AS a child, visits up north with my family were a special occasion for me.
It was quite a long journey by road from our house in Kuantan to Penang to visit my grandparents, so there was always that added bit of excitement for us during the holidays.
We usually spent at least three or four nights with my grandparents before returning, but on some of our longer stays, we would hop on a ferry over to Langkawi to visit my uncle’s family.
Each time, we would make it a point to go to Dataran Lang (Eagle Square), home to the iconic brown eagle statue. Those who have been to Langkawi will know that the 12m-high monument is literally the first thing you’ll see as your ferry approaches the Kuah jetty from a distance.
Some of my most vivid childhood memories of Langkawi are of that eagle, which has become synonymous with the island’s image and appeal as a tourist destination.
Hence, it came as an obvious shock when a certain religious official recently suggested that the famous structure be demolished for being “un-Islamic”.
In an opinion piece published by a local daily, Perak deputy mufti Zamri Hashim said that full-bodied statues of living creatures such as humans or animals are haram (forbidden) and should be demolished because they could become an object of worship.
A landmark that has long been a source of pride, not just to Kedahans like my uncle’s family but to all Malaysians, had somehow become a threat to our faith overnight.
Remarks like these truly boggle the mind, especially when coming from personalities who are supposed to be credible sources of knowledge and reference for the community.
At least the sheer outrage which greeted Zamri’s suggestion proved that common sense still prevails over the absurd, even in the thorny issue of faith.
Most moderate thinking Malaysians are quick to express criticism of rulings or edicts that have no apparent basis.
We may not be experts, but questioning the learned few on such matters sends a firm message that we will not be hoodwinked into accepting a glorified personal opinion just because it has been presented in the guise of religion.
However, what does seem rather worrying is that our rejection of religious fundamentalism has not put a stop to such voices.
In fact, they continue to make headlines and are even defended by certain sections of the population.
The Langkawi eagle is just the latest addition to an ever-growing list of perceived “threats” to Muslims.
Others in recent memory include the poco-poco dance, Taoist shrines, Pokemon GO, Selena Gomez’ clothing and apparently even DAP (remember that kafir harbi remark by the Pahang mufti?).
One wonders if this is merely an attention-seeking tactic, especially when contentious remarks on religion are almost always pounced on by news outlets and the masses.
Perhaps they want quick publicity and expect the backlash to die down after awhile, as there is a tendency for Malaysians to forget an issue after a brief outcry.
After all, how many of us are still fuming over Perak mufti Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria’s remarks that women must always submit themselves sexually to their husbands, even “on the back of a camel”?
Zamri himself is no stranger to controversy, causing a stir back in March when he suggested in a similar opinion piece that Muslim men who allowed their wives to participate in beauty pageants and other “un-Islamic” vocations were considered dayus (cowardly).
He even labelled Muslim husbands as failures if they let their wives and children leave home without covering up, allowed them to mingle freely with the opposite sex and neglected to educate them about basic religious obligations.
As a Muslim, I share the view that every household needs a strong religious foundation. However, the approach taken by a majority of preachers thus far leaves much to be desired.
History has shown that no community responds positively to an imposition of beliefs and forced practices – just ask the Afghans who once lived under Taliban rule.
If that is the lifestyle ultimately being promoted by some of our Muslim clerics, if we need to worry about little things like harmless animal sculptures becoming objects of worship, then our experts have been focusing on all the wrong things.
So no Mr Zamri, I will not force my wife to live by the rules you think are right, and if that makes me “cowardly”, then I’d gladly accept that label.
You can also bet that I will still pay a visit to Dataran Lang the next time I’m in Langkawi.
- Fresh Faces Young Voices offers a new space to a new generation that’s passionate about their causes. Online reporter Akil Yunus believes the world would be a better place without politics, but also a lot duller, something he addresses in The Flipside. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Akil Yunus believes the world would be a better place without politics, but also a lot duller. He is a moderate at everything but eating, and feels people should make sense, not war.