APRIL 16 ― Zakir Naik is a world-renowned Islamic scholar. Love him or hate him, you cannot deny that his name has travelled across continents and countries.
He’s also an extremely controversial figure. Known to many as an authority in comparative religion, while to some others, as a charlatan who holds no regard for people of other faith.
This Sunday, April 17, Zakir Naik was scheduled to have a talk at UTeM titled “Similarities between Hinduism and Islam.” However, the talk got cancelled after it raised uneasiness within the Hindu community. Sensitivities were touched and eventually, IGP Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar released a statement regarding its cancellation.
Immediately after, there was an uproar in the Malay Muslim community. People started talking about how this was an infringement of freedom of speech, and that Hindus were probably just afraid that their adherents would convert en masse during the talk.
People started talking as though Zakir Naik was denied entry into the country, like how he is barred from UK and Canada. They started talking as though all his talks were cancelled when that was just one out of the many other events he has here. The rest of his talks are carried out as per normal.
Zakir Naik released a statement about how he was upset that such a small matter was blown out of proportion to the extent that Malay Muslims were fighting amongst themselves. He said that some Muslims even had the audacity to call another Muslim “kafir” just because of different opinions.
However, amidst the hustle and bustle of the controversy, I cannot help but feel appalled; not by Zakir Naik, but by the hypocrisy of Malay Muslims. The Malay Muslim community of Malaysia has such jarring double standards, and it’s even more obvious now than ever.
The Malay Muslims who get upset when people talk bad about Islam or when Muslims present a version of Islam that is unfamiliar to them are the same Malay Muslims who shout “It’s freedom of speech!” when Muslims belittle other religions or when an Islamic scholar says something that is potentially inflammatory but is parallel to their beliefs.
But where were you when Dr Ulil Abshar Abdalla was denied entry into Malaysia in 2014 for supposedly being a deviant? Zakir Naik is notorious for his support of al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden while Ulil was denied entry to “defend Malaysia’s brand of Islam” despite wanting to speak against terrorism. What does this say about our brand of Islam then?
The Malay Muslims who say that freedom of religion is mutually exclusive from Islam, disallowing the propagation or profession of other faiths while discriminating against converts from Islam or apostates, are the same Malay Muslims who use that term to justify the propagation of Islam, to fight back cases of Islamophobia, to encourage adherents of other religions to join Islam and to defend converts into Islam who are attacked by their family or friends.
But where were you when Lina Joy wanted to get her religion changed legally? Where is your outrage regarding the Raif Badawi case? Did you try to defend Juli Jalaluddin when she was deported out of Malaysia?
The Malay Muslims who are against pluralism and expect religious minorities to respect the needs and wants of the Muslim majority are the same Malay Muslims who would be appalled at the news of abuse or killings of Muslim minorities in foreign countries, saying, “We should respect other religions! We have to learn to live in peace and harmony!”
But where were you when protests were held against the construction of a Hindu temple? Or when Molotov cocktails were thrown at a church? Where were you when a church was forced to take down their cross?
The Malay Muslims who rallied behind Zakir Naik’s statement against excommunications of other Muslims are the same Malay Muslims who so very easily label others “kafir” for unorthodox opinions.
But where were you when progressive Muslims get told to leave Islam because of their opinions? Where were you when organisations like Sisters In Islam are labelled “deviant” and accused of infidelity? Did you try to stop any acts of takfir (excommunication of another Muslim) when you see it happen? Or did you jump on the bandwagon because the thoughts of these unorthodox Muslims didn’t mirror yours?
Obviously, I know that not all Malay Muslims think like this. But a huge group of us do and it can be seen everywhere. These Malay Muslims that I am talking about only support certain values when it benefits them, or wherever it is convenient for them. They don’t apply these values across the spectrum and immediately take back these “privileges” when someone does not share the same thoughts and opinions as they do.
Their “freedom of speech” means “freedom of speech only for my group.” Their “freedom of religion” means “freedom to only practise Islam.” Their disagreement on takfir means “as long as you think like me, you’re still a Muslim.”
If you don’t agree with the limitation of Zakir Naik’s freedom of speech, you shouldn’t agree with the limitation of other Muslims’ freedom of speech. If you don’t agree with the belittling of Islam, you shouldn’t agree with the belittling of other religions. If you don’t agree with the excommunication of Zakir Naik, you should not agree with the excommunication of other Muslims.
The problem now is not with Zakir Naik, but with the hypocrisy of our Malay Muslims. Like what is written in the Qur’an, “Do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just.” Thinking back, have we really been just to the rest of Malaysians? I wonder.
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.