Ismail Kassim: A Malay Triology – Part II – Why Can’t Malays Take Islam In Their Stride?

To be a respected race, the Malays have to return to their roots. You don’t need to change your clothes or your culinary tastes but only change your minds. Discard the feudal thinking. Be modern, rational – not western, not Semitic.

The irony is that the good customs that the Malays should keep they discard; those that should be changed they retain like the way they have to cringe and debase, calling themselves vermin and dogs, every time they come face to face with their Sultans.

To his credit, Mahathir refused to indulge in such self-deprecating un-Islamic language during his long tenure as PM. The Sultans know better than to insist otherwise.

I agree that choice of dressing and greeting is personal. If someone wants to walk the Semitic path, that’s their privilege and there really is no harm at all.

What I disagree is the simplistic notion among some Muslims in this part of the world that behaving like Arabs bring them closer to the Lord and paradise. Some even seem to elevate such dressing into a cardinal principle of the faith.

Islam does not belong to the Arabs or to the Malays. It is a universal religion; a gift to mankind. Do not diminish its appeal and reduce the faith into one fit only for the kampungs and the fearful, and for the bigots and the psychopaths.

A good Muslim must also be a good human being, someone who is charitable, honourable, responsible, and upholds universal values that are shared across all ethnic and religious boundaries.

All religions, especially the established ones, face the same challenge: How to enhance faith in their set of theological beliefs and at the same time encourage their faithful to become more spiritual and better human beings?

In the case of the Muslims, I see many getting trapped in the religiosity of the faith, obsessed with the rituals and practices, the dos and don’ts and the can and cannot as laid down by long forgotten figures from the distant past.

As a result, instead of becoming more spiritual and better human beings as they should be, they sometimes end up the opposite – the result of not practicing the rituals as a means to a more enlighten goal but as an end in themselves.

For instance, the tudung is supposed to reflect the outward manifestation of an inner faith and not just a must-use piece of female attire to satisfy public opinion or to identify oneself with a particular religious group.

But obviously this is not always the case, judging by the number of women in traditional head garb going behind bars for CBT or abusing their maids or some other crimes.

How also to explain the endless supply of Sunnis volunteering for suicide missions? And mind you, not against infidels or imperialists but against fellow Muslims such as the long oppressed Syiahs.

We cannot sweep under the mat these mindless acts as just the work of mentally unstable individuals or the sub-normal or the misguided fanatics. We have to raise and ask the pertinent questions.

We cannot keep on excusing such actions by saying ‘tis the singer not the song. The time has come when we have to ask: Could it perhaps be a defect in the song? Or is it the way the song has been sung by the Al-Sauds that turns a perfect divine song into a defective one?

We also have to ask the extent of culpability of the community for the acts of these individuals. Do we, perhaps, because of our obsession with religious practices unwittingly provide cover to the suicide bombers and the foolish youths seeking martyrdom?

They cannot exist in a vacuum. Like fish that need water, these people could only survive in a sea of irrational religiosity, lying dormant most of the time until tipped over the precipice. We have to identify respectively both the push and pull factors.

The Islamic religious authority too appears to be trapped in the same religiosity syndrome. I have yet to hear any local preacher or a Friday sermon making the connection between religious rituals and, moral and ethical values.

Actually, as many atheists have demonstrated you don’t need to belong to any faith to become a good human being. Likewise, you don’t need to be very religious in your particular faith to travel the path of enlightenment.

To me, religion, unless accompanied by high moral and ethical standards, is quite meaningless, and this holds true for all believers irrespective of what faith they adhere to.

Religion is not meant just for the next world. The guidelines drawn up by the founders, the values they espouse and the obligations they impose on their followers are meant more to make life in this world more pleasant for all mankind.

If practised in the right spirit, fasting, the five daily prayers, ritual cleansing will not only be a joy but also bring immediate health benefits to the faithful; regard anything else that you may accrue for the next world as a bonus.

I believe if you take care of your life in this world, the next world will take care of it. You don’t have to worry needlessly.

But Muslims, especially Malays, are a fearful lot when it comes to religious practice. One of their greatest fears in life is the ‘’takut aqidah rosak’’ (fear of their faith being undermined or corrupted) syndrome.

That’s why many become blind followers, accepting everything thrown at them and reluctant to take any initiative on religious practice without first getting the blessings of their ulamas.


Source: Ismail Kassim

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