‘Protecting’ Islam by enforcing ignorance

‘Protecting’ Islam by enforcing ignorance
By Zan Azlee

And so the great Hugh Hefner has died at the ripe old age of 91. To say that this man played a key pop culture role in my life would actually be an overstatement. I was never particularly interested in Playboy magazine and neither was I interested in Hefner’s sexual lifestyle.

But I have to admit that at the age of 14, I had snuck into my father’s collection of Playboy and Penthouse magazines for some cheap thrills. I quickly grew out of it when I noticed the magazines show basically the same pictures but with different girls (yes, I did!).

However, I am fascinated by how Hefner became the way he was, which he attributed to his parents who were very conservative and, although they were good people, did not like to talk about taboo subjects such as sex.

Hefner’s Protestant parents – his father was an accountant and mother was a teacher – were very strait-laced and hence he grew up in a repressed environment. According to him, there was no hugging or kissing at home at all.

I can’t help but relate this to the situation in Malaysia where religious conservatism is rising. This is a time when we have religious police running around thinking that they are “protecting the religion.”

We have ridiculous religious zealots who try to restrict our society. One perfect example would the criticism that eventually led to the cancellation of the Better Beer Festival. Apparently, it would make Malaysia the nest of all vices.

They also like to keep our society ignorant by banning books and writings that they feel bring ideas that would actually allow Malaysians to form their own thoughts and opinions. It is as if thinking is something dangerous and they need to curb it for our own good.

Malaysian writer and academic, Faisal Tehrani, has had four of his books banned, all on the pretext that there are elements of syiah teachings in his writings that could cause Muslims to question their faith or lead them astray.

Currently, he is still waiting for his appeal in court to have the ban against his books lifted. The books, including “Karbala,” “Tiga Kali Seminggu” (Three Times a Week) and “Sebongkah Batu di Kuala Berang” (A Block of Stone in Kuala Berang), were stripped from the shelves of bookstores.

Three days ago, a well-known Muslim writer and thinker from Turkey, Mustafa Akyol, was detained and stopped from leaving Malaysia because of accusations that he was giving unauthorised talks on religion in the country.

Akyol was invited by the Islamic Renaissance Front, a progressive Muslim NGO, to give a series of lectures on religion, reasoning and freedom. He had been to Malaysia several times before this for the same purpose and had never faced any problems.

Akyol was later released and according to him, it was because of the intervention of former Turkish president Abdullah Gul. But it shows that Malaysian are living in a situation where it is too restrictive and that all independent thought and will is being killed.

Keeping society ignorant

Now back to Hefner, who is famous for being a pornographer and for his lifestyle where he has bedded hundreds of women, the conservative environment that he grew up in eventually led him to rebel and became the man we knew (not that I personally feel there is anything wrong with it).

Just like Hefner, if we restrict society and keep it ignorant, there will be the danger that it can lead to it moving towards the other end of the spectrum. Without the will to think and reason, society would be easily influenced and swayed.

What is important here is that we need to realise that Islam, or whatever religion or faith for that matter, only grows weaker with ignorance and restrictiveness. And so, to better our understanding of our own faith, we need to expose ourselves to different practices, ideas and thoughts.

Instead of protecting religion, the religious police in Malaysia is actually creating a fragile society that will either have very weak faith or a society that will just feel hatred and animosity for the religion and hence, leave it altogether.

[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.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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