In my last article I told you my response to a cocksure Texan’s assertion that Malaysia was a model Muslim nation.
I chose to be silent about what I would write next. I wanted readers to respond.
Did you think the ten experiences of Islam which I described were false? Did you think I misrepresented “the noble faith”? Did you think “now we know Rama is a bigot”?
Did you think “what he said is true; it’s about time someone said it”?
Did you think “why did he stop at ten?”
Or did you think “I wonder where he’s going with this.”
I could write about Islamic institutions in Malaysia: the expansion of religious budgets and police; the proliferation of institutions such as “Islamic” banks, universities, think tanks; the judiciary’s exaltation of Islam over the constitution.
I could write about Malay-Muslim affinity for Arabic personal names and clothes; the conversion of articles of modesty into instruments of allure; the growth in persuasion that Muslims can be contaminated by unopened cans of pork.
I could write about the use of government-controlled mosques to downplay corruption and instead question the motives of those who seek accountability and transparency; about the silence of pulpits over the special position of Christians in the Quran.
I could write about a Muslim book store manager who was repeatedly prosecuted for working in a store which sold a non-banned book. (Thankfully the civil courts stopped the jousting of the Muslim courts.)
I could write about the repeated claims made by Muslims in all sectors of our society – including our prime minister – that Muslims mustn’t succumb to “human rightism” and that we cannot accept all facets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
I could write about the use of the word “liberal” by national leaders and religious authorities to vilify those who offer alternative interpretations of the Quran and the Sunnah to promote a more progressive Islam.
I won’t. I will instead write about features of Islam which I have learned in the years since my conversation with Sam.
I have learned that despite the early warring mode of Islam (very like that of “the people of God” described in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible), non-Muslims thrived in many Muslim kingdoms. India and Spain are prime examples. Jews fared better under Islamic rulers than under Christian rulers.
I have learned that there is great diversity of expression of Islam in countries like Pakistan and Indonesia which have predominantly Muslim populations. There, those who speak for Islam are members of largely self-funded organisations – not state officials.
I have learned that there are many Muslims in Malaysia who still maintain the values of the Muslims I grew up with. (Astonishingly, in the years I was in both primary and secondary school, I cannot name another Indian in my classes, forms or scout troop.)
I have learned that there are many groups of Muslims in Malaysia who stand up for the rights of others. I know Sunni who stand up for Ahmadiyya. I know Muslims who stand up for the right of Christians to continue addressing God in the same way they have for centuries, just like Christians in the Middle East.
I have learned that there are Muslims who campaign to end the practice of enforcing “approved Muslim behaviour” by compulsion. (This means ending the right of Muslim police to burst into my hotel room on suspicion that I am a cavorting Muslim.)
I have learned that there are Muslims who espouse maqasid shariah, an approach to the government of public life which focuses on the goals and purposes of Islamic law (not on who implements it or how punishments vary according to the price of gold).
I have learned that while the church began wielding political power (through collusion with Emperor Constantine) three centuries after it was born, organised Islam began as an assault against idolatry and thus wielded political power from the day it was born.
I am grateful for groups like the G25, Islamic Renaissance Front, Projek Dialog and Sisters in Islam. Thanks to what they say and do, I will not belittle Islam.