Ak57\’s Weblog

Thoughts and opinions on Malaysian news, its people and its culture

Forgotten Principles of Islam

This blog post may be a bit too preachy for some. If talk of Islam bothers you please skip it.

Recently a friend of mine forwarded me some articles Raja Petra had written on Islam which I found comforting to read. Our views are so aligned it’s almost as though we went to the same government and religious schools. It is not easy to talk about Islam in Malaysia without talking about Malays, but the topic of Malays alone would run for pages so I will try and focus on Islam.

In science and religion it is always important to know the principles first before learning implementation and techniques being used. I often feel saddened by the behaviour of Malay Muslims here who have lost sight of what the principles of Islam are.

What I will discuss here is my personal opinion on what these principles are – I am not a religious authority by any means, so feel free to disagree with my view of Islam. A few of these principles are:

  1. Helping others (regardless of race or religion)
  2. Honesty and justice in dealing with others
  3. Maintaining balance in life
  4. Pursuit of knowledge
  5. Shared brotherhood
  6. Society’s needs take precedence

Helping others (regardless of race or religion)

If anyone comes to you in need of help, then it is your obligation to do so, but not at your own expense. By that I mean if you are just ‘getting by’, then you should not be donating money to charities or over-exerting yourself doing volunteer work – you will only end up reducing your quality of life.

You will end up being a less useful member of society, sacrificing many future opportunities to help others for the sake of one present opportunity to help another. Martyrdom may sound appealing to some, but if you look at the long term it is foolish.

Personally I find no fault in helping other religions. The fact is a true Islamic State would fund churches and temples if residents are in need of them. They would fund Chinese and Tamil schools if there was a demand for them. Unfortunately the Malay Supremacy practised by our Government has clouded the judgement of the Muslims in power, forcing them to limit the practices of other religions.

If I were a rich philanthropist I would fund construction of churches, Buddhist temples and Hindu temples because it is sad to see places of worship forced to set themselves up in a warehouse, shop lot or house. Sadly I am a very long way from becoming a philanthropist.

The only help I can give freely is volunteer work, which I have done for a church and Buddhist temple before – my view is that as long as I’m not engaging in an activity that directly spreads their faith, then it is alright. Helping Buddhists gather clothes to send to tsunami victims is ok. Cleaning up a church after Christmas Eve celebrations is ok. Christians do need a clean place of worship on Christmas day after all. Yet many people criticise me because I don’t practice religious prejudice.

This makes me a very odd Muslim in the eyes of many, but it is line with the principle of fairness.

Honesty and fairness in dealing with others

Why are Malays so focused on helping their race? I know that Indians and Chinese are ‘foreign visitors’ but a racist ideology runs counter to Islamic principles. Quotas for universities, differently-priced homes, reserved housing lots, financial aid – clearly only two types of people exist in our country: Malaysian Malays and Malaysian Others. It may have seemed just when our nation was founded, but after 50 years I feel that the ‘Others’ have been assimilated enough, don’t you think?

What about bribes and corruption? Does that mean it is ok to give preferential treatment to people who give bribes? Is it alright to always give out contracts to cronies, while giving the impression that other contractors were considered? To give a different set of prices to people based on race? That is a dishonest way of dealing.

Maintaining balance in life

There is a phrase in Islam called wasatiah. The generally accepted meaning is moderation and balance in life. You can spin whatever theories you want from that, one meaning that I take from it is, ‘living life without excess’. Building huge mansions, driving fast overpriced cars, spending tons of cash on clothes and jewellery – surely some of that cash could be put to better use? Maybe as a donation to a functioning welfare organisation?

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t spend money on such luxuries at all- after all we’re only human. We need the occasional pleasure. But I do see a lot of selfishness around, lots of people showering themselves in luxury items and food.

The other meaning I take from wasatiah is balancing acts of good. I try not to solely help one organisation/individual. It isn’t easy to explain, but take the volunteerism for the places of worship mentioned earlier. I still feel like I ‘owe’ some help for Hindu temples since I’ve already ‘covered’ Christians and Buddhists. I had an opportunity recently when there was a charity dinner to fund construction of a Hindu temple in Kayu Ara, but I lacked the funding 😦

So in politics I would not want to be permanently attached to one politician when it is clear that many Opposition politicians need help. Not that I’m some Superman, but I am always drawn to those who have naught.

Pursuit of knowledge

Islam has a strong intellectual side to it, which is why there are many historical records of professed Muslim scholars and scientists. We are encouraged to keep on learning, to make discoveries that benefit society.

This may be unrelated, but in Islam, Muslims are responsible for all their sins. There is no magic confession booth that takes it all away. That appeals to me because it makes me think about my actions, where even the smallest lie carries some weight on my spirit/soul.

Shared brotherhood

Islam has a lot of ritualistic behaviour in its prayers though there is some flexibility in prayer times. There are also lots of rules, with the idea being ‘prevention better than cure’. One of the benefits of these rituals and rules is the enforcement of discipline – a necessary trait to succeed in life.

Why no alcohol? Because when you are drunk (everyone has a different limit), there is no telling what you might do, what sins you might commit – and worse of all you may not remember anything.

Why no pork? Because eating pork regularly weakens the immune system of the body – that’s the scientific argument. The other theory is that one day there might be a disease exclusive to pigs and we don’t want to take that risk – the only ‘evidence’ of that has been the JE outbreaks. Personally I’m inclined to go with the scientific argument because pigs and humans share many diseases e.g. the common cold.

Why the elaborate prayers and these rules? It gives comfort to Muslims that when they meet each other anywhere in the world, they ‘know’ that they have these religious practises in common. I know that today I could fly across the world and pray together with other Muslims, no problem. When it comes to leading prayers anyone can lead – we are all equal (though yes, a female can only lead if no post-teen males are present).

A globally shared brotherhood exists as a result. Some Muslims find it empowering to belong to a global family, thereby enhancing their quality of life.

The Friday Prayers every week also helps reinforce the feeling that you are not alone. As we are encouraged to pray together 5 times a day, we are indirectly encouraged to get together with fellow Muslims. It is common practice to have a cup of tea with friends after evening prayers, though I do frown heavily on Muslims who do that during working hours – taking advantage of their employer’s ignorance of true Islamic practices.

Society’s needs take precedence

To recap the points covered thus far:

  1. Helping others (regardless of race or religion)
  2. Honesty and justice in dealing with others
  3. Maintaining balance in life
  4. Pursuit of knowledge
  5. Shared brotherhood

All these points are related to this last point – that of society being more important than self. Muslims practice these points with the ultimate goal of helping society. Assuming one could resist the basic flight response in the face of danger, a Muslim practitioner would sacrifice his/her life to save another.

Back to why I mentioned being saddened by Malay Muslims in our country – many don’t practice the faith, so I lose out on the shared brotherhood. I get annoyed when the number of people who attend Friday Prayers triples during fasting month (Ramadhan) – where were all these people the other months of the year?

Closing

Islam in Malaysia is complicated by Malays and I don’t see change coming quickly. Today if I meet a Malay Muslim here below 30 I can’t assume anything at all. Now I have ‘met’ Raja Petra, in time I may meet others like myself which would be great. But regardless I will continue to practice what I preach till the very end.

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Written by ak57

July 31, 2008 at 9:58 pm

Posted in Personal

Tagged with ,

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