The true visage of Islam

02 Oct 2018 / 00:21 H.

    ISLAM is again at the forefront of public scrutiny as a result of several issues among which are the LGBT cases, the caning of two women accused of lesbianism, the incarceration and caning of a prostitute and child marriages in Kelantan and Terengganu. And last year the so called Islamic political party, PAS, introduced a Private Member's Bill, RUU 355, to increase punishment for syariah-related offences.
    It gives the impression that Islam is mainly concerned with punitive issues, rituals and sermonising through religious lectures by celebrity preachers and that it is a restrictive and repressive religion. It displays its calcified stance in adherence to syariah regulatory injunctions in the case of child marriages without taking into account the social implications of such marriages.
    But those propagating the Islamic way of life through the implementation of syariah laws and other formal and informal regulatory measures are bent on impressing the punitive rather than the compassionate aspects of Islam that emphasise harmony, forgiveness, sharing and caring.
    Most of such people emphasise the afterlife rather than the current one and that this life is ephemeral, a brief existence in preparation for eternal life.
    As such these people place spiritual needs over materialistic ones and neglect economic viability and discount secular education and other elements such as shelter, health, connectivity that formulate the fabric of living.
    A good example is Kelantan under PAS rule, which has remained the poorest state in Malaysia because the state government is more concerned about the ritualistic and punitive aspects of Islam instead of seeing to the worldly needs of the people.
    In actual fact, Islam requires us to attend to both the needs of the present life and the preparation for the afterlife.
    While we must fulfil the prescribed Islamic practices such as prayers, fasting, and payment of zakat the social deeds to fellow men and women in meeting their economic, marital and educational needs form a significant part of the ibadah for consideration in the hereafter.
    The giving of alms and mandatory payment of zakat testifies to the importance of the social and economic aspects in the well-being of the ummah. Thus, Islam requires its adherents to strive for prosperity so that they could share it with those who are less fortunate. It encourages people to seek knowledge from all sources to be intellectually and technologically proficient to uplift the image of Islam.
    Above all, Islam espouses the quest for knowledge, justice and truth and to view all syariah transgressions through the prismatic light of mercy and compassion. It is far from meting out punishments for syariah transgressions to flaunt authoritarian and dictatorial political stance as was the case of the single mother who turned to prostitution to support her child as she did not receive financial support from either her ex-husband or the state. Likewise, such unyielding authoritarian stance was also displayed in the case of the two women who were accused of lesbianism.
    Syariah laws are not so much individualised as it is communal for the administration of syariah laws involving the community, that is, the state. The state is responsible for the wellbeing of the ummah by way of ensuring the availability of physical comfort – food, shelter, health, security – and intellectual competence (education) through the various state and private sectors, economic initiatives as well as other support facilities to ensure a decent living that would prevent them from committing crimes to meet their physical needs. Thus, the state is culpable, in the case of the single mother who turned to prostitution to support herself and her child.
    It is not that the state should provide everything but it must create opportunities for employment through sound education and economic planning and practice. Thus, each to his/her own ability to eke out a decent living and those mired in poverty because of circumstances beyond their control should be helped by the Baitulmal.
    Other religious institutions, besides the Baitulmal, especially the mosques, are also required to augment the state efforts in helping their needy khariah (people living within the mosque's jurisdiction) through their collection and donation.
    Instead of being a centre for monitoring and providing help to the people within its jurisdiction, the mosques have been downgraded to a place for prayers and religious lectures. Worse, the monies collected are not disbursed to the community but accumulates in the mosques' bank accounts. This social responsibility and public advocacy is seldom practised.
    But the current trend in Malaysia is that the Islamic authorities are more concerned about meting out punishment without doing much to alleviate the poor and destitute, and without any initiative to counter unnatural sexual orientations or counselling to prevent child marriages. They only act on the symptoms rather than the cause.
    In this case the state is only concerned with the syariah enactment on child marriages, instead of dealing with the factors that prompted such marriages. It chooses to ignore the negative social and financial implications of such a marriage. Thus, such punitive actions meted out by the Terengganu religious authorities do not represent the true teachings of Islam.
    This is the problem when looking at Islam by piecemeal, disengaging it from its holistic perspectives, which also include the role of the Ulul Amri or leaders as role models of piety and selflessness in the service of the ummah.
    There is much more to be done to reflect the true teachings of Islam beyond the prescribed rituals and outward appearance and behaviour.
    One needs to create a positive and enlightened image of Islam as a progressive religion that is economically and technologically resilient that combines the spiritual and material to serve humanity underlined by compassion, forgiveness and mercy.
    Thus, submission to Allah is not only through spiritual enlightenment of the self but also through worldly engagement to serve humanity as ordained and enshrined in the Quran and the Sunnah.
    Datuk Dr Mohamed Ghouse Nasuruddin is an honorary fellow at the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia. Comments:

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