April 14, 2016
are fascinated by Islamic preachers from outside even though these preachers
grew up in and continue to live in societies plagued with violent radicalism,
chaos, corruption, intellectual shallowness, low rates of literacy, racism and
bigotry, not to mention how these societies view women, people of other
religions and even child marriage.
We fail to
see that the Hindu-Buddhist syncretist Malay cultures that have existed for
centuries have shaped traditional Malay culture into a more sensible and
enriching way of life than the imported cultures from the land of the Bedouins.
contemporary colonizing and reshaping of Malay society, we have failed to
appreciate people like the late Teuku Zakaria Teuku Nyak Putih, commonly known
as P. Ramlee, the talented Penang-born film actor, director, singer,
songwriter, composer and producer once considered the iconic Malay entertainer
in Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Indonesia. We need to recognize that the
teachings of this Malay sage, artist of life and messenger of peace are better
than all the lectures of Mumbai preachers and others combined.
people from the land of the Taliban, Deobandis, Wahhabis or sects strange to
the Malays to tell the people here how to behave like Muslims, when these are
the societies in which the leaders are not good models of progressive Islam
themselves? It is time to get out of
this ideological mess we have imported of
teachings that are mainly interested in emphasizing the length of one’s
robe and beard and how to maintain the subservience of women.
come up now because a controversial Indian-born Islamic preacher named Zakir
Naik, who has been banned in the UK, is now in Malaysia on a lecture tour, what
he calls a global Dawah, or preaching. The people are uneasy over his presence,
to the point where one senior opposition politician in Penang called him a
“Satan” and promptly got his office firebombed. Some want him to speak. Others
want him to pack his bags and go back to India.
trained as a physician before turning to proselytizing, has been called the
world’s leading Salafi evangelist by some.
Although he has publicly disclaimed sectarianism in Islam, many are
suspicious that he is peddling Wahhabism, the radically conservative faith of
question over letting him speak is distracting Malaysians from focusing on the
1MDB money-laundering scandal, the revelations of the Panama Papers and the
question of who is going to take over the country when the time comes for an
inevitable change in leadership.
But let us
put this issue to rest. It is a simple matter. Let him speak. Maybe he has some
good things to say but he has to understand how to speak with diplomacy in a
multicultural and multi-religious society such as Malaysia in which people shun
talk that can further divide different races and faiths.
talk, as this is good for dialogue but make sure he is ready to talk sense and
not blurt out nonsense, especially in matters of the history of science anatomy, psychology and the philosophy of
major religions. Let the Malaysian audience judge the credibility of this
the Malaysian government must allow wider intellectual discourse to happen
especially in our public universities – let Islamism, Liberalism, Marxism,
Anarchism, ethical Humanism, Rock Kapak-ism and all kind of non-violent “isms”
be allowed so that our students will not just be interested in more than making
the biggest donuts, umbrellas of love or biggest anything just to get into the
Malaysian Book of Records.
ideas be the big thing in our biggest universities so that our future leaders
will not grow up just to steal big money.
Ibrahim Iskandar, the Sultan of Johor, called on Malays not to discard their
unique culture, saying he was disturbed that some people want to stop Muslims
from practicing the traditional salam greeting.
He was sticking to “my customs and traditions as a Malay because I’m
born Malay.” He said that if some Malaysians wish to be Arabs and practice Arab
culture then “I welcome you to live in Saudi Arabia. That is your right but I
believe there are Malays who are proud of the Malay culture. At least I am real
and not a hypocrite and the people of Johor know who their ruler is.”
said that during his annual trip around Johor state, he shook the hands of
thousands of people including women.
“Why must I
change? You do not have to be fanatic. If they [women] are not sure, I ask if
they want to shake my hands. If they do not want to shake my hands, there is no
problem,” he said.
Malaysians are now very tired of religious bigotry or any talk that
amplifies religious phobia whether it be
Islamophobia, Christianophobia, Hinduphobia or even Paganophobia. We are
already as a nation phobic over the fate of our debt-ridden beloved country run
by those we voted into power who turned into abusers, schemers, troublemakers,
robbers and oppressors. We are tired. Let Zakir Naik speak, he too needs to
make his ringgits and rupees before going back to Mumbai. Many Malay-Muslims
adore him, anyway. After P Ramlee, what an irony.
Dr. Azly Rahman grew up in Johor Bahru and holds
a doctorate in International Education Development from Columbia University and
multiple Masters Degrees. He currently teaches in the United States