By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
The propensity for some to court controversies is simply baffling. Do they thrive in making a fool of themselves or is it purely a ploy to gain unsolicited publicity largely due to ignorance? I don’t have the answer but judging from what was reported and what had transpired in the print and the social media, the “couple seats not for unwed Muslims” directive by Perak Tengah District Office to the lone cinema in Seri Iskandar is an affront to personal liberty, as being enshrined in the Federal Constitution.
As it stands today, Malay Muslims are being restricted by many “haram” (taboos) involving both sexes that it is becoming difficult to separate fact from fiction.
The path of righteousness, apparently, is in the eyes of the few holier-than-thou clerics who are calling the shots. State religious departments and, to a lesser extent, state muftis are in the forefront of this mad scramble for a heavenly retreat in the hereafter. They and only they, have the carte blanche to decide what is good and what is bad for the Muslim masses.
I don’t wish to ruffle feathers lest being denounced an apostate and an unbeliever, but when these directives are either too simplistic or incredulous, one can’t help but to take notice.
That is how I view the Seri Iskandar cinema-seat caper, which was front-page news late last month. It could not have come at a better time. The 1 MDB financial scandal is at its nadir and, coupled with the banning of the whistle-blower website, Sarawak Report and the 3-month suspension of two business papers, The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily for their coverage of the fiasco, the stage is set for a little drubbing.
When the matter became national news and answers were sought from the authorities, the person to approach was the state non-Islamic Affairs executive councillor, Dato’ Dr Mah Hang Soon. Mah had found the ruling odd too as he had never come across such before.
The directive to the Lotus Five Star (LFS) cinema was issued by the district office in September 2013, following complaints of unsavoury behaviour by unmarried Muslim couples in the cinema. Spying, I must admit, has become a national pastime among Malay Muslims in the country and that accounts for many arrests by religious department staff of couples committing khalwat (close proximity). This form of moral policing is distasteful, to say the least. It is a form of intimidation and also life-threatening, as some men are known to have injured themselves when caught with their pants down, literally.
But Mah had exonerated himself by stating that the directive was applicable to Muslims only, non-Muslims had nothing to fear, he stressed.
Yes, it is meant for Muslims but isn’t this one restriction too many? If you are not married you can’t hold hands in public, you can’t ride pillion on motorbikes, you cannot be pally with the opposite sex, you cannot do yoga for fear of losing your faith, and this is laughable, you cannot even laugh loudly!
The state government is mulling over plans to implement the ruling state-wide. This was announced by none other than the state executive councillor for Islamic Education, Entrepreneur and Cooperative Development, Dato’ Mohd Nizar Zakaria. The noose is slowly but surely tightening around Muslims in the state. I hope we don’t reach a stage when we can’t even be seen on the streets on Fridays.
Malay Muslims have lost their identity. Today it is difficult to find a shop selling baju kurong, forget about baju kebaya, the favourite of my mother and aunties of yore. Wearing these outfits, although identifiable with the Malays within the Malayan archipelago, is now a no-no for reasons of religion. Well, by all accounts, Malays have lost their identity.
Arabisation of the Malays has eroded their will to be themselves. It is a real pity. My question is – do the Arabs care for us? Do we need to become like them and follow their ways in matter of speech and actions? Which Arab nation has ever achieved First World status?
There are two sets of laws for Malay Muslims in the country – one syariah and the other civil. Which do we follow? Honestly, I am lost.