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A debate steeped in ignorance (part 2)

Posted: 05 Jul 2013 10:05 PM PDT

After speaking to ten different Muslims from ten different parts of the world, you will be so confused as to what Islam really is. You thought you know Islam after speaking to the Malays who form only 15 million of the more than one billion Muslims. However, after speaking to Muslims from all over the world, you will be utterly confused and will scream: WILL THE REAL ISLAM PLEASE STAND UP!


Raja Petra Kamarudin

The next issue that was hotly debated over this last week -- triggered by the conversion bill matter, now withdrawn -- is regarding Islam. In fact, the issue of Islam appears to have been hotly debated since probably back in the days when PAS transformed from being a regional political party into a national party -- and around the time of the 1979 revolution in Iran and the so-called 'Islamic Revival' (I said 'so-called').

Islam, at least in Malaysia, is being debated in the context of the Malaysian viewpoint. And the reason Islam -- and not Christianity, Hinduism or Buddhism -- is debated is mainly because Islam is the religion of the Federation of Malaysia and anything concerning Islam affects the country. Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism have no impact on the country so nobody bothers much about these other religions.

So we can understand why the non-Muslims worry and talk about Islam, as they do about many other matters as well (such as language, education, corruption, etc.). And we really cannot blame them for worrying -- and hence talking about Islam -- since it will impact their lives. But they need to know when talking or discussing ends and interfering begins.

This is probably the most difficult part for the non-Muslims to understand. Sometimes the comments by the non-Muslims regarding Islam strays into the boundary of interfering. While the non-Muslims do have genuine concerns -- and Muslims must wake up to this fact and allow the non-Muslims to express these concerns -- the non-Muslims, in turn, need to recognise this boundary and not step over this boundary.

One example would be the religion of minors. It is the obligation of Muslim parents to educate their children both academically and spiritually. And do not those from the other religions do this as well? But for the non-Muslims to preach to the Muslims that the Qur'an says there is no compulsion in religion, and then argue that this means Islam cannot be forced upon anyone, demonstrates utter ignorance about both Islam and the Qur'an. 

And this is what upsets the Muslims when non-Muslims pretend to be Qur'anic scholars and try to teach Muslims what the Qur'an says. In that same spirit I have had many Christians who whacked me when I talk about the Bible and they tell me that I know nothing and am not qualified to talk about the Bible.

Actually I am. I learned the Bible long before I even read the Qur'an. But they assume that since I am a Muslim that means I know zilch about the Bible.

Anyway, the ignorance and confusion regarding Islam and/or the Qur'an is not only a non-Muslim 'disease'. The Muslims, too suffer from this same 'disease'. And herein lies the problem -- when we have both sides to the debate (the Muslims as well as the non-Muslims) debating an issue that both know very little about.

We have to remember that the non-Muslim understanding of Islam or the Qur'an comes from what they hear from the mouths of the Muslims. The Muslims, in turn, make remarks regarding Islam from what they have been told by mainly the Malay scholars a.k.a the ulama'. And the Muslims assume the ulama' know what they are talking about while the non-Muslims assume that what the Muslims are saying is a fact according to Islam.

This is what the Malay proverb refers to as the frog under a coconut shell syndrome. You live in a very small world (which is under that coconut shell) and you assume that the rest of the world is like what your world is.

And herein lies the second problem.

Islam is not 'fixed' -- if I may be permitted use that word for want of a better word. Islam is 'varied'. And it varies depending on what you have been taught, who taught you, where you live and who guided you. Hence to use the Malaysian Muslim (meaning Malay) view of Islam and come to a conclusion based on this view is grossly incorrect.

In short, there is Islam and there is Islam. So which Islam are you talking about? The Malay version of Islam? How do you know this is the correct version? And how can you make a comment and come to a conclusion based on this very narrow view as if this is true Islam and there are no two ways about it?

Let's us go back to the issue of mixed marriages and the religion of the child. Some Muslims are of the view that a non-Muslim partner must convert to Islam before he or she can marry a Muslim partner. This, of course, is the Malaysian view (meaning Malay view). And this is what the Malaysian Muslim will say. So the non-Muslim would consider this is the legitimate Islamic view and will comment accordingly (and mostly in an uncomplimentary manner).

But is it so? Other ulama' will say that a Christian or Jew can marry a Muslim. Some ulama' will say only a Christian or Jewish woman can marry a Muslim man while if the woman is Muslim then the Christian or Jewish man must convert to Islam.

So you see, there are so many different opinions. So which one is right and which one is wrong?  As the Muslim would say: only God knows. Hence no one can claim that he or she is following the right teachings while the other teachings are wrong. You don't really know. You are only following what you have been taught. And how do you know you have been taught the right thing?

There are more than one billion Muslims out of which only 15 million or so are Malaysians. Even the Muslims in East Malaysia are different from those in West Malaysia. And then you go to Indonesia (the largest Muslim country in the world) and the Muslims there are different again.

Then we talk to a Wahabi Muslim and we learn that their view is totally different from those outside Saudi Arabia. Then we talk to an Iraqi Muslim and we learn that they regard the Wahabis as deviants and apostates (meaning, not Muslims). Then we talk to a Turkish or Egyptian or Iranian Muslim and we learn, yet again, that they have a totally different view.

After speaking to ten different Muslims from ten different parts of the world, you will be so confused as to what Islam really is. You thought you know Islam after speaking to the Malays who form only 15 million of the more than one billion Muslims. However, after speaking to Muslims from all over the world, you will be utterly confused and will scream: WILL THE REAL ISLAM PLEASE STAND UP!

So here we have the Chinese and Indians commenting about Islam and trying to preach Islam to the Malays. But then which Islam are you talking about? Do you know? Even the Malays are confused. So do you know whether you are making the correct observation and hence the correct comment?

A Malay once told me that the Hindus pray to cows. I asked this person why he said that and he replied because cows are sacred to the Hindus. This is of course his personal opinion and we can easily say that in a democracy he is entitled to his opinion and therefore there is nothing wrong in him saying that.

Maybe in a democracy he is entitled to his opinion. But if his opinion is wrong then in a democracy I also have the right to correct him and tell him he is wrong. Hindus do not pray to cows. How can I allow him to say that? I would rather delete that comment than allow it under the umbrella of freedom of speech. And because this Malay is ignorant of Hinduism he made that ignorant comment based on the wrong observation just like many of you make comments regarding Islam on the same basis.

Do you know I spoke to one Iranian and he disputed the authenticity of the holy books (all the holy books of Judaism, Christianity and Islam). He then referred to the story of Noah as one example and argued that the story is not plausible. He gave some very logical arguments to support his belief.

After listening at length to his explanation, I must admit that he had a very good point. Now, if you knew nothing about Islam and you heard what this person had to argue, are you going to form an opinion and say that this is the correct Islamic teaching just because this person says so?

And if you believe what this person says and then you post a comment saying that all the holy books of the Abrahamic faiths are bullshit will you not be rubbing Jews, Christians and Muslims the wrong way? Definitely you will be accused of insulting their religions -- just like that Malay who said that Hindus pray to cows is insulting the Hindus.

So be very careful when you debate Islam, especially if you are not a Muslim. You may say something thinking that that is what Islam says (just because you heard someone say it) whereas you may be totally off the mark. And that is when you will be insulting Muslims because in your ignorance you have painted a false picture of Islam.

And that is when I will whack you or just delete your comment.


A debate steeped in ignorance (part 1)

Posted: 05 Jul 2013 08:13 PM PDT

For example, one of the terms of the Agreement was that all Chinese and Indians born in Malaysia would automatically be given citizenship. The Malays, Chinese and Indians agreed to this. However, if we allow unilateral decisions to a bilateral agreement, would that now mean the Malays can rescind that term in the Agreement and now rule that the Chinese and Indians no longer get automatic citizenship even if they are born in Malaysia?


Raja Petra Kamarudin

I find that many comments over the last week -- most of which I deleted mainly because they were so off the mark -- are from people who have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. And this applies to Malaysians from all ethnic backgrounds.

One issue that was hotly debated is the role of the Monarchy. While I can appreciate that there will always be Monarchists and Republicans in any society (even in Australia it is 51% versus 49% respectively), those comments that espoused the abolishing of the Monarchy in favour of a Republic were entirely off tangent.

One 'favourite' comment is regarding the exorbitant cost to maintain the Monarchy. Another argues the low amount of tourist dollars that the Malaysian Monarchy brings in compared to that of the British Monarchy (which earns tourist money).

While to the mainly Chinese readers the issue would centre on how much money the country spends compared to how much it can earn from that expenditure, we cannot always justify something from merely the viewpoint of profit-and-loss. Sometimes profit-and-loss cannot be the criteria or the only criteria to consider doing something.

If it is only about how much we spend compared to how much profit we can make from that expenditure, then there would be many other expenditures we can attack first. In a turn-around exercise, the turn-around specialists would normally attack the top three cost items, which in most cases contribute to more than 50% and sometimes even 90% of the expenditure.

I will talk more about that later.

One issue raised by the anti-Monarchists was regarding the more than RM1 billion spent on the Agong's palace. Who built this palace? Did the Agong build this palace or did he command that the palace be built? Which Agong was it that ordered the palace built? And whichever Agong it may have been, and assuming it was he who wanted that palace built, is he eventually going to live in that palace?

The truth is none of the Agongs wanted that palace built or ordered it to be built. It was the government back in 2006 (at the time when Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was Prime Minister and THREE Agongs ago) that wanted to build it. And it was built as a symbol for the country.

I repeat: the idea to build that palace was made at the time when Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was Prime Minister and THREE Agongs ago.

Now, whether Malaysia does or does not need such an exorbitant symbol such as a RM1 billion palace is another issue and another debate. However, to blame the Agong for building that palace (and the construction stretched over THREE Agongs: so which Agong are you blaming?) when none of the Agongs ever asked for such a palace -- and then use this excuse as the reason why the Monarchy should be abolished -- is way off the mark and downright unjust on top of that.

So now you know why such comments need to be deleted. It is because you do not know what you are saying and what you said can be blamed on your ignorance.

Now, back to the cost versus income or profit-and-loss issue.

Malaysia (just like all or most countries) spends more on defence than on any other item. And this is a total waste of money. At least if we spend that money on welfare, healthcare, education, etc., it will benefit the rakyat. What benefit do we get from that large amount of money spent on defence?

Do you know that most of the equipment we buy never gets used? Did we ever go to war with any country -- say like Singapore, Thailand, China, Indonesia, Brunei, Vietnam, Philippines, etc? In the end, because we do not go to war, most of the equipment 'expires' and gets scrapped. So why buy them if we do not need them and they eventually get scrapped?

Malaysia, plus almost every country all over the world, 'wastes' so much money on defence (which is never used in the end) for the security of the nation. In terms of expenses versus income it is a losing proposition.

Hence, as I said earlier, a turn-around manager would normally attack the top three cost items to cut out and defence would definitely have to be that item or one of those items to cut out. But we cannot do that because it is a 'wasted' cost that we need to keep in spite of the 'wasted' money.

Now, while on the issue of defence and security, how would the Monarchy fit in to this? Is the Monarchy merely a symbol (which in a way it is)? Is it a tourist attraction to draw in tourist dollars (which it is not)? What role does the Monarchy play in the bigger scheme of things to justify the cost to maintain and retain it?

This issue can, of course, be debated and both sides -- the Monarchists as well as the Republicans -- would have a valid argument. So there is no right or wrong here. There is only two differing viewpoints or two sides to the argument.

As I said, there is no right or wrong argument. There are only opinions. And I would like to give you my personal opinion, which can be either right or wrong depending on how you look at things.

And my viewpoint is as follows.

When the British decided to give the country independence and create the Federation of Malaya, they had to engage the nine Ruling Houses in negotiations. And one of the terms of Merdeka and the creation of the Federation was that the Monarchy would be retained but would be reduced to a mere Constitutional Monarchy. Hence this is what we call the Merdeka Agreement.

Now, there are those who argue that that was back in the 1950s and times have changed so we must review the Agreement and modify it to be in tune with the modern world where Monarchies are no longer applicable or practical.

Agreed, that is a good argument. Even the illegality of gay marriages, etc., are being reviewed 'in tune with the modern world' in spite of the Bible declaring that gay marriages are illegal or sinful (hence even God is being 'overturned' to keep in tune with the modern world).

However, if we really want to review and amend the Agreement (which is allowed, of course) can such reviews be done unilaterally? Agreements are entered into by two or more parties. So any review or renegotiation must be bilateral. It cannot be unilateral. How can we propose a unilateral review and then tell the other party to the Agreement to stuff it? Is this just?

This appears to be one point that has escaped many people proposing the abolishing of the Monarchy. An Agreement was made called the Merdeka Agreement. If you want to review and amend this Agreement then all parties to the Agreement have to be involved. One side alone cannot do this and then shove it down the throat of the other party.

The danger in allowing a unilateral decision to a bilateral agreement would be that the so many other terms of the Agreement might suffer the same fate.

For example, one of the terms of the Agreement was that all Chinese and Indians born in Malaysia would automatically be given citizenship. The Malays, Chinese and Indians agreed to this. However, if we allow unilateral decisions to a bilateral agreement, would that now mean the Malays can rescind that term in the Agreement and now rule that the Chinese and Indians no longer get automatic citizenship even if they are born in Malaysia? 

And one more point -- which I remind you is my opinion and does not mean it is right and does not mean if you disagree with me you are wrong -- is regarding the role of the Monarchy as the protector of democracy.

Currently, the Agong is the person who declares an Emergency, although on the advise of the Prime Minister (and the Agong can refuse to do that if the Prime Minister cannot justify such an action). Furthermore, the Agong is the Commander of the Armed Forces.

Without an Agong, the Prime Minister can declare an Emergency and the military would report to the Generals (and hence can also rule by Martial Law). Have you seen what happened in Egypt a few days ago? The same thing has happened in many Middle Eastern, Latin American and Eastern European countries as well.

At least with an Agong a certain level of democracy can be maintained. With the Prime Minister and/or the military in charge, anything can happen.

Can I guarantee this will not happen if we maintain the Monarchy? Of course I cannot. Nothing is guaranteed. I cannot even guarantee I will be around tomorrow to continue writing for Malaysia Today. But at least the risks of a military takeover or of the Prime Minister declaring an Emergency are much reduced -- unless they want to sidestep the Agong (which, knowing the Malays, they would most likely never do).



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