It takes two hands to clap

The Muslims can regard the non-Muslims as brothers and sisters fighting for a common cause — a better Malaysia for the future generations — or they can continue shouting that non-Muslims should never be taken as friends.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

A couple of years ago I wrote about how Islam spreads hate. I do not mean, of course, Islam the religion. I am talking about the Islam practiced by the majority of the Muslims. Understandably, this article of mine met with negative responses from most Muslims — and silence from the non-Muslims who knew better than to engage in what might be viewed as anti-Islamic rhetoric.

Let us imagine this scenario. A Muslim walks past a church or temple and he or she hears the blaring PA system and the priest inside screaming that Islam is a fake religion, that Prophet Muhammad had been deceived by Satan into believing that God is sending down a new religion from heaven, that the Quran is man-made and not from God and a creation of deviants years after Muhammad had died, that Muslims are mistakenly following the religion of the devil, that Muhammad in fact never existed, that Islam is part-Hindu and part-Zoroastrian and that all the rituals and beliefs are borrowed from these two religions, and so on and so forth.

Yes, I know what the critics say about Islam and the above is but some of what they say. But let us say that a Muslim walks past a church or temple and this is what he or she hears. Can you imagine the backlash? Would Muslims remain quiet and tolerate what they would view as insulting and slanderous to Islam? Certainly not and be prepared for blood on the streets, the result of the most brutal retaliation you can ever imagine.

But no, no church or temple would dare do such a thing. No priest would dare declare the Muslims as enemies who must be exterminated. No priest would even consider asking his congregation to declare war on Islam and Muslims. It is just not on. And the people of the other faiths just can’t understand why this same thing is not taboo to the Muslims.

We talk about multi-culturalism. We talk about racial harmony. We talk about inter-faith tolerance. But that’s all we do. We talk. We do not demonstrate that we really mean what we say. We do not walk the talk. On the other hand, Muslims would not hesitate to declare that those not of the Muslim faith can never be taken as friends of the Muslims. If they are not friends then what are they? The opposite of friend is enemy. Sure, we do not quite say that they should be regarded as the enemy. This is a crime under Malaysia’s Sedition Act. We just say that they should not be taken as friends. This is not seditious.

Then we talk about wanting a new opposition coalition called Pakatan Rakyat. We talk about seeing a strong opposition finally emerging in Malaysia. We talk about our dream of a two-party system in Malaysia. We aspire for check and balances in the way this country is run. And we know that this can only be achieved if and when all the races in Malaysia unite. So we call for all the races to unite. But we look down on the other races and declare that non-Muslims can’t be taken as friends.

Muslims are beginning to look like hypocrites. To the non-Muslims we say, “Let us unite for a better Malaysia.” Amongst fellow Muslims we say. “The non-Muslims can’t be taken as friends.” We think that the non-Muslims do not know this. The truth is, the non-Muslims do know but they are hoping that in time the first statement will override the second statement and that Malaysia will eventually become a true multi-racial country.

8 March 2008 was just the beginning of the wide chasm between Muslims and non-Muslims becoming closer. It is closer. But it is not closed. And the ‘closeness’ is only temporary. It is only for the next four or five years until the next general election. It can get closer still and eventually the chasm is removed totally or it can revert to what it used to be before 8 March 2008.

The choice is not really with the non-Muslims. They are the minority and minorities do not have too many choices. The choice is with the Muslims. The Muslims can regard the non-Muslims as brothers and sisters fighting for a common cause — a better Malaysia for the future generations — or they can continue shouting that non-Muslims should never be taken as friends. And the choice the Muslims make will determine the outcome of the 13th General Election, whenever that is going to be held.

This is our last chance. We can either move forward in the spirit of a New Malaysia and with all Malaysians united. Or we can revert to what it used to be — a Malaysia divided by race and religion. No, the non-Muslims would never say nasty things about Islam, the Quran, Prophet Muhammad or the Muslims. They know it is suicidal to do so, as time and time again that has been proven. It is time that the Muslims too matured and look at the reality of the world today. It takes two hands to clap. And unless the Muslims too raise their hands there will be no clap. That is the long and short of the whole thing.

The sermons of hate from my childhood have been silenced

Dr Khalid Salem Al-Yabhouni

One of my earliest memories from boyhood is being taken to the mosque by my father to attend Friday prayers and hear the sermon. Friday to the Islamic faith is of great importance for it’s symbolic significance – the first mosque was built on Friday – and for the Quranic injunction that instructs Muslims to attend the mosque and heed their prayers:

“O ye who believe! When the call is proclaimed to prayer on Friday (the Day of Assembly), hasten earnestly to the Remembrance of Allah, and leave off business (and traffic): That is best for you if ye but knew,” – Holy Quran 62:9

The Friday sermons, so I was taught in my Islamic studies classes at school, should be a kind of forum where an informed Muslim can enlighten the people from the pulpit about the concerns of life and the afterlife. The issues that the sermons address could be religious, political, social, economic or personal if need be. And they should follow the Prophet’s example and last from 15 to 20 minutes.

That’s what we were taught at school, certainly. But what I remember from attending those mosque sermons with my father was very different. The sermons we used to listen to then almost always dealt with political issues, and only very rarely with others matters such as religious rites, or moral issues. I suppose it is true that all the political sermons we heard led children like myself to begin thinking about political affairs early on in life – which in itself is no bad thing. No, the problem was not the subject matter but the tone that the imams invariably used: they were always angry.

The usual style of delivery would be for the imam to begin quietly and then progress, getting louder and louder until he was screaming into the microphone. The blaring voice of the imam would shake not just the foundations of the mosque but the foundations of all the listeners, too. At the very top of his voice, he would invariably threaten fire and brimstone, impending punishment and distant reward for all the worshippers. Finally, his voice hoarse from the shouting, the imam would conclude by cursing the enemies of Islam – as defined by his own personal criteria. It was impossible for anyone, young or old, not to be deeply affected by such a performance.

For the first 20 or so years of my life, sermons of this type were my weekly religious staple, until I left Abu Dhabi to study abroad. My first stop was Kalamazoo, a small town in the state of Michigan in the United States, where I went to study at Western Michigan University. My subjects were comparative politics and comparative religions – which gave me the opportunity to understand my own religion and the religions of the world in a more academic manner.

I began visiting churches and other religious centres, and went to services to learn about the different faiths at first hand. In none of them, regardless of denomination, did I hear the preacher cursing others and praying for their destruction. In none of them did I hear the preacher shouting at the top of his voice into a heavily-amplified microphone. The religious ceremonies that I attended were quiet and peaceful, the priests and preachers serious but calm in their demeanour – and all were most welcoming.

I did find, however, that the mosque in Kalamazoo was just like those I had left behind in Abu Dhabi. The imam would curse and scream and promise punishment and impending doom. My most embarrassing experience was when some American students wanted to come with me to listen to the sermon at Friday prayers. The imam, in his usual manner, cursed them roundly in Arabic and I had to translate what was being said to my fellow students.

After completing the introductory courses on the major religions of the world, such as Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism and Judaism, I began an intensive study of the Islamic faith in all its subdivisions so that I could begin to understand my own religion more fully. Eight years have passed since then and my studies continue, but I now believe that the manner in which the sermons were made when I was a boy and in America does not conform to what the Islamic faith preaches.

Ever since the September 11 attacks of 2001, the mosques in the United Arab Emirates have been brought under the direct supervision of the Ministry of Islamic Endowments and Religious Affairs and under the direction of enlightened religious leaders. Now, the sermons are considerably more humane and deal with issues that are of immediate concern to the worshippers. Where, in the past, politics took precedence in the mosque, today, religious, social, and humanitarian matters have a significantly greater importance. Political issues are still discussed, but only if there is religious clarification needed on them. Today, the ending of the sermons are also vastly different. Now, they always finish with prayers for the well-being of all mankind and to ease the hardships of all.

I am happy that my sons and the sons of my sisters and brothers living in the more enlightened UAE of today will not be exposed to the angry, vengeful face of the imams I remember from my childhood. Instead, they will discover the humane and tender face of the Islamic ideal that was lost but has now found its place again.

Dr Khalid Salem Al-Yabhouni is a political analyst and researcher


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