The need to talk about Islamism in Malaysia

The need to talk about Islamism in Malaysia

The need to talk about Islamism in Malaysia

Many Muslims are exceptionally critical of the West, especially American foreign policy. But when it comes to Islamic ideology, even the mere suspicion of criticism is taken as a personal insult by most Muslims.

With the rise of Islamic radicalism, worldwide geopolitical turmoil caused largely by Muslim refugees and worsening Islamisation in this country, should Islam be exempt from any form of analysis? When there are political elements to the belief structure (Islamism), should Islam still be exempt from any criticism?

There is an enormous distinction between criticising an ideology and criticising individuals.

Islam is an ideology and it should be open to criticism just like any other ideology, especially when it imposes its set of beliefs unto others (be it Muslims or non-Muslims).

With increasing voices of dissent heard from notable figures in Malaysia in recent times, it’s only rational to take the discussion to the next level before Islamism takes a worse turn in this country.

Strictly speaking, Islam is just a religion while Islamism or ‘Political Islam’ is the desire to impose a version of Islam unto the rest of society.

Political Islamists generally do not believe in resorting to violence, such examples include the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizbut Tahrir and Malaysia’s PAS. Jihadism, on the other hand, is the use of force to spread Islamism, i.e. Islamic State (IS), Al-Qaeda and Taliban.

Talking about Islam in Malaysia, or anywhere else for that matter, can indeed be life-threatening. Intolerance towards any disagreement regarding Islamic ideology and culture has resulted in violence many times around the world.

Bangladeshi bloggers hacked to death, the Charlie Hebdo shooting in France, embassies burned over the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ trailer and of course, one of the biggest threats to humanity, IS.

It may seem like the IS situation in Syria and Iraq is coming to an end where almost all their stronghold has been secured, but do not be fooled for a second that it has been fully defeated. There are still many lone wolf attacks done under the banner of IS and let’s not forget their new base in Southeast Asia.

The majority of Muslims around the world do not support the violence imposed by IS, and it angers them when they are lumped together with IS. According to recent data that the Pew Research Centre collected in 11 countries with significant Muslim populations, people from Nigeria to Jordan, Indonesia to Malaysia, overwhelmingly expressed negative views of IS.

If that is the case, then why is IS still strong as ever and Muslims from all over the world flock to its cause? Why is it that in Malaysia alone the arrests made of Muslims trying to join IS is increasing drastically since 2013? Why does Malaysia have six times the rate of Muslims leaving for battle in the Middle East and the Philippines as compared to Indonesia?

Why did Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2014 ask his political party members to emulate the bravery of IS? And how can all this be happening when this country is considered as a beacon of moderate Muslim nations?

Jihadist activity in Malaysia is not something new. Malaysian Muslims played a key role in the evolution of the Jemaah Islamiah movement. Then came Al-Maunah and now Malaysians form a core component of IS’s Southeast Asian unit, Katibah Nusantara which is currently active in Marawi, Philippines.

So why are Malaysian Muslims or Muslims in general, highly susceptible to be radicalised? Could this be blamed solely on socio-political factors? This is indeed a complex argument and very sensitive in nature.

One could argue that Islam is a religion of peace and all those things done by IS are the opposite of what Islam teaches. But one could also argue that IS is Islamic, very Islamic according to a revealing article by Graeme Wood, published in the March 2015 issue of The Atlantic.

IS’ interpretations of Quranic teachings are fundamental to its mission. The beheadings, slavery, rape, child marriage and the rest of their barbaric acts are very much religiously inspired.

Adding to that, based on a poll published in July 2014 in Saudi Arabia, 92 percent of the Saudi population seem to think that IS “conforms to the values of Islam and Islamic law.”

Clearly, IS has something to do with Islam.

With the global jihadist threat escalating at present, the issue of Islamisation in Malaysia is becoming a vital topic that needs to be discussed. Dismissing IS and other jihadist organisations as fringe groups within Islam is not going to solve anything.

IS has proved that being defeated in Syria did not put an end to it. The global ideological problem of Islamist extremism extends way beyond IS and will continue to aspire other extremists.

It is the Islamist ideology that must be discredited. For as long as the ideology and mentality of Muslims are not rectified, there will never be an end to jihadist terrorism.

Malaysia is currently witnessing the progress of an ongoing Islamisation. Marina Mahathir aptly coined the term ‘Arabisation’ in referring to Malaysian Muslims in adopting the Arab culture, ideology and tribalism attitude. With more and more narrow-minded views of Islam being practiced, not only are the Muslims in Malaysia being affected, even the non-Muslims are as well.

Just think of all the pathetic issues that have been brought up by the religious authorities at recent times; Islam compliant dress code issues in governmental departments and even in sports. Protest against non-Muslims for using the word ‘Allah’ in non-Islamic religious texts.

An MP that is more sympathetic towards the rapist rather than the victim and can even suggest that nine-year-olds are ‘physically’ and ‘spiritually’ ready for marriage. A Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department taking a stand to ‘hunt down’ atheists in Malaysia. Beer festival in Kuala Lumpur receiving massive protest by Islamists and even a terrorist bomb plot aimed at the festival.

Even when there are attempts to promote a moderate view of Islam, it is quashed without proper dialogue, such as Turkish writer Mustafa Akyol’s detainment for a speech he gave and G25’s ‘Breaking the Silence’ book ban. This is what happens when religious authorities are given precedence over the constitution.

Thankfully there are still people out there bold enough to voice out their discontent. G25 initially appeared in the spotlight on December 2014 asking for a rational dialogue on the position of Islam and Islamic law in Malaysia. More recently, some royals have become more vocal especially after the launderette issue in Muar.

So where are we right now on the ‘Islamism’ discussion? In the West, the so-called moderate Muslims are getting tremendous support from the regressive liberals. Debates are still going on trying to establish if the Islamic teachings are compatible with modernity. Most leaders seem to reassure the Muslims that Islam is a religion of peace and has absolutely nothing to do with terrorism.

However, this is not exactly helping the anti-Muslim sentiments in the West. With the increasing frequency of jihadist attacks all over Europe and America, true anti-Muslim bigotry and Islamophobia attacks are getting more common, unsurprisingly. Innocent peaceful Muslims are becoming the victims, when the actual issue at hand is hiding behind a ‘burqa’.

This is the exact reason why Donald Trump became the President of the United States and many far-right conservative parties in Europe are gaining momentum. But at least the conversations are happening over there.

In Malaysia, we are nowhere close to such dialogues. Muslims in this country are so sensitive to any form of criticism. As far as Muslims here are concerned, Islam is as perfect as it was in the sixth century and the West are the ones to be blamed for everything and anything.

Muslims in this country are more interested in talking about the terror
committed by the Zionist regime in Israel rather than the atrocities committed by IS in Syria, Boko Haram in Nigeria or the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan. I wonder why.

So is Islam inherently violent and needs an absolute reformation or is it like any other religion where it has peaceful teachings as well as violent ones and it’s the followers thinking and mentality that needs reform? Whichever it is, one thing for sure is there is no reforming of Islam without reforming Muslims.

Islam must be subjected to criticism. It must be challenged. It’s easy to dismiss any idea that is critical of Islam as ‘murtad’ or misguided. Holding Islam up to scrutiny is not bigotry against Muslims as people. If we do not have this conversation, only the Islamists and jihadists will prevail, leaving the rest of peace-loving Muslims under threat from anti-Muslim bigots and
the terrorist themselves.

Free speech must triumph over political correctness. In an open society, no idea can be above scrutiny, just as no people should be beneath dignity. We seriously need to talk about Islamism in Malaysia.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of VOIZ asia.

Dear Malaysians, stop being hypocrites!

Dear Malaysians, stop being hypocrites!

In Malaysia, you have to choose sides – if you decide to stand in the middle, it gets said that you’re trying to stir something between both.

I wrote a piece not too long ago about the halal laundrette in Johor, entitled Hentam Melayu, Muslim lebih seronok?

The article highlights other racial practices in Malaysia which are often ignored, such as accommodation and job opportunities only offered to a specific race, and questions the reasons why such practices have not made Malaysians jump off their seats as they did with the laundrette.

Sadly, the article failed to be understood by both Malay and non-Malay readers.

While some readers in the comment section began supporting the halal laundrette, using the other racially inclined practices as a point of reference, others said I was trying to sow racial enmity by writing such an article.

Some readers who have been victimised by racially discriminative practices themselves failed to realise the irony of supporting Muslim-only policies, while others failed to see that other policies can be considered equally discriminative.

If we lived in a non-biased society where people are truly able to think without prejudice, we would’ve long been rid of other racially inclined practices. Sadly, that is not the case here.

Many use our muhibbah concept to reject the halal laundrette – we say it is a disgrace to our multiracial society. Why then, may I ask, aren’t offering accommodations or job opportunities exclusively to people from a specific race, for example, considered a disgrace to this muhibbah?

Likewise, when people are criticised for their choice of skin-baring apparel, some people take to social media to give lectures on human rights and the freedom to express oneself through their choice of clothing.

Oddly enough, it doesn’t take long for the same group of people to turn around and condemn those who cover themselves up in the niqab and burqa – calling it “Arabisation” while conveniently forgetting that revealing clothing can just as easily be dismissed as “Westernisation.”

If we champion the human rights agenda, should we not support the right of every human being to dress as they please, whether skin-baring or fully covered?

Likewise, if we champion the muhibbah agenda, should we not condemn those who practice racial discrimination, regardless of their ethnicity?

Why then are we accepting one issue while condemning the other? I will tell you why – because we are bloody hypocrites.

The right to protest

A few days ago, Umno Sungai Besar division chief Jamal Md Yunos created headlines when he smashed some beer bottles with a sledgehammer as a sign of protest against the organising of beer festivals in Selangor.

While I do not condone his behaviour, I do support his right to protest on matters close to his heart.

Come on, if we have the right to march on the streets of Kuala Lumpur wearing yellow tees, supporting the call to clean up our voting system and get rid of corrupt leaders despite it being labelled illegal, doesn’t Jamal have the same right?

We may not agree with the matter of his protest, nor the manner in which he conducted it. But shouldn’t protesting itself be a right for every Malaysian, regardless of whether we agree with what is being protested?

Just because we disagree with something, it shouldn’t mean that others should be stopped from doing it, surely?

A few days ago, a 27-year old housewife was charged in court for stealing a variety of things worth a total of almost RM600. It was a clear case of theft, not rocket science, really.

However, although her actions were a clear violation of the law, many netizens on social media took her side and condemned authorities for punishing a “helpless ordinary Malaysian” while allowing some politicians to plunder millions or billions from the country.

Now, how can we justify an act of theft simply because one is greater than the other? Be it RM600 or RM2.6 billion, a theft is a theft, no? Or is this a result of the accumulated hatred we feel for the corrupt leaders we have in our country?

Perhaps our desire to condemn the other matters highlighted above (while condoning the rest) is also a result of hatred, but hatred towards the extremism lurking beneath the sheen of social propriety?


Look, I get it. I really do.

We are tired of all the drama, and our flip-flopping is how we react by default. But the time has come for us to change our ways and stop being hypocritical, because if we do not, the gap that has formed between us will only grow bigger.

How can we then see eye-to-eye when our thoughts and reflections are only based on our perceptions, and our perceptions alone?

If we believe in freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom to do whatever we desire as civilised human beings, why don’t we believe in the same freedom for everyone else?

Everything begins with us – the people. It begins with us fighting hypocrisy with diplomacy. Learning to stick our noses in matters that concern us should always come hand in hand with learning to understand and respect the fact that everyone has a different way of thinking about matters close to their hearts.

Perhaps when we have obtained a little more integrity, then it wouldn’t be so hypocritical of us to demand leaders with some of their own.



A rite of passage for Muslim boys

A rite of passage for Muslim boys

A rite of passage for Muslim boys

Thousands of Muslim Malaysian boys begin their journey into adulthood at mass circumcision ceremonies each year during school holiday seasons.


Md Nazir Sufari   |   17 Dec 2016

Fear means nothing to these boys aged from four to 12, who bravely face the ritual of berkhatan or bersunat (male circumcision) at Bandar Tun Hussein Onn in Balakong last Sunday.

Circumcision, usually performed on boys aged between six and 12 years, requires the foreskin of the penis to be removed.

It is believed that this will make it easier for the boys to clean themselves, especially after urinating. Islam demands that Muslims cleanse themselves before they pray.

Muslims make up 60 percent of Malaysia’s 30 million people.

Young Muslim boys are doused with water prior to a mass circumcision ceremony at Bandar Tun Hussein Onn in Balakong near Kuala Lumpur.

A boy covers his face with his sarong while being circumcised. It is traditional for boys to don the sarong during and while recuperating from circumcision.

A father consoles his son while medical officers circumcise the Muslim boy during the mass circumcision ceremony in Bandar Tun Hussein Onn.

Medical officers are silhouetted as they circumcise a Muslim boy during the event at Bandar Tun Hussein Onn, near Kuala Lumpur.

A Muslim boy is shown a video on a mobile phone to distract him during the circumcision procedure.

Some of the equipment used by medical officers during the circumcision procedure.

Four-year-old Amirul Daniel cries while being circumcised.

Twins, Muhammad Amjad Najdi Mohd Faisal (left) and Muhammad Ammar Najdi Mohd Faisal, recuperate after their circumcision.

Photographs by Md Nazir Sufari