic justice system as they don’t want it to greatly influence the country’s governance.
Of course, there are also many of those who support it.
Syariah law is really Islamic jurisprudence. This simply means the law is interpreted by man, making it naturally flawed and necessary to be constantly looked at, studied, reinterpreted and adapted to suit modern-day demands.
It is therefore not something set in stone, can be opposed and should be made subject to discourse, debate and discussion. Which means those protesting the amendments have every right to do so without being accused of going against Islam.
The khatib himself, by saying what he said, is creating unnecessary divisions between those for and against the amendments.
So how could he, earlier in the sermon, tell the public to set aside their differences and live harmoniously together? Hypocritical, much?
I’m not saying politics should be kept out of the mosque and religious institutions. Far from it. In fact, I think politics should be brought into the mosque, but only to allow for genuine discourse and debate so as to create better understanding.
But it becomes dangerous when political issues are manipulated and used for religious indoctrination because many in the congregation attend mosque services to seek guidance, revelation and meaning. Many are, therefore, vulnerable and susceptible to such propaganda.
That sermon made it a bad start of the Aidilfitri celebrations for me… I couldn’t wait to leave the mosque after it was done. Luckily, my mood improved once I got home and had a taste of my mother’s most excellent cooking – laksa Johor and lontong with beef serunding.
To all Malaysians and world citizens, in my Aidilfitri wish to you all of you, I am relating to you this experience of mine so you can learn from it as I have.
I pray we all learn to be understanding of one other no matter what our ideologies and beliefs are. I pray we never allow the words of one convince us to ignore the goodness of our hearts.
Let us not spread hate or incite divisions. We should be embracing our differences and our right to have such differences… it is only with this openness that we can truly live in harmony.
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