By Abdar Rahman Koya
11 April 2015
I am sorry for Eric Paulsen, the human rights lawyer who got into trouble for saying that Friday sermons by Jakim promote extremism.
I am sorry because when his trial starts, he will be hard pressed to get Muslim witnesses to back him up.
You see, I go to the mosque every week without fail, but I don’t remember the imam saying what Paulsen claimed. In fact, I don’t remember what is usually said in a sermon at all!
And that’s because, like many who attend Friday congregation, I slip into slumber, not unlike that classic sketch by Mr Bean which we still watch on television in hospital lobbies and waiting halls, where he goes to church only to dramatically doze off as the priest continues to speak what seems to be utter gibberish.
As there are no benches in mosques, it’s easier to fall asleep and enjoy your siesta without bothering the person next to you.
But last week was different. I joined the Friday prayer in a Petaling Jaya mosque. As I walked towards the mosque, I started having second thoughts: should I even go in?
Because all I heard from the blasting speakers was the sound of a man shouting and screaming, bellowing and wailing, as if he were William Braveheart being crucified on the cross.
I kid you not. It was terrifying, perhaps the most stupefying speech from a pulpit that I have ever heard while wide awake.
He was making a case for Hudud, repeating all the mantras we have grown too familiar with, quoting this and that Hadith, which for all we know would not have passed the strict standards of the scholars of Hadith in vetting the authenticity of sayings attributed to the Prophet.
So instead of catching up on my sleep, I sat there wondering what has happened to Muslims in Malaysia. Here we are, listening to the pulpit of a mosque on the merits of cutting off hands and stoning someone to death.
After billions of ringgit spent on Islamic education in the form of Islamic universities and Islamic centres and Islamic chairs, all to relive the scientific and civilisational glory of the Islamic past, is this the debate we have today?
What a waste, what a sorry state we have come to.
Some say it is the mark of political Islam asserting itself. Others have said it is all a political game to stay afloat and relevant among an increasingly Islamically conscious Malaysian Muslim society, ritually speaking that is.
Ritually, because of late, Islam too has become a religion of symbols and rituals, and this I found out again as I joined in prayer that Friday. In front of me in that tiny standing space was a stall left unattended. My eyes were fixated on every kind of Islamic paraphernalia displayed.
One sticker which caught my attention was splashed with the word “Dayus” (cuckold) in large letters, followed by “Kerana membiarkan isteri dan anak membuka aurat” (for allowing your wife and children to expose their aurat). Well, good luck to anyone who displays that one on their windscreen!
But this is the state of Islam in Malaysia which, just as Christianity and Hinduism are promoted by some, is now also fully promoted with religious cosmetics.
Consider for example the number of religious channels and television programmes we have almost every hour. Some man in a skullcap or heavy Arab robe will be lecturing on Islam, while a classroom of middle-aged men and women in full traditional attire listen attentively. He will be quoting Quranic verses, giving dodgy anecdotes, cracking a joke or two, oftentime with sexual innuendoes, and then telling us to be good Muslims.
The same is the case, I am told, in the satellite television scene around the world. There are dozens of channels on Hinduism, for example, to choose from, and creative and skilful speakers will belt out their religious motivation talk, sometimes breaking into nice Bollywood-like songs.
In Pakistan and Egypt, hundreds of speakers earn their livelihood daily belting out every kind of Islamic talk you can think of on satellite channels. So is the case with Christianity, with scores of channels crowding the satellite, all eager to provide salvation and force human beings into heaven.
All this hourly exhortation to piousness and rituals seem to have prepared the ground for priests (or in our case, religious graduates and PhD holders dubbed the “ulama”) to cash in on this religious fervour.
And so what we see is a general approval among the Muslim masses of the plan to introduce a set of mind-blowing punishments so that, as the typical argument goes, Muslim thieves and adulterers are spared divine punishment when they meet their Lord. In other words, God has privatised His promised punishments to a set of people on earth. It’s like zero-rated GST, only this one is divine promise!
So excited are some of these Islamic priests with this law that sometimes I wonder if they are more interested in the exercise of pain than law and justice, or even the prevention of crime, just as some Muslims would be suddenly all obsessed with the bloodletting of four-legged creatures during Eid al-Adha.
Some say that those who oppose Hudud are Westernised, liberal Muslims and, therefore, in their eyes, nominal Muslims. But it is not the case if we look at the global reality around us.
The West, for one, does not bother with what religion you follow, as long as you do their bidding to promote their policies in your country. This imperialist trait is applicable not only to the West but also to all great civilisations. You can do all the prayers you want, build whatever fancy mosques you like, do whatever moral-policing of citizens, as long as you foolishly buy our weapons and pump us free oil.
And so we see some of the “strictest” forms of Islam are found in Saudi Arabia, governed by what is easily the strongest ally of Western imperialism in post-World War II history. Despite all the noise by human rights activists, the West represented by Washington has never once bothered about the annual number of head-choppings in Saudi Arabia, now its most valuable poodle after Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
Because it is not this face of religious piety which the West is against, but the piety which could transform into a threat to the ailing oligarchies spread across Muslim lands.
The fact is that some of the most nonsensical rules in the name of Islam are carried out by the US’s closest ally. In contrast, despite all the talk of Islamic militancy and “jihadist” terror, neither Hamas nor Hizbullah, anti-Israel and therefore bad, evil Muslims according to Uncle Sam, have talked about cutting off hands and other morbid acts. But run a Google search on Hudud and you get most results originating from Malaysia.
We now see for the first time in the history of Umno that many of its senior leaders are openly in support of Hudud. One can’t help but notice that this love affair with a “strict form of Shariah” is happening in tandem with the top leaders’ increasingly pro-American bent – so much so that the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur actually lowered its flag to half-mast to mourn a former Malaysian ambassador who recently died.
There is a worrying trend of the Saudisation of Islam in Malaysia, where Islam is represented by bearded men in meteorologically challenged outfits and women in tents behind tinted MPVs.
Then we have a daily dose of young, handsome men, some probably just out of puberty, explaining this and that ritual. Some would now and then fulfil their quota of lambasting the Jews and other usual “enemies of Islam” – you know, liberals, democrats, the Shias. At the same time, they are mute, or have no opinion, or are too dumb to have one, on issues such as taxing the poor, chaining journalists like criminals, or well-documented spousal wastage.
This side of piety is what often leads to tolerance for dictatorships, such as what we still see in much of the Arab world.
It was thanks to such docile, apolitical and ritual-frenzied Islam characterising Shia Muslim scholars in pre-revolution Iran, that the Shah had a free hand, unleashing on his people one of the most brutal security apparatuses in the Muslim world, fully supported of course by Western political leaders. All that came to a halt only when the Iranian ulama suddenly began speaking about social justice and state repression. Of course, some would argue these ulama are on the opposite role now, invoking their priesthood to take control of people’s lives.
It does seem that the more ritually pious people are, the more fertile the ground is for tyranny to flourish. And it is into this ground that PAS seems to be sowing their seeds of Hudud, their so-called crime-fighting weapon sanctioned by God.
Joining them in this exercise is not only a police force battling public perception of inefficiency and graft, but also a cacophony of suspiciously sponsored “Malay-Muslim” groups whose actions only lend truth to the claim that we have among us a bunch of Islamic fascists.
Suddenly our PAS ulama find Umno and these fascist groups their friends, all because they want Hudud to be implemented just to make a point that this country belongs to Malay Muslims and that therefore they can do what they want.
Meanwhile those opposed to Hudud, or who even disagree with any move to implement such laws, are branded as slipping from their aqidah (creed) and should therefore re-examine their faith.
Perhaps, one day, when you stand in prayer in front of a stall full of Islamic merchandise, you may just see this car sticker next to the one about cuckold hubbies: “Muslim. Because you support hudud.”
Or perhaps you may all be too sleepy to take notice, unlike Eric Paulsen.
Abdar Rahman Koya works for The Malaysian Insider. He considers himself to have all the qualities of an ordinary Malaysian, a practising Muslim, and an incorrigible cynic.