Friday, August 25, 2006

Muslim Scholar: "Hudud laws not for Malaysia"

I have a lot of respect for Islamic scholar Dr Syed Ali Tawfik Al-Attas, the director-general of the Malaysian Institute of Islamic Understanding. I blogged on him in Islamic Scholar: "Stop F**king Around with Marriages!" where he expressed his concerns over the proposed misyar form of marriage. Then, he said he was disturbed by the debates, which largely touched on the issues of sex and lust.

Dr Syed Ali has just been interviewed by Malaysiakini where he provided his views on the Malays, Islam and a host of issues that we wanted to ask but wasn’t sure who to turn to.

After reading the first of his three interviews, I would venture to categorise his discourse into 3 groups of information – firstly there’s the revealing and informative ones, then a second batch where I seems to have more questions than enlightenment, and lastly and most disappointingly, some of his views on non-Islamic matters that I totally disagree with.

Firstly, he explained why Islamic hudud laws are not applicable to modern Malaysia. He explained that hudud law was similar to an emergency declaration provided certain elements are present to warrant it.

He said: “(This is) because one of the intentions of the hudud law in the beginning was to prevent the Arabs from going back to the mentality of the pagan tribe people. If the danger of Muslims becoming pagans existed today, then I would say apply it but this condition does not exist, so why speculate when there is no precedent.”

He elaborated: "... It seems like now, we’re reducing Islam merely to the laws, halal haram halal haram, that’s all. Islam does not merely fall within the category of law alone."

"Let’s take the issue of punishment for apostasy that they are talking about now as death. That is the hudud law. It’s not mentioned in the Quran as far as I know and there’s a historical precedent to why these laws were first established during Khalifah Omar’s time."

"He could see that the Arab population was already reverting to the tribal pagan mentality. In order to preserve and protect Islam from being miscommunicated and confused, right at the onset he put the most stringent laws. This is the reason."

"Therefore, the hudud laws are very strict precisely because of the intent designed to prevent the Arabs from returning to the jahiliyah mentality but that doesn’t mean they apply for all time, especially not in a country with a multi-religious, multi-social strata like Malaysia."

Another version that I had heard was that Islamic laws such as the death penalty for apostasy came into being during a time of war, when the act of apostasy was then akin to desertion during a military campaign. And we know that desertion during war even in modern times could be met with capital punishment.

Dr Syed Ali then said the Malays in Malaysia are Muslims first, else they won’t be Malay by definition. He went on to discuss issues of the constitutional definition, Malay language, culture, Islamic value system etc – I’ll blog on this much later because his explanations have filled me with more questions than information.

Another issue that has angered him has been what he perceived as interference by non-Muslims into Islamic affairs. He wants them to back off and mind their own business - more of this in another posting.

On the third group of information, eg. non-Islamic matters such as the building of churches and temples, he said that “in this country there is no stringent law that says you cannot do that (build places of worship). Look at every other corner or tree and you’ll see a little red Buddhist shrine. People don’t disturb it, they respect it. We don’t go and break it, for heaven’s sakes!”

“I think sometimes these people are also stepping over their boundaries, the ones who demand too much. There already is freedom of worship, you’re free to worship anywhere.”

Well, much as I respect him for his intellectual knowledge on Islam, he knows diddly squat about Buddhism. To suggest that there is a red little Buddhist shrine at every corner or tree indicates his lack of knowledge on Buddhism.

As I blogged before in Sneaky Buddhists, Scary Buddhists!, Buddhists don’t give two hoots about the mercy or goodwill of god or gods. The Buddhist belief calls upon the adherents to break free of the cycle of life, death and reincarnation, by their own efforts of right action, right thoughts and right understanding of the Truths.

So why would they have little shrines under trees or elsewhere. Quite frankly, Dr Syed Ali has confused the practice of animists’ or superstitious people with the religion of Buddhism.

I had also touched on Buddhism in Buddhism sans Saviour where I commented that blogger MENJ had been wrong in his book titled 'Buddhism: A Muslim Primer', where he described his publication as 'a critical introduction to the beliefs of Buddhism and its soteriology, as well as its ethics and social order from the Islamic viewpoint.'

The use of word ‘soteriology' implies 'the religious doctrine of salvation through a saviour'. I said I had to disappoint MENJ because, unlike the Abrahamic religions, there’s no such person as a saviour in Buddhism. The Buddhist’s own efforts are his saviour, not any personality like Allah swt, Jehovah, Jesus, Krishna, Siva, etc.

I wonder why most (though not all) Muslims have difficulty comprehending that Buddhists are actually almost-aethists - ‘almost’ because, while not discounting the existence of ‘devas’ (god or gods), they ignore all spiritual beings as irrelevant and nothing more than just another life form.

The second mistake commonly made has been that Chinese religious practices, like worshipping at roadside shrines, are Buddhist in nature, when that’s more of superstition based on animist beliefs.

Dr Syed Ali has also been wrong on a second count to aver that authorities don’t break roadside shrines. Ask those angry Hindus whose decades old shrines have been smashed by DBKL enforcement squads in unmitigated fashion.

Thirdly, maybe a Christian can tell me whether they have succeeded yet in building a church in Shah Alam (or is it some other town in Selangor), where for decades the State government has refused to approved the church's building plans for a site already allocated for Christian worship?


  1. Malay must be Muslim first otherwise not Malay? This is why our graduates cannot find jobs. Its stupid logic. If you are Malay, you are Malay first and never anything else first. They just won't admit that they draw the greatest strength from the organization and discipline of the religion. Its the easist crutch to hang on to. Its secondary to being Malay. Filipinos, Thai, IndoChinese, East Timorese are all Malays too.

    However, must thank him for his perpective on hudud and apostasy. Makes more sense than everything Menj has ever written. People like Menj never want to discuss questioning origin of Islamic laws, principles and ideas..

  2. Since you mentioned Buddhism and yours truly, I think it would only be fair to explain that part of the post.

    Of course I know that Buddhism has no concept of a "saviour". The point is to talk about the concept of "salvation" in Buddhist belief. What I had written in the chapter concerning that is as follows:

    "The basic belief as taught in Buddhist soteriology is that desire is the root cause of all suffering. Salvation will thus be achieved only when all human passions have been extinguished, particularly the craving for existence. Eventually, according to Buddhist belief, enlightenment was humanity's proper destiny, experienced only when the neccessary moral and mental exercises have been undertaken. When man dies, he is 'reborn' into a different form, and this goes on until he achieves the state of nirvana. In Sanskrit, nirvana literally means "extinguishing, blowing out; once man achieves a state of nirvana, he would never have to be reborn. Hence it is such that nirvana becomes the ultimate goal of spiritual practice in Buddhism, as it is seen as the total, absolute and permanent cessation of suffering."
    ["Buddhism: A Muslinm Primer", Jahabersa, 2005, p. 14]

  3. As for the claims made about hudud, I will leave that for another time. Let's just say that your scholar is pretty much WRONG in this regard.

    - MENJ

  4. Menj is too f***king stupid, leave him alone.

  5. MENJ, your description of Buddhist belief and practice is excellent. However, I believe your use of the word ‘soteriology’ in relation to Buddhism is not correct because it implies a doctrine of salvation through a Saviour.

    As you correectly indicated, to a Buddhist, there is no such person as a Saviour, not even the Buddha. To the Buddhist, believing in a Saviour would be superstitious belief. Incidentally he/she doesn’t impose Buddhist belief or practice on anyone. In fact, in Buddhism, no one, not even a monk, can convert any person into Buddhism. Buddhism doesn’t have a missionary role. Buddhism is a religion for doing, not believing.

    The Buddhist must endeavour by his/her own efforts, thinking and understanding to reach a state which you also correctly described as nirvana, where theoretically, as Buddhists believe, all sufferings are absent.

    Thus it’s not salvation per se, though admittedly we (even Buddhists) use the word ‘salvation’ very loosely in an everyday form of usage. But unfortunately, when we talk about religions, the word ‘salvation’ carries a special and specific meaning, which is totally divorced from the beliefs and goal of a Buddhist.

    That has been why I consider Dr Syed Ali’s incorrect ascription of those roadside shrines to Buddhist practice as an ignorant display of non-Islamic matters (just as he had condemned non-Muslims as people ignorant of Islam who ought not to interfere with matters Islamic); in fact his remarks have been insulting to Buddhists (assuming they care two hoots or would be bothered to be insulted).

  6. MENJ ni, bila lah agaknya dia mahu bertaubat dari menyesatkan lagi umat Islam dengan fahamannya yang sesat lagi menyesatkan itu.

    Mungkin betullah kata orang-orang tua... Syaitan itu ada kalanya akan berwajah manusia.

  7. 'Red Shrine' is not Buddhism culture, this superstitious Taoism. Majority of Chinese is multi-religion, they can be Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism at same time. Obviously Chinese did not labeled with religion as what Malay did. Chinese has higher freedom to devote in any religion even Christian and Islam, but no one can reject them as Chinese as long as their ancestor is Chinese, you have Chinese name and yellow skin. Some of them even don't speak Chinese but still claim they are Chinese, shameful but they are Chinese too!

    So what is the red shrine is? Which we call it as 'Datuk Kong' in Hokkien. Datuk kong is native god, more precise is soul around this area, typically they are Muslim soul or you can call it ghost. The appropriated praying time is on Friday and devotee no encourage eat pork before praying to respect the 'god' or 'soul'.

    Dr Syed Ali is very knowledgeable but not all. Non Muslim don't have any intention to intervene Islamic affairs but Malaysia Muslim so keen to convert the country to become 100% Islam with hudud law, so non Muslim esp Buddhist have not choice but have to watch up every step, as what Dr. Syed Ali said hudud is not suitable but apparently a lot of Muslim do not understand what exactly the teaching but blindly follow.

    PAS leaders claim one of the reason they want Hudud because they don't want to follow British law -- common law. But if u refer to China , which is communist country their law also very close to common law even though they did not claim this is common law. Why want to look backward? Why can't adopt the good and abandon the old and non suitable practices? My PAS friend told me we should practice what we have, yes, i agree but must appropriate! Chinese have 2000 years ancient law but can China practice it? Behead the murderer? Western ppl criticized China as barbarian shoot murderer to die so imagine how they comment on execute ppl with throwing rock.

    As what i mentioned we don't want to intervene anyone business, but hudud not only disrupt others culture but will severely influence economy, don't forget the majority of foreign investor is non Muslim, furthermore they are western. When this happen, 2 things will happen, 1, drastic drop in investment, 2 , many non Muslim will leave the country. We will be the 2nd Pakistan. Even the bigger Muslim population -- Indonesia didn't why Malaysia?