Soon after Pakatan Harapan (PH) won the 14th general election, I wrote that the three issues that will continue to plague Malaysia will be religion, race and the economy.
The video images of Dr Zakir Naik standing tall on the back on a Land Rover, escorted by police outriders entering the Sultan Muhammad IV Stadium in Kota Baru on Aug 10 must have created fear in the PH leadership and the concerned public. Such grand welcoming ceremonies are normally accorded to our Yang di-Pertuan Agong and sultans when they inspect a parade.
Naik has hijacked Malaysia using Islamic fundamentalism to control the minds of the majority of the populace. Naik has now placed himself in a commanding position to influence the country’s politics through his brand of fiery Islam.
The PH leadership is now caught in a bind. Rejection of Naik will alienate Islamic fundamentalists and PAS supporters, and will translate into a loss of votes. Malaysia, by its own making, has created a monstrous juggernaut that cannot be stopped. Naik is riding a wave of popularity and adulation not seen before in Malaysia.
Unlike the Umno and Barisan Nasional gatherings with paid sponsors, people came voluntarily to see and hear a foreigner, and a fugitive at that, speak on Islam.
Outspoken local muftis, such as Asri Zainul Abidin, pale in comparison as they can’t even fill a town hall, what more a stadium. Islamic fundamentalists now prefer to listen to a foreign fugitive speaking in English than their own state muftis.
In the October 2018 edition of“Psychology Today”, Dr Bobby Azarian, a cognitive neuroscientist and journalist wrote, “In moderation, religious and spiritual practices can be great for a person’s life and mental well-being. But religious fundamentalism— which refers to the belief in the absolute authority of a religious text or leaders — is almost never good for an individual. This is primarily because fundamentalism discourages any logical reasoning or scientific evidence that challenges its scripture, making it inherently maladaptive.”
Using an analogy, he went on to say, “It is not accurate to call religious fundamentalism a disease, because that term refers to a pathology that physically attacks the biology of a system. But fundamentalist ideologies can be thought of as mental parasites. A parasite does not usually kill the host it inhabits, as it is critically dependent on it for survival. Instead, it feeds off it and changes its behaviour in ways that benefit its own existence”.
By praising Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad as courageous and fearless against the West and a defender of Islam, Naik has already inhabited host country Malaysia and is using neutralised Malaysian leaders for his survival.
Given permanent residence in Malaysia to ply his trade, Naik is now feeding off his host and changing the behaviour of susceptible Muslims to his way of thinking.
Have any of our leaders wondered why Naik is not plying his trade in Indonesia which has a bigger Muslim population, and the middle eastern countries where his brand of Islam would be most welcomed? Why Malaysia? Are our leaders and muftis so gullible that they cannot see that our country is being hijacked by a fugitive wanted in India and banned from entering countries like the United Kingdom and Canada?
Naik is a disrupter. Eventually, he will turn moderate Islam and religious tolerance on its head. The preacher is not talking about comparative religion as espoused by some who are smitten by his charisma. Comparative religious studies provide learners with knowledge of the world’s major religious faiths. The study provides a framework for a liberal arts education, exploring subjects like science, psychology, literature and culture in relationship to various world religions in an intellectual setting.
Naik on the other hand, disparages other religions such as Hinduism to stress his point in the public space. Through his Peace TV, he has used the media effectively to lecture to a bigger audience. Naik is no different from the TV evangelists we see in America who hold sway over thousands of followers.
For Naik, Malaysia is a great place to be. Malaysia is a multi-religious and multi-cultural country. Islam is the country’s official religion and it’s easy to exploit the suspicion and mistrust between the races. The decision to introduce khat lessons is a good example of how the teaching of a subject has riled so many people and turned it into an emotional subject and a national debate.
Taking another example, in December 2018, Education Minister Maszlee Malik, in Parliament, urged Islamic religious teachers stationed in Sabah and Sarawak to use their positions as “medan dakwah”. His speech drew a lot of flak from East Malaysians. Maszlee later clarified that his remarks were misinterpreted but many East Malaysians are sceptical of his explanation. East Malaysians, who are living harmoniously and are tolerant of each other’s religions, are naturally sensitive to such public statements, especially coming from an education minister.
East Malaysians do not want the kind of Islam propagated by Naik and PAS to cross over to Borneo.
The Sabah Legislative Assembly, on Aug 6, passed a bill outlawing deviant interpretations of Islam in the state to ensure the teachings of the religion are “pure”. State Law and Native Affairs Minister Aidi Mokhtar, who tabled the bill, pointed out that the state did not want any deviant teachings or interpretations that could disrupt the unity of the people.
He told the house that based on recent developments, some Muslims had quarrelled on issues pertaining to the teachings and branches of the religion that subsequently threatened the unity of the faithful. He said Islam was a religion that united the people and shunned any division or fights, adding that any thinking, action or practice that caused divisions among the people must be avoided.
Kudos to the Sabah government on this progressive bill. My only concern is that the definition and interpretation of “pure” can vary between the enforcers, scholars and competing groups.
The PH government needs to be decisive in curbing Naik’s growing popularity. They need to stop playing the religious and race card like the previous government. We voted for change and we didn’t get it. All we got is the same stuff all over again.
There is never a day when small and irrelevant issues like the teaching of khat consume a nation. Fighting fires of our own making, day to day, on small issues is a waste of time and energy. PH needs to govern properly with the popular mandate given and deliver on its promises. At the moment it seems to have lost all direction. Naik, for example, is a problem and we to need to deal with it.