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Month: October 2014

Pushing back against the crushing juggernaut

Published in Malay Mail Online

The news that Kelantan is mulling punishing male Muslims in the state with up to one-year jail if they skip Friday prayers for three consecutive weeks has managed to shock many people.

It shocked me for a different reason. My experience in lovely Kelantan has shown me that its people are quite liberal in practising Islam and far from being judgmental about others, regardless of their faith.

I know some Kelantan folks who travel across the border to Thailand and do not mind skipping Friday prayers for that (you are abstained if you are travelling further than two marhalah — roughly 90 kilometres). During Friday prayer time, it is usual to see Malay men loitering around, having lunch, with nary a judgmental look coming their way.

(In retrospect, this could be the exact reason why the Kelantan state government has decided to put the fear God on Kelantan folks, on behalf of God Himself!)

Do not blame Kelantan alone though. There are already similar punishments against the non-performance of Friday prayers in most states’ Syariah Criminal Offences enactments, where a male Muslim can be fined not more than RM1,000 or jailed up to six months.

Having religion institutionalised is not the problem of Muslims alone. Forget what has been said all this while about Shariah laws solely affecting the Muslims. Non-Muslims are getting more and more affected too, and it should be clear to us by now.

The Muslim world wants White Knights, not critics

Published in Malay Mail Online

We have to at least “thank” comic and host Bill Maher for bringing up the topic of what it means to be a Muslim in the Western world. By now, many of us are aware of his CNN interview with comparative religion scholar Reza Aslan; and the subsequent Real Talk forum with actor and activist Ben Affleck.

You might also have read a number of commentaries of the two significant media appearances, of which this article you are reading now will also be one.

The initial reactions have been almost celebratory of Aslan and Affleck: The former for ripping into host Maher, and the latter against Maher (again) and his fellow panelist author and neuroscientist Sam Harris. On both occasions, Maher and Harris were associated with “racism,” “bigotry,” and “hatred of Muslims” for their description of the faith and its adherents.

To those familiar with Maher and Harris, this was not entirely unprecedented. Both are staunch critics of religions, not just Islam.

It is hard to imagine that their harsh attacks will help their cause to change the minds of those they attack, added to the fact of their privileges as white men.

Post 9-11, the Muslim world has been positioning itself as victims of persecution. This is not an untrue claim, for there are many documented cases of Muslims being harassed, abused, and discriminated against, particularly in the West. However, the stance has also been used as a shield against valid criticism.

We can argue how it is incorrect to label critics of Islam as “racist” (considering Islam is not a race), or “Islamophobes” (considering these critics do not really fear Islam), but the labels are being used nonetheless to stifle discussions.

This is compounded when secular liberals themselves join the narrative, and accuse Muslim critics of doing so, sometimes for instant credibility — much like the credibility Affleck has received with Muslims online.

But the problem is two-fold too; Muslim critics are not only facing challenges from fellow secular liberals, but also from Muslims themselves. Which is no surprise really.

After #SwedenLetThemGo, a happy ending

Published in Malay Mail Online

After being subjected to months of media spotlight, it must seem like a fairly happy ending for the Malaysian couple convicted of child abuse in Sweden. They would probably love nothing more than to go on with their lives like nothing has happened.

The mother, Shalwati Norshal, returned home last week after serving just six months of the original 14-month sentence. Her husband Azizul Raheem Awalludin served only three months.

The two of them were not only welcomed home with fanfare, but were celebrated by their employees in the civil service.

Azizul continues to work with Tourism Malaysia since July. He still holds the same position as he did before he was convicted, albeit in a different department.

Upon his return to work, the agency’s director-general Mirza Mohd Taiyab even announced Azizul as its special guest at a breaking fast event.

Meanwhile, Shalwati told reporters upon her return that she looks forward to teaching at the all-girls boarding school Sekolah Seri Puteri soon, where we can assume she will be welcomed with open arms despite her child abuse conviction.

Azizul, despite serving three months less jail time than his wife, has reportedly admitted to his error. This remorse however is not evident when it comes to Shalwati.