WHEN Deputy Minister Datuk Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki (pic) told Parliament in April that Wahhabism is not an “ajaran sesat” (deviant teaching) and is part of the Sunni school of thought, reactions were mixed.
Those inclined toward Wahhabism were grateful and heaved a sigh of relief; and those against it were shocked and questioned if Dr Asyraf was himself a Wahhabi and asked if he was going against the decision of the National Fatwa Council, which had stated that Wahhabism has no place in Malaysia.
“The question posed to me was whether Wahhabism is in the same category as Syiah and other deviant teachings. And my answer was ‘No, Wahhabism isn’t in the same category as Al Arqam and other deviant teachings because it is part of the Sunni tradition,’’ explains the deputy minister (religious affairs) in the Prime Minister’s department in an interview.
He says he, in fact, agrees with the National Fatwa Council’s view that while Wahhabism is not haram (prohibited), it is not compatible with the culture and tradition in Malaysia.
“Maulud Nabi, holding tahlil, reciting the doa at the grave, these are all practices very much ingrained in our Muslim culture and tradition. You shouldn’t oppose something that is so deeply rooted in our tradition when it doesn’t interfere with the aqidah (faith),’’ he says.
Wahhabi/Salafist followers believe they practise a pure, unadulterated form of Islam as opposed to other Muslims. They oppose traditions like holding tahlil prayers in memory of a loved one who passed away, reciting a doa at the grave, reading the yasin on Fridays, saying these are bida’h (innovation), a departure from the practises of the Holy Prophet.
Many point to Wahhabism/Salafism as the reason why people are becoming radicalised and joining and supporting the Islamic State. But Dr Asyraf disagrees.
He says extremism and radicalisation is worrying but one cannot blame the movement per se. Nor, he says, can one focus on one particular ideology or strand of thinking as being the cause because there are many groups championing a global movement of political Islam.
“And IS (which is one of these groups) subscribes to building an Islamic State in an extreme manner by misleading and manipulating people into the notion of jihad and fighting for their cause. Wahhabism is only one part of the whole radical extremism ideology. It can be anything not just Wahhabism.
“So I would rather say ‘extremists’ within the political Islam movement rather than mention specifically or Salafism,’’ he says.
Recently, Special Branch Counter-Terrorism Division principal assistant director Datuk Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay said many IS supporters they caught had books on Ibn Taymiyyah, a 13th century scholar whose thinking is central to Wahhabism, and questioned if it is the ideology that is radicalising these people.
He said unless the issue is tackled at the root cause, which is at the ideological level, this problem of extremism and radicalisation will never end.
Responding to this, Dr Asyraf says it is unfair to pinpoint certain scholars like Ibn Taymiyyah just because the understanding of his text has been taken out of context.
He points out that it is not only Ibn Taymiyyah but the text of the Quran too – for example, on jihad – that has been “read out of context based on a literalist approach’’ by extremists.
It is “simply dangerous and damaging”, he says, when people misappropriate the texts and ideas of scholars with a “literal adoption without proper knowledge of the political and historical context as well as the reasoning behind their writings’’ – which is what the world witnessing with IS.
So since the root cause is ideology, he says, the way to tackle it is through a comprehensive approach with counter narratives and counter ideology.
Using laws, legislation and force alone, he says, won’t do.
He feels that what needs to be done is to go back to the authentic teachings of Islam, the concept of wasatiyyah (moderation) and Civilisational Islam and focus on that.
On the spread of Wahhabism/Salafism in the country, Dr Asyraf denies that it is because Saudi Arabia has been exerting its influence here.
“Malaysia and Saudi Arabia are very close and we have received petro dollars from the Saudis but never have they imposed any condition that we have to be their followers on ideology. So it is not right to say that the Saudi government is promoting Salafism and Wahabism in Malaysia.”
He is also quick to point out that when it comes to matters of religion in Malaysia, it is the states that have the power.
“And you can see the states are very much in control of the beliefs. Most of the states – Johor, Negri Sembilan, Pahang, Perak, Kedah – have put out a fatwa that Wahhabism is not acceptable in their states. So you can see there is no room for outsiders to interfere in our local religious affairs. There is no such influence.”