Let the voice of reason prevail

MUSLIMS in this country must ask really tough questions on what kind of Islam we are propagating.

Take the case of the controversy surrounding “Timah” whiskey. The issue is bigger than the name of an alcoholic drink.

It is about where we are heading. And what is becoming of us. We need to take stock of what is happening.

Barisan Nasional, worried about the influence of PAS, promoted “ penerapan nilai-nilai Islam” (inculcating Islamic values) in the government back in the 1980s.

Umno was fighting PAS on the Islamic front to win votes in the Malay heartland. As always, zealotry is overwhelmed when religion is used as a government apparatus.

As a result, the Malays are becoming more Muslim and less Malay. In fact for the most part it is not so much about Islamic values but the entire process of Arabisation.

It is more about the look, the attire and words used. We have lost the Malay character behind the religion.

The Malays have unwittingly discarded even their best values in order to portray their “religiousness”.

The Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) was created with good intentions. Its role is to combat extremism, to portray the face of progressive Islam and to counter negative perceptions about the religion, Islamophobia too.

But Jakim seems to have taken the role of moral policing, censorship and much more which has put it under fire.

In 2015, even the Sultan of Johor questioned why Jakim needed a RM1bil budget. Even at that time the scrutiny over its accounts followed claims that it was promoting hardline Islamisation.

The worry among Muslim moderates is that Jakim is steering the country towards Islamic conservatism. The worry is not unfounded.

It was a surprise that there is a provision of an extra RM100mil in a RM1.5bil budget for Jakim announced by the Finance Minister in the 2022 Budget. I can understand why personalities like Tawfik Ismail and others raised concerns over the issue.

Right now, Muslims are creating discord among themselves and with others. At the same time the pendakwah (preachers) have become a force to be reckoned with. They are hugely popular, some even have attained celebrity status.

While many play a positive role in propagating good values, others are using their popularity to sow the seed of hatred among the populace.

The message by most of these preachers are about the fear in God and the after-life. The sermons in the mosques too are harping on the same theme, week in week out.

There is little about “now” and the need to instil the quest for success in the world or to compete with others.

Muslims are reminded of rumah sementara (temporary house) they are living in now, so they must prepare for their rumah abadi (permanent home) later.

Thriving and excelling in today’s world get little attention. The fight for fairness, justice and the abhorrence towards corruption and misuse of power is seldom highlighted.

The legacy of the Islamic past was largely built on Muslims’ confidence in the religion. In the previous century, Muslims were leading scholars and the mastery of almost every human endeavour.

Muslims were making their mark while the West was still in the Dark Ages.

But in the century that followed they were consumed by poverty and despair, their rights and dignity trampled upon, and were left behind by advancements initiated by their own best minds a century earlier.

Islamic NGOs and institutions must be empowered to provide the true face of progressive Islam.

Ironically, the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan is working hard to show a kinder, gentler and more tolerant face!

At the same time the majority of Muslims must speak up and be counted. The tyranny of silence is a death knell for the voices of reason and moderation.

Muslims in Malaysia must forge ahead with confidence. We must have the political wisdom to use religion as part of the commitment to justice and fairness.

It is critical that our brand of Islam is one that is not hypocritical and the identity detached from tribal and sectorial politics.

More importantly, Muslims in this country should not be engaging in matters that have little relevance to them, like the name of a whiskey.

Johan Jaaffar is a journalist, editor and for some years chairman of a media company, and is passionate about all things literature and the arts. And a diehard rugby fan. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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