Malaysia’s Islamic preachers: Who are they, really?

Malaysia’s Islamic preachers: Who are they, really?
By Zan Azlee

MANY Malaysians seem to be very angry with Jakim (Department of Islamic Development Malaysia) preacher and officer, Zamihan Mat Zin.

Local police are even investigating the cleric for sedition, because of something he said during a speech in Johor, Malaysia’s southernmost state.

Zamihan stands accused of sedition because in his speech, he labelled the Chinese unclean when referring to how a laundromat in the state had put up a signage saying they don’t serve non-Muslims.

In that same speech, he also criticised an unnamed member of royalty who was apparently unhappy with the laundromat and decreed that the sign be taken down.

As a person of authority in Islam, it was irresponsible of Zamihan to say such a thing, especially so when we live in a multiracial and multireligious society like Malaysia. In my opinion, it reeks of racism, bigotry, elitism, entitlement and ignorance.

Islam does not say Muslims cannot live harmoniously with non-Muslims. In fact, during Prophet Muhammad’s time, there were many non-Muslim communities living under his government… and they were protected.

And although they were preached to, they were not forced to convert and accept the religion.

The Quran says – in Surah Al Baqarah – there is no compulsion in religion, and Muhammad stood by that. If there were those who did not accept his teachings, he simply let it be and moved on.

Hence why it is crucial that we accept, understand and respect the beliefs of all faiths. We have no need for any kind of hate speech or ideology, not especially if we want to live in peace and harmony. This has to be on the wishlist of every Malaysian, right?

Which brings me to the question: Why is a religious cleric like Zamihan, a person of authority who teaches and preaches the tenets of Islam, spouting what is clearly divisive rhetoric to a nation often told to celebrate its uniqueness and diversity?

Here’s something for context. Malaysia is a developing country and in many developing countries, human resource development is often focused on producing and developing skill-sets in professions like engineering, medicine, law, finance and accounting, and of course, technology.

Oftentimes, parents try to push their kids into these areas, thinking of these as elite jobs that will rake in good money.

Those who can’t quite make the cut in these more technical fields, whether due to financial constraints or a knowledge gap, will then be pushed to do other things.

These “other things” could be a myriad of other fields such as Islamic studies or mass communication (this is a discussion for another day!). Islamic studies are even sometimes seen as a rehabilitation programme for youth and students who have disciplinary problems.

This may be overly-presumptuous and simplistic of me to suggest, but does this mean that many of those who take up Islamic studies at the tertiary level are only doing so because they couldn’t perform so well in other fields? Are we then scraping the bottom of the barrel when we look to them later as religious experts?

I admit this is a sweeping statement and that there are many intelligent, high achievers who deliberately choose to take up Islamic studies because it is their passion. But I believe in Malaysia, these are few and far between.

So that leaves us with guys like Zamihan. Aside from the police investigation against him, he’s not been made to face any official action. Jakim has not reprimanded him and neither has the government.

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi even defended him, saying he plays a key role in rehabilitating Muslim extremists detained in prison. How an extremist can rehabilitate other extremists is beyond my comprehension.

As it stands now, Zamihan is already developing an arrogant attitude. He was banned by the Sultans of Selangor and Johor from preaching in their states. He has responded saying he expected it but is unfazed because he is preaching the “truth” and he has nothing to be afraid of.

If there is no real official action taken to reprimand Zamihan for what he did, I am worried more and more Malaysians will either be swayed by his beliefs, which is a warped interpretation of Islam.

Or maybe it’ll just make more people hate Muslims and the religion of Islam.

[This article was originally written for and published at]

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