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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Muslim atheists? O ye, of little faith

“We will see that the greatest problem confronting civilisation is not merely religious extremism: rather, it is the larger set of cultural and intellectual accommodations we have made to faith itself.”
- Sam Harris
So Mahadi Awang, a representative from the Yayasan Dakwah Islamiah Malaysia (Yadim), claimed that “Muslims who turn atheists only do so because they wish to break away from the chains of the Islamic way of life in order to experience pleasure”, which seems a rather dubious assertion.
If anything, what the official narratives of Islam in this country have demonstrated are that Muslims have to be prevented from seeking “illicit” sex, alcohol, smoking, music videos, movies, books, pornography, the company of the opposite sex and of course, excessive laughter. Now the reality is that many Muslims have sex, drink alcohol, smoke, watch music videos, movies and pornography (online), mingle with the opposite sex, and laugh a lot. Hence as Muslims, they already experience pleasure but what prevents them from openly experiencing pleasure are the religious police who are paid to ensure that they stop having pleasure.
Of course, if you are a rich Muslim, then you are exempt from the overt policing that your average Muslim is subjected to. Hence the more logical explanation as to why some Muslims become atheist – let’s dispense with the deeper intellectual motives for a moment – is not because they want to experience pleasure – they do that already – but because they do not want their pleasure policed by the state. Of course, in Malaysia they have to be quiet about it but sometimes affirming your non-belief with simpatico people provides clarity that all the religious indoctrination that they have received since birth has not.
I really do not blame the Umno state for coming down hard on Muslim atheists. Since the constitution defines who a “Malay” is and Islam is the most important part of that definition, what happens when a Malay chooses to shed his or her faith? Does he or she cease being “Malay”? If someone is not a “Malay” anymore, what happens to the special privileges?
Since there are Christian and other “bumiputeras”, the argument can be made that an atheist Malay is still technically a bumiputera unless of course there is legislation in Malaysia which sanctions a lack of belief in God. But wait, the first principle in the Rukunegara is “Belief in God”, which is annoying to many atheists but more importantly, it means that a Muslim atheist is in a religious quagmire that he or she may never break free from.
I mean no oppositional political party is going to defend an atheist Muslim’s non-belief. So-called “secular” parties fund Islamic religious institutions, champion the rights of non-Muslims faiths and champion the rights of religious freedoms offering a mixed bag of secular principles that more often than not does more damage to secular principles than inaction itself. This is why Islamic extremism is on the rise. Of course, if folks got their noses out – just for a minute – of the 1MDB cesspool, they would realise that the opposition mired in religious politics is part of the problem.
Read what Yenny Wahid, daughter of the late Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, said - “We're not just coming up with a counter narrative, we are coming up with a counter identity, and that's what AI (Archipelago Islam) is all about. We believe we're good Muslims but to be a good Muslim, we don't have to accept the recipes that are handed out by some radicals from the Middle East."
What are the Muslim counter identities here? The Muslim as feminist? The Muslim as liberal? The Muslim who does not believe? The gay Muslim? The secular Muslim? The non-observant Muslim? All these counter identities the state wishes to expunge and the opposition has no interests in nurturing for obvious political reasons.
A lack of understanding?
Seriously, the atheist plague? How I wish there was really an atheist plague. If there was an atheist plague in this country, then Umno, PAS and Bersatu would be cast aside as would every politician who bleats about how god put him or her on his or her political path. The religious card would be totally ineffective in the national discourse and money wasted on religious initiatives would be channelled elsewhere.
However, let us not kid ourselves. Corruption would still exist but at least we would not have to put up with the hypocritical religious rantings of the state or politicians – whatever the religion – asking us to look to god to solve our problems or hide our problems.
I mean, we do not have any gay pride parades here so what are these so-called atheists going to do? March on the streets and hope the god they do not believe in will save them from the chemically-laced water cannons of the state? Demand that their special privileges be stripped from them because they are not “Malays” anymore, or worse still, feel entitled to their special privileges even though they are not Muslims anymore? Carry around posters claiming that they are ex-Muslims and they are here to stay?
Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Shahidan Kassim says that Muslims who become atheist do so from a lack of understanding of Islam. This is the excuse given to any Muslim who does not subscribe to the state-sponsored religion.
Muslims who want to reform the religion do so from a lack of understanding of the religion. Muslim women who demand equal rights do so from a lack of understanding of the religion. Gay Muslims who want to be accepted – one wonders why – do so from a lack of understanding of the religion. Liberal Muslims do not understand the religion. Non-Muslims who speak up for their fellow citizens do not understand the religion.
Maybe if so many people do not understand your religion, the problem is with the religion and not with the people attempting to leave or reform it. Furthermore, this obsession of the state in their belief they can “fix” Muslims who stray from the state-endorsed path is the apogee of ignorance that some Muslims take pride in.
Apparently, the state can “fix” gay Muslims. They can “fix” liberal Muslims. They can “fix” feminist Muslims. They can “fix” atheist Muslims. The only things they cannot seem to “fix” are Muslims who are engaged in nationwide and worldwide financial corruption scandals. 
As Sam Harris, author of ‘Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue’, opens this piece, he should end it –
“The great liberal betrayal of this generation is that in the name of liberalism, communal rights have been prioritised over individual autonomy within minority groups. And minorities within minorities really do suffer because of this betrayal.
“The people I really worry about when we have this conversation are feminist Muslims, gay Muslims, ex-Muslims - all the vulnerable and bullied individuals who are not just stigmatised but in many cases violently assaulted or killed merely for being against the norm.”

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy. - Mkini

1 comment:

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