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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Ignorant religiosity



I am genuinely angry and tired of much "false religiosity" which is found in many cultures and belief systems in Malaysia. I call all such unexamined cultural beliefs, worldviews; whether one is consciously aware of the existence of such implicit beliefs, or assumptions, or lack thereof.
Recently two examples of false religiosity were made evident in the Malaysian public square. I have addressed one of them through a previous column. Find it here.
It related to misinformation and misguided statements made by Dr Asri Zainal Abidin, the current Mufti of Perlis. If I am not wrong, the post of any mufti is a public service appointment on behalf of the state government and they usually act as formal advisors to their rulers.
In this column I will address the second example of the same kind and quality of false religiosity.  But, before that, let me state a more positive note.  One of my connections (a Muslim friend) sent me a good and correct teaching (by WhatsApp) about what is truth in Islam, as an Abrahamic religion. I am glad such clear teaching is available, and many thanks to modern technology. He was responding to that earlier column.
In January 2017, the media reported that Khalid Samad, MP for Shah Alam was found guilty of a charge by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department, or JAIS, in the syariah court case for “illegal preaching”. And, as a consequence of such a punishment, it was also reported by the media that he may also be disqualified from being an MP, according to professor emeritus of constitutional law, Shad Saleem Faruqi.
More recently, in a similar vein and mode, this past week, JAIS again made a statement criticizing a local mosque which invited another elected member of Parliament to address them publicly inside their local mosque. JAIS used the name of the sultan of Selangor, saying that he was “angry” about the matter. JAIS also issued a statement publicising the matter and then decrying the so-called wrong-doing and highlighting the anger of the sultan of Selangor. My question: is not anger also sin, especially in the month of Ramadan?
I have serious problems with such false or mislabelled religious jurisprudence which denies any human being the full rights of citizenship, and especially that of elected members of parliament. Khalid Samad is a Muslim representative but the latest charge is against R Sivarasa who is MP for Subang, and the mosque is well within his constituency. Sivarasa was performing a formal function as a people’s representative disbursing public funds.
Khalid Samad was sharing his faith and virtues in terms of Islamic thought, philosophy, and his personal life experiences with Palestinians as a result of his recent visit to Gaza. I therefore ask, so what is wrong with what he or Sivarasa did in the mosque?
Can someone explain to me, in serious theological or logical terms, what is wrong with such sharing of truths from his heart about his first-hand experiences learned in Gaza? Or, why could Sivarasa not be present as a people’s representative within a mosque?
Do mosques belong to JAKIM or JAIS?
Do these mosques actually “belong to JAIS”? Are all mosques then under their direct administrative jurisdiction? I was under the impression that there is no Islamic equivalent of ecclesiology. Where in our rule of law system is such a hierarchy of jurisprudence provided for?
If such mosques are in fact directly under the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) which is a federal government department with a minister in cabinet, what is the legal basis of such provisions? Why and how then was the one green lung behind my house converted by JAIS into a mosque after the fact? (For more information on this issue, please refer to this article and a reply by the state legislative assemblyperson for Kampung Tunku.)
What can be there be any legal or religious basis of such thinking?  Are all mosques in Malaysia funded and therefore built by JAKIM with zero funds from federal income tax revenues? Or, is it totally and fully funded by zakat or other such funds?
How then would such a financial administration and authority system be established within the nine Malay states? What about Malacca, Penang, Sabah and Sarawak? Is there a specific state enactment which establishes all these mosques under the full control and determination of some form of state Islamic administration? I ask because I am now a Selangor resident; who is seriously upset about the state administration of both land and religion.
JAIS’s simplistic thinking too may be simply partisan and political. To them, Khalid Samad had no certification to preach at this mosque. Did he really preach or teach the wrong Islamic doctrine? Really, and is not every Muslim allowed to stand up and speak about his experience of faith after a standard prayer at any mosque?  
My understanding of the history of Islamic thought is that such sharing in the mosque was always encouraged, while it was dependent on the listeners to ponder the accuracy of such preaching or teaching. Is not this human attempt to control and manipulate religious thought reaching serious and partisan levels? Is that true Islam?
G25 and a moderation movement
G25 is a community of ex-public servants of Muslim faith who publicly made a statement committed to pursuing a just, democratic, peaceful, tolerant, harmonious, moderate and progressive multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-religious society in Malaysia. They extolled two simple and clear Islamic principles or virtues:  ‘wassatiyah’ (or moderation) and ‘maqasid syariah’ (the higher intentions of a comprehensive well-being of the people) which affirms justice, compassion, mercy, and equity.
It was one Old Putera G25 member, Tawfik Tun Ismail who framed his personal views about JAKIM and then went to declare them publicly. TTDI, as he is fondly known among Old Putera, first questioned the role and full legal authority of JAKIM in its current capacity as a created and established federal department. JAKIM is a federal department set up under the Prime Minister’s Department of the government of Malaysia.
The then-media publisher The Malaysian Insider which published that story and raised the issue too has since been closed down. All these records of truths of interest can still be found on the internet though. I fully agree with TTDI and want to support G25 as a true movement for moderation.

KJ JOHN, PhD, was in public service for 32 years having served as a researcher, trainer, and policy adviser to the International Trade and Industry Ministry and the National IT Council (NITC) of the government of Malaysia. The views expressed here are his personal views and not those of any institution he is involved with. Write to him at kjjohn@ohmsi.net with any feedback or views.-Mkini

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