MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A Sad Day At The IAIS

The International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies Malaysia or IAIS (http://www.iais.org.my/e/) is my favorite place to attend public talks and public forums on Islam. I was just there this morning to attend a public lecture  on "Dismantling Terrorism".

The reason why I attend the IAIS is because usually "real scholars" are invited to give these public talks, usually from overseas. (However the Taliban from Afghanistan has also appeared at the IAIS). Today's speaker was a young woman from Scotland (of Punjabi / Pakistani origins) speaking English with a thick Scottish accent. 

Thats me raising a point during Q&A today.

This is the only place in Malaysia where public talks and public forums about Islam are held almost exclusively in the English language.  Hence the level of sophistication and intellectual input is much higher (than say listening to tok guru, ostard Ferrari etc). 

Because it is an "International" Institute most of the invitees are international scholars who speak in English.  I have heard Tariq Ramadhan, Prof Ihsan Yilmaz, Dr Suleiman Derin, Prof Hashim Kamali, Dr Karim Crowe and many more speak at the IAIS. Also non Muslim visitors like Prof Johan Galtung and the well known foreign correspondent and author Robert Fisk have given public talks here. 

And yes the Taliban guys from Afghanistan have appeared at the IAIS. Also Muslim scholars from the Sunni, Shia and other sects have participated in public lectures. This is a very interesting mix and sufficiently intellectual which you cannot find else where in Malaysia.

The man who runs the IAIS is the internationally renowned Islamic scholar Prof Hashim Kamali (pictured here visiting Pope Francis).  


Prof Hashim Kamali of Afghan origins has been in Malaysia for a long time. My wife recalls attending his lectures at the Int'l Islamic University in the early 1990s. Prof Kamali is a well known fixture among the international Islamic academia. He has written many books, including a brilliant critique of the Kelantan Hudud enactment 1993 (which I am sure none or very few Muslims have read - the reading habit in English being almost non existent).

So all in the IAIS is about the only place in Malaysia where you can hear public discussion about Islam plus other subjects that is quite free and more intellectual. People of all religions and backgrounds attend and ask all sorts of questions or make all sorts of comments.

However last week something not so good happened. For the first time (to my knowledge) the IAIS held a public lecture on hudud in Malay. So naturally the speakers were all locals, speaking in Malay to a mostly Malay audience. And the turnout was also weak. Not many people came. Also Prof Hashim Kamalli was not present to conduct the session.

I am not saying it was no so good because it was in Malay - jangan salah faham. It was not so good because of the quality of the local speakers. 

During the discussion there was a 'peguam syarie' guy who said that in the old days there were some problems hanging tall people. He was talking about death sentencing and he said that in the old days, tall people took a longer time to be hanged because their feet would still be touching the ground when they were being hung. But now with advanced technology (teknoloji canggih) they have figured out how to hang tall people. 

I am not joking. This is what he said (or words to that effect - he spoke in Malay).  Here I want to speak Malay. Saya pun mati akal macam mana speaker itu boleh buat statement yang begitu dunggu.  Daripada zaman pra Islam, pra jahiliyah, pra Roman, pra semua sekali hukuman gantung dilakukan dengan mengikat tali ke dahan pokok, tiang tinggi dsbnya. Pokok dan tiang tinggi diperlukan sebab kalau tidak, orang salah itu tidak boleh digantung dari lehernya. Orang salah itu tidak akan mati. Sama juga kalau senapang tidak di isi peluru, maka hukuman tembak mati pun akan gagal.  

Saya yakin tidak pernah dalam sejarah hukuman gantung seorang pesalah itu cuba di gantung  sambil masih berdiri. Itu bukan 'gantung' tapi masih berdiri.

However the shocker was another panel speaker - a professor emeritus from the Int'l Islamic University. He was deemed a "religious expert". He had a different idea about hudud - totally different.

Among other things he linked 'hudud' vis a vis road accidents.  He said that presently no compensation was paid when people died in road accidents. So he suggested that families of people who were killed in road accidents be paid 'blood money' or diyat. This was his idea of what a 'hudud' system should do for society. 

During question time the well known lawyer and activist Siti Kassim stood up and pointed out that victims of road accidents or their families can already claim compensation. It is called insurance. Being a lawyer Siti said that she handled many such claims cases.  Plus Siti said raised a few other points. 
The "professor emeritus"  from the Int'l Islamic University totally lost his cool. He totally blew his top. He began shouting and screaming at Siti Kassim over the microphone.   Among the many things he said was that Siti Kassim "and her friends" did not show enough respect for the "ulamak". 

I dont know what he meant by that. He went on and on and I thought he would not stop. The entire hall became silent in embarrassment. Finally it was the brave Siti Kassim who stood up and yelled back at the professor emeritus. And then it became a shouting match between the professor emeritus and Siti Kassim.

The professor guy had the advantage of sitting up on the podium and using a microphone. I think that was an abuse of his role as an invited speaker.  Like a preacher screaming from the pulpit he was using the microphone to scream at Siti. 

The loud exchange came to a halt when my friend Harbajan Singh (the Group Editor of the Malaysian Reserve) who was present stood up and intervened. Harbajan said the professor emeritus had 'lost the plot'.  He also said that the points raised by Siti were valid.  I thought so too.

This is the calibre of our so called local scholars. Tall people could not be hung because their feet were still touching the ground, little knowledge of real life (insurance etc), screaming and yelling at people who ask questions or who may not agree with them or who they feel do not "show enough respect" .

This is childish behaviour. It also shows a lack of competence. 

Bear in mind that Malaysian universities, especially the IPTAs are at the lowest rungs of the ladder in many of the international rankings. When we have "professor emeritus" who lose their cool and start shouting and screaming at people who ask them questions then that is a very bad day for our local universities. 

So I hope the IAIS will stick to its "International" status and stick to hosting scholars of good repute, especially internationally reputable scholars. So that people like me and many, many others will find the discussions useful.

Otherwise the 'International' will become quite useless and the IAIS may descend to the 'sekolah pondok' or madrasah level.  Shouting, yelling, cursing, silly ideas and foolish dialogue will rule the roost again.   

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