Let's khat to the chase and get to the real issues

JUST when I had written the article on bringing together progressives to unite Malaysia for a better tomorrow, as if on cue, the dark side of the force apparently decided that it was a good time to tear our Malaysian family apart.

So, I thought to myself, I really need to wade into these issues and address the truth that I see.

Let's start with this khat controversy. As a Malay child growing up in rural Melaka, the art - yes, ladies and gentlemen, the art - of khat is all too familiar for people like me. It is an Islamic art of calligraphy in the Arabic text. It’s not Jawi. Jawi is Malay language written using Arabic text. I saw khat in almost every one of the Malay houses I know.

Not once have I ever seen khat composed as a Malay or Jawi composition. It has always been Islamic in nature. The compositions are usually in the name of Allah, the Prophet Mohammad S.A.W, and various Quranic verses framed in beautiful imagery of mosques, the Ka’abah, prostrating persons in prayer and such, even abstracts.

So, when Education Minister “Ustaz Maszlee Malik” and his apologists insisted that it is Jawi calligraphy and wanted to impose it as a mandatory part of the Malay language class, I almost fell down laughing.

If you are loathe to believe my experience or any other sincere experience of Malays like me of their exposure to khat, there is for example, a 2014 paper by Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris titled "Pengajaran Seni Khat dan Tulisan Jawi Dalam Pendidikan Islam: Peluang, Cabaran dan Harapan" (The Teaching of the Art of Khat and Jawi in the Teaching of Islam: Opportunity, Challenges and Hope). Please source and read it.

Then I was reminded of Maszlee "mis-speaking" in Parliament exhorting Peninsula religious teachers in Sabah and Sarawak to be patient and to take their preaching “dakwah” there. Everything then makes perfect sense. You see, as a lawyer, I am not prone to believe in coincidences.

As I see it, mind you that you don’t have to agree to the way I think, all these years, these “Islamofascists” as I call them, have managed to penetrate our national schools with heavily religious-centric syllabus.

You can see the product of these children nowadays.

I remember I was appalled to find out they include the subject of Nusyuz i.e. on how to beat wives who disobey their husbands as part of the curriculum. One Malay young lady actually defended it by saying it is part of Islamic teaching. Now, as this is debatable, the point I want to home in is that this young lady seems to accept this teaching wholesale without question.

Another example is of a young Malay man, who during a forum, was very upset about championing human rights as he believes it is against Islamic teachings. He questioned what if a rapist, in court, claimed that it is his human right to rape?

Can you see the point I am making here? The ability to question and being critical seems to be missing in these young people’s mind.

How do I connect this to khat?

One non-Muslim reader, who attended national school, lamented that seeing the Arabic shapes of writing has become part of him; he did not feel threatened nor feel there was anything wrong to see more and more of religious rituals being conducted in schools. He said he accepts that this is part and parcel of living in Malaysia as the Muslims are the majority. That it is part of learning our heritage and culture.

Even if it is, which I strongly disputed, why is it being inserted in the Bahasa Malaysia subject? Why not in History? Or more appropriately, in Art?

Therein lies their problem. They are proposing to insert khat. It is an art. Not a language. You cannot do khat without knowing the characters to write it. So, this is indeed about familiarisation, dear reader. Once familiarised, it becomes part of them. It is the first step for them to become just like our national schools products. No more strong resistance to implement more and more of the so-called “majority” will.

To be frank, I don’t believe there is anything wrong in learning Arabic, Jawi or khat. Just please do it in your own time and at your own expense. Not under our government, thank you.

Following the uproar that accompanied the announcement that khat was to be mandatory for all children - Muslim and non-Muslim - as part of Malay language, Dong Zong (The United Chinese School Committees’ Association of Malaysia) also made their protest known to the public. This protest received a stinging rebuke from the Prime Minister, who accused Dong Zong as being racist. And now the group is apparently being investigated by the police for instigating!

Therein, lies exactly the point that I have made in my previous article. Never leave to politicians the job of making this federation a better union.

Is it racist to not want your children to not participate in an activity that is of another religion than theirs? How would these people who condemn these protests like it, if the Education Ministry conduct music lessons with appreciation of Christian hymns in English language class? Imagine the uproar.

Have we not better things to do to revamp Malaysian public education?

These are very valid concerns and disconcerting issues that warrant a reasonable protest from the non-Malay public specifically and Malaysian public in general; what more for an organisation like Dong Zong, which has to look into the educational interests of their young charges. To vilify them and investigate them using police powers is not just unreasonable, but is basically unconstitutional and abuse of power.

The issue is very simple.

Khat is Islamic calligraphy. It is an art. Inserting it into Bahasa Malaysia subject is highly questionable. If it was suggested for the Art subject, I don’t think it will become an issue.

No child should be compelled to participate in any activity that is not of his/her religion, no matter how seemingly remote. Do not force your religion upon others nor should we shame or condemn others for not wanting to be part of it.

As the dust has yet to settle on this issue, another bombshell blew in our face in the form of one Zakir Naik. Whilst the khat thing seemingly came out of nowhere, this one was a powder-keg waiting to explode all along.

This "tent-revivalist" evangelist, alleged criminal and fugitive in his own home, disparager of other religions, not welcomed in countless countries, somehow managed to snake his way into our peaceful multi-ethnic existence and welcomed by the powers that be for reasons beyond my comprehension. Even the largest Islamic nation on earth, our neighbour Indonesia, does not welcome his presence on their soil. Somehow, we are happy to provide comfort and protection to this fugitive. Guess what? Snakes bite the hand that fed them.

Zakir Naik unashamedly accuses my fellow Malaysian Indians as being more loyal to Modi than to Mahathir in front of thousands adoring Malay-muslim congregation. Faced with widespread condemnation he double-downed on his vilification of non-Muslim Malaysians by suggesting that our brothers and sisters of Malaysian Chinese descents are guests that are not born here and must go first before he does. There is a very British word that perfectly sums up how these pronouncements hit me, gobsmacked. There is a very Malay word that perfectly described this unwelcome guest, “kurang ajar” (rude).

If we want to understand the toxic effect of Zakir Naik in driving a wedge in our multi-ethnic multi-religious society, just see the effect he creates within what is essentially a cult leader personality. He is practically worshipped by the fundamentalists for his uncompromising stand and given a free pass by middle-of- the-roaders used to feeling victimised, rightly or wrongly, in a modern 21st century world.

That by itself is not necessarily bad but what makes him a cancer is he makes them feel good by putting down those who are not one of "them". Those not one of "them" are anyone, Muslims or non-Muslims, who do not follow or agree to his dogmatic version of fundamentalist Islam, who then for all intents and purposes are either directly or indirectly labelled enemies or betrayers of Islam.

This end product of the cult of us versus them is very well articulated by PAS MP for Bachok, Nik Mohamad Abduh, who said, "Non-Muslims who work to shoo Zakir out of the country will do so if they are enemies of Islam. Those who support the enemies of Islam are stooges". So, now Zakir Naik is Islam and Islam is Zakir Naik.

An article “A Critical Appraisal of Zakir Naik’s Islamic Evangelism” published in International Journal of Islamic Thought, Vol. 15: June 2019 by Maziah Mustapha & Mohd Abbas Abdul Razak, is going around via social media supporting the defence of Zakir Naik, it seems these people who forwarded this article did not read the content which stated, “When Naik’s method of da’wah viewed in the light of the Prophetic traditions, it has become crystal clear that it is quite the contrary to the ways of the Prophet, he employed diplomacy, persuasion, tolerance, mutual-respect, etc. towards the adherents of other faith, particularly the Christians of Najran”.

This is typical in some of those who do not read nor understand what they are supporting.

The extremism does not stop there. PAS President Hadi Awang essentially threw our Constitution and the rest of Malaysian citizenry under the bus at the altar of Zakir Naik, when he said, "Do not oppose the red light, because the right of Muslim brotherhood comes before citizenship, and crosses the borders of countries and nations. That is the fact, not an incitement". This is the new amanat Hadi.

This tragic episode of having this extremism linger in our nation will embolden certain extremist followers in their exclusive group. He, like all cult leaders, spawns disciples that spread this exclusiveness mindset further into our mainstream society. We keep him and his kind at our own detriment. There is a reason why multiple countries refuse him even entry.

This will not end well for Malaysia and Malaysian unity. Cut the cancer out and immediately apply chemotherapy on the body of society to let the healing begin.

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