Reaching out to young Muslim women

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 27 Dec 2015

Passionate: Haryaty hopes Dian Puteri will be able to counter wrong information and prove to Malays that Umno is serious about Islam. — Bernama

THE thing with young people these days is that there are a lot of social problems among them and a “crisis in thinking”, which makes them easily confused, says Puteri information chief Haryaty Hamdzah.

Thanks to social media, information is “scattered all over the place” she says, adding that “the young don’t know what to believe anymore!”

“They tend to believe whatever information comes out fast and is easy to accept. They don’t wait for all the facts to emerge to make a comparison to get the true picture,” she says, explaining why Dian Puteri was set up.

Dian Puteri, she says, will engage young girls and tackle the “crisis in thinking” issue.

For Dian Puteri, one element causing this “crisis in thinking” is G25, the group of prominent Malays that has said the position and the application of Islamic laws in the country and that religious bodies seem to be asserting authority beyond their jurisdiction.

In their now famous open letter, G25 expressed concern over minister (in charge of Islamic matters) Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom’s comments that seeking legal redress on some issues concerning Islam is a “new wave of assault on Islam” and an attempt to lead Muslims astray.

The G25 had also urged the Prime Minister to address racial and religious tensions and bring the country back to the path of mode­ration.

Haryaty sees G25 as a threat. She feels that what they are pushing for is liberalism, pluralism, and secularism.

“G25 is asking for human rights and for things like khalwat to be set aside. If you follow human logic, people might be inclined to accept that, but as Muslims we have the Al Quran and Sunnah (traditions of the Holy Prophet) as our guidance so we can’t go by plain logic alone,” she says.

The young sometimes can’t be bothered with issues or they act like everything is OK with them, says Haryaty. And she fears if such attitudes are left unchanged, the young might embrace liberal thinking – something that she sees as a threat.

As it is, she says, there is already an erosion of traditional value systems among the young, as they are less polite and respectful.

“Even a small incident can cause tension and escalate into a racial or religious issue,” she says.

“Today’s youths are exposed to all sorts of influences. And we want to make sure that they are mentally resilient, have good values, good character, and are well-mannered,” she says.

Haryaty says Dian Puteri wants to be the channel that young girls turn to if they are faced with problems and have nowhere to go.

“We don’t pretend we can solve their problems but we feel we can help by engaging with them.

“Say their house is too small or they come from a broken home and have no place to go to study, we can help them use mosques or other government facilities to accommodate their needs. We can act as a kind of inter­mediary to help find solutions for their problems.”

So far, Puteri Umno has trained 1,500 members and religious activists to carry out these activities and are currently in the process of drawing up their programmes.

Interestingly, however, even though Dian Puteri is geared towards Islam, it is not looking at tackling religious radicalisation or extremism among young women, a problem the country – if not the world – is grappling with.

Earlier this year, a 14-year-old was caught at the KL International Airport by the Special Branch’s Counter-Terrorism Division as she was about to board an airplane to fly to Egypt to marry and then head into Syria to join the Islamic State (IS) militants.

Over the past year, about 250 Malaysians, including women, have been arrested by the authorities on the brink of joining IS.

Indeed, some Malaysians have managed to make it out there and are currently on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq, fighting for IS.

There have also been Malaysian suicide bombers who blew themselves up.

In September, local police managed to thwart an IS-inspired plot to bomb Bukit Bintang, a popular tourist area in Kuala Lumpur.

Adding to this disturbing picture is the results of a recent Pew Poll (the US-based Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan think tank that provides information on social issues and demographic trends): It shows that 11% of Malaysian Muslims have a favourable view of IS and 18% consider suicide bombing justifiable.

Haryaty admits Puteri Umno is concerned about young women wanting to join IS and offer themselves to a “sexual jihad” (to offer themselves as sexual partners to the IS fighters).

She says she and the Puteri Umno chief, Mas Ermieyati Samsudin, addressed the issue in their speeches during the recent Umno general assembly.

“There should be awareness among the young girls about this. It is a form of escapism. But Dian Puteri is not going to be focusing on this.

“It’s not because we support IS or are not concerned but it is not our area of focus,” she explains.

On why Dian Puteri is so focused on tackling G25 but not the deadly threat of IS, Haryaty says “both are equally serious threats”.

“But we don’t have enough information on IS. We would need to be trained and equipped with the right information to be able to tackle this. What we can do, though, is help create awareness,” she says.

As for G25, she says, it is influential thanks to the “brainy” people behind it, which includes the children of former leaders, so its position is causing confusion among the people and undermining the work of religious institutions.

Actually, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Dian Puteri is anti-G25 – after all, its patron is none other than Jamil Khir, the person G25 has criticised.

After G25 spokesman Datuk Noor Faridah Ariffin talked in a forum about the need to review the Syariah law on things like khalwat, there was a threat to rape her and a death threat too from an IS supporter in Malaysia. (Noor Faridah is currently being investigated for sedition.)

Haryaty says although she disagrees with Noor Faridah, such threats shouldn’t have been made.

Recently, Noor Faridah has called for a muzakarah (discussion) with other Muslim groups and associations to discuss their different positions on Islam.

But Haryaty has reservations about whether to engage G25 in a muzakarah.

“Can they accept the suggestion by the deputy minister to tarbiyahkan (nurture and educate) them in religion?”

No, she responds, this does not mean she wants G25 to be “Jakim-ised”.

“Being intelligent and experts in their fields alone is not enough. This has to do with religion, so they have to leave it to experts in religion.

Muzakarah can be done with the intention of finding a meeting point and not looking at differences because at the end of the day, what we want is for Islam to reign supreme.”

For her, the answer is straightforward: If there are contradictions between Syariah law and the Federal Constitution, it is the Federal Constitution that should be changed.

She says one of the things she is proud of is that Dian Puteri proves to the Malays that Umno is serious about Islam.

For her, each religion teaches its people to be good. She says during the Prophet’s time, too, Muslims worked together with non-Muslims peacefully.

As for the recent Kota Raya and Low Yat Plaza racial incidents in KL, she says such things happen when people get unverified information and act on emotions instead of using their brains.

She disagrees that Umno leaders have been slow to defuse racial tensions.

“They are just a lot more careful. They need to make sure the information they give out is accurate because they don’t want to say the wrong things.”

But in today’s age of smart phones that can easily provide access to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms at any time and anywhere, people can get information almost immediately, whether that information is right or wrong.

Haryaty admits being slow to respond does affect perception.

“Because when we come in with the right information, people won’t accept it because they have already made up their minds based on what they had heard earlier.

“So I feel we need to be faster but still accurate and efficient in our response and we need to be better coordinated.”

This year has been a tough year with rising living costs, and she believes next year will be even tougher.

“There are some leaders who flaunt their wealth and some who open their mouths and give answers that make the rakyat even more upset.

“What we need is for the leaders to be with the people. And that when the people suffer, they too suffer and can feel it too.”

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