Treating differences with care

  • Opinion
  • Friday, 02 Sep 2016

THOSE who claim to be experts in Islam or who belong to the ulama class have one thing in common: they seem to know everything under the sun and give their “edicts” quite freely.

They issue rulings on matters ranging from “augmented reality” phenomena such as Pokemon GO to the dangers of music as a source of violence in this world.

They have little regard for scientific analysis or social studies and rely mostly on their own limited understanding of the subjects at hand.

The latest example of this habit is Umno religious expert Datuk Fathul Bari Mat Jahya’s latest proposition that although he doesn’t equate the Syiahs with the Islamic State, extremist Syiah teachings should be rejected just as the Islamic State is rejected.

He says he supports Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki on this issue.

He appears to imply that actions taken against the Islamic State are not enough and that if we are to curb religious extremism and radical Islam, similarly tough measures must be used against Syiah teachings in the country. The problem is, how do you define what is extreme in Syiah teachings?

Our counter-terrorism expert Datuk Ayub Khan Mydin Pitchay thinks otherwise. He has rightly suggested that we must treat the two issues separately.

Differences in understanding the various schools of thought or mazhab need not necessarily result in violence, as shown in many countries where Sunnis and Syiahs live in peaceful coexistence.

Jordan and Egypt, for example, do not experience sectarian strife like in Iraq or Pakistan, yet they too have Sunnis and Syiahs in large numbers.

Islamic State militants, on the other hand, are clearly promoting violence and killing as essential components of their war against infidels and the establishment of the Caliphate. They have selectively used the works of certain Islamic scholars to justify their actions against Syiahs.

It’s important that we adopt the right policy with regard to Sunni-Syiah differences as this is the source of major conflicts in the Muslim world. More Muslims die at the hands of fellow Muslims because of differences of their mazhab.

The senseless killings of Syiah Muslims in Sunni-majority countries like Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as the response from the other side have led to a non-stop cycle of violence, claiming many innocent lives.

We must be careful about the approach to take so we don’t start this trend of sectarian killings in this country, in the name (of course) of defending Islam.

The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed el-Tayeb is a well-regarded Islamic scholar, and we should invite him here to talk to Muslims about Sunni-Syiah differences.

He is a man of peace, befitting his role at the world’s oldest university, and just as importantly he recognises how some groups essentially weaponise Sunni-Syiah differences to gain political supremacy.

He says this lack of tolerance between groups is the Muslim world’s biggest challenge, and it must be resolved peacefully by having the right religious education.

He represents a long line of Grand Imams of Al-Azhar who advocate peaceful resolution of differences in Sunni-Syiah understanding of fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence.

In 1959, there was already a Shaltoot Fatwa on Sunni-Syiah relations that said “we must bridge the gap between the various groups to foster understanding of Islamic schools of thought”.

There was also the inclusion of Syiahs and Druzes into mainstream Islam.

King Abdullah of Jordan successfully organised a world conference in 2000 to assert the same principle, and Malaysia is a signatory to that accord. There is therefore no need to kill one another over this.

In any event, let’s leave the issue of how best to curb religious violence or militancy to the police and the real experts.

They understand how written words or actions by some groups have a certain definitive impact on promoting violence.

They understand psychology, and they have data and intelligence reports to back up their assertions as they monitor the preachers and their followers.

Instead of disputing their methodology or questioning their grasp of terrorism, it’s better to give them our full support so that our country will be peaceful and safe.

It’s also comforting that the Home Ministry is equally clear in its minds about the dangers of treating radical, Islamic State-style militancy and the Syiah issue as one and the same thing.

Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed’s emphatic support of the police’s stand is welcomed.

He made it clear that the two issues are on different scales and there should be no confusion as to which one represents an imminent danger and threat to the country.

We do not need to open another front where violence can emerge by the way we treat the Syiah community, small though they are.

We must not cultivate a culture of violence in resolving disputes on fiqh or matters of belief, especially amongst fellow Muslims.

  • Former de facto Law Minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim ( is now a legal consultant. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
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Opinion , Zaid Ibrahim , columnist


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