Religion as a Form of Control

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

The recent statement by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Islamic Affairs, Datuk Seri Jamil Khir that the Government was monitoring “liberal Muslims deviants” as part of its crackdown on liberal Muslims is worrying. Coming at a time of political and economic uncertainties, the warning can be construed as a clever distraction from the major issue facing Prime Minister Najib’s administration – the 1MDB scandal. Malay Muslims, being the predominant race, controlling the way they think and act is not only beneficial to those in the corridors of power as it will buy them time before the curtain comes crashing down.

Now let us define what “liberalism”, in the context of the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim), means. The Government, according to Jamil Khir, had made its stance clear in a 2009 declaration during the 74th National Fatwa Council’s muzakarah (meeting) that liberalism contains understandings which “deviate from faith and syariah” Among this is the concept of pluralism “believing that the human mind is a revelation, doubting the authenticity of the Quran, questioning its interpretations and that of the hadiths, fresh interpretations on the concept of worship, questioning prophetic morals and having their own ways of determining Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) punishments.”

The more serious ones are that concerning the prophet’s moral about him marrying a minor and punishments meted to offenders such as whipping and the dismembering of limbs, which liberal Muslims considered not only barbaric but uncivilised.

The federal and state religious departments, said Jamil, would work together to crackdown on liberal Muslims by issuing fatwas (edicts) and conducting talks and seminars to “control the spread of deviant beliefs”.

I share the sentiments of Zaid Ibrahim, the former law minister who insisted that Muslims should have the freedom to think and discuss matters relating to their religion without the fear of being labelled “deviants” by the government. Malay Muslims should be allowed to develop their potentials to think and behave rationally like others. “This is the reason why they cannot develop their potentials because they are prohibited from exercising their rights to think for themselves,” he said.

There are simply too many examples to quote why this is prevalent within the Malay Muslim community. The practice of female genital mutilation (FMG) is one. Though remote it is still a common occurrence. Next is child marriage. In spite of international pressure the number is on the rise. The reason has much to do with Islam and the reluctance of parents to care for their daughters once they reach puberty.

“Their obsession for control is disguised as protecting the purity of the faith. They only know how to punish and to ban anything they don’t understand,” said Zaid. This is, however, true as no religious ceramah, be it at the mosque or out in the open, is devoid of pronouncement of punishments for the disbelievers, in the hereafter. The word haram is being liberally used and the speaker entertains no questions from the floor. Listeners must listen attentively, as any distractions are considered sinful. I find such dictates not only medieval but demeaning.

My question is why demonise the liberals and the pluralistic when corruption and abuse of power by the higher-ups (committed by Muslims) go unpunished? Some remain defiant and unrepentant and will repeat when an opportunity presents itself.

“A deviant,” says enigmatic Datuk Noor Faridah Ariffin of the Group of 25 Movement of Moderates “is someone who doubts the authenticity of the Quran and matters relating to aqidah (faith), not a liberal.”

I cannot agree more.

And the development which I find most disturbing is the propensity of Malay Muslims to adopt Arab culture and ways. It is not that they do not possess their own traditions and culture. The temptation to follow the ways of the Arabs has to do with religion too. The Sultan of Johore has put it bluntly, “If you don’t wish to follow Malay customs and traditions, that’s up to you. I welcome you to live in Saudi Arabia.” He cannot say it any better.

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