THE statement made by the Perak mufti that the giant replica of the Langkawi eagle on the island is un-Islamic, implying that it should be pulled down, is yet another case of religious extremism making inroads into the cultural and recreational life of the country, creating fears that the conservative wings among the ulama are bent on turning back the clock on the socio-economic progress of the country.
Most Malaysians are moderates and realists. They would see the giant eagle as a symbol of the tourist island’s legendary history and that it is an appropriate way of advertising Langkawi to the tourist world as a land with a mystical past. The eagle statue has become an iconic brand which has been recognised as the most visible part of the island’s tourist attraction. I am glad that Kedah politicians have spoken out strongly against the extremist view for the eagle replica in Langkawi to be removed.
We have seen that the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis) are destroying all statues, ancient relics and any traces of pre-Islamic cultural heritage in their belief that these are haram as they could lead Muslims astray into idol worshipping. Among the priceless artefacts destroyed by the IS militants was the lion of al-Lat (pic), a 2,000-year-old statue in the ancient city of Palmyra in 2015.
They vandalise the historical and archaeological sites and museums and sell the valuable items in the art collectors market to raise money for their jihadist wars against the infidels, including Muslims who do not believe in their interpretation of Islam. Thanks to the bravery of the museum curators and guardians of the historical sites, many of the most precious artefacts have been stored away in secret hide-outs to save them from destruction by the religious raiders and jihadists of fortune.
Most Afghans, Iraqis and Syrians are determined to retain the relics of their ancient pre- Islamic history as this is an integral part of their civilisation.
Similarly, Malaysian Muslims cannot run away from the fact that much of our customs and traditions are shaped by the Hindu and Buddhist cultures that preceded the arrival of Islam. Eradicating such ancient historical origins of our civilisation is totally unrealistic and in a multiracial society like Malaysia, it can be catastrophic.
No country can call itself civilised if it does not recognise its historical past, whatever its origins and inspirations may be. It is well known in history that Kedah and Langkawi had a strong Hindu influence before the arrival of Islam. Hindu and Siamese mythologies of monkey gods, ghosts and demons are part of the ancient history of Langkawi. All these are interesting pieces of the mystery which makes the Langkawi story such a compelling brand for a world-class tourist destination.
While we worry about the rising tide of extremism and intolerance among the ulama community, we should continue to press the Government for open dialogue on Islam so that the voices of moderation are allowed freedom to challenge the conservative pressures for making Malaysia adopt the strict version of Islam as introduced by the Wahabbis in Saudi Arabia centuries ago.
The Government should come out strongly to encourage moderate Muslims to be active in defending the tolerance for multicultural and religious diversity and the Malaysian way of life as this is what in the end will make or break us as a nation.
TAN SRI MOHD SHERIFF MOHD KASSIM