Ahmad A Talib
In recent weeks, many video clips depicting Islam as a religion of mercy made their rounds. One clip showed an African American mother forgiving a man who murdered her son. She hugged the killer in an open court and wished that the killer would repent and change his ways.
Another showed a Muslim father who also forgave the killer of his son, saying that revenge was not on his mind at all. But forgiving the killer had always been uppermost, regardless of the legal proceedings against the murderer. Such a depiction of Islam would go a long way to project it as a religion of peace, tolerance and compassion. And that is exactly the Islam that Malaysia wants to project to the rest of the world. In fact, the world of Islam should make a concerted effort to promote this to counter the negative portrayal of Islam by anti-Islamic forces and those who are ignorant of Islam as a way of life.
And the task of taking this to the world stage falls on the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs), Datuk Seri Mujahid Yusof Rawa. The catchphrase for this is ‘Rahmatan lil ‘Alamin’. Translated, Rahmatan lil ‘Alamin is ‘compassionate Islam’. The two examples mentioned above more than explain what this whole idea is all about. Mujahid’s task is to articulate this in a manner that everyone can comprehend. He has started work on this actually. He is being assisted by a former ambassador and diplomat, Datuk Seri Syed Hussien Alhabshee.
Syed Hussein is the chairman of the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Council (Mawip). By the way, this is the first time that Mawip is not headed by a politician, a fact that has not been mentioned often enough. Syed Hussien, 70, joined government service as a PTD officer in 1977. He was posted to the Foreign Ministry. His tour of duty included Egypt, Morocco, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. He also had a spell as deputy permanent secretary to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Jeddah. Today, the career diplomat is assisting Mujahid to take Rahmatan lil ‘Alamin to the global stage.
Next week, Mujahid will elaborate on this philosophy at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. Malaysia’s efforts to make the world understand Islam and see it as a religion promoting universal values are an ongoing initiative. One might say that Rahmatan lil ‘Alamin encompasses a more universal appeal, one that has sufficient examples anywhere in the world. Mujahid’s strategy in promoting this is quite straightforward - make the concept known to foreign ambassadors and high commissioners who are posted in Kuala Lumpur. I attended one of his sessions last month. He hosted a dinner for 18 ambassadors and high commissioners from the European Union in Putrajaya.
Mujahid looked confident and comfortable as he articulated the philosophy, answering questions and sharing perspectives with ease. Earlier in September, Mawip and the International Islamic University Malaysia held an international seminar on Rahmatan lil ‘Alamin, where prominent Islamic scholars shared their views and experiences. That seminar concluded by passing several resolutions to use the philosophy to nurture a society based on tolerance, peace and mercy. This is a philosophy that does not contradict other faiths anywhere in the world.
In this regard, a look at the Singapore experience may be useful. The republic may not have Rahmatan lil ‘Alamin as its official policy but it does support efforts to promote Islam Cemerlang (Brilliant Islam) in the island state. Two points worth mentioning from the Singapore experience are: the belief that a good Muslim is also a good citizen and good Muslims aspire to be an example and inspiration to others. In fact, the adherence to these basic principles falls very much in place with universal values, which add value to a plural and diversified community as found in Singapore. Mujahid will also be articulating the concept when he speaks at another religious conference in Azerbaijan this month.
It is also noted that there aren’t enough credible narrators of Islam on the world stage, especially those who can eloquently argue that Islam is not a religion of terror as depicted by quite a number of ignorant and irresponsible world leaders. Mujahid and his team must also talk extensively in this country, explaining that the concept is taken from the Quran and not a creation by scholars and intellectuals. The concept depicts universal values which are not specific to Muslims. Islamophobia has caused so much damage to Islam as a religion of peace. The terror promoted by so-called Islamic groups is not helping either.
Therefore, Mujahid and other like-minded Muslim leaders all over the world share this responsibility of correcting this misperception. In fact, ordinary Muslims can be the most powerful ambassadors of Rahmatan lil ‘Alamin by leading a life of peace and tolerance, mercy and compassion. The daily greeting among Muslims is enough to show that peace is at the centre of everyday Islam. Assalamualaikum - peace be unto you! That daily greeting is used over and over throughout every Muslim life. Rahmatan lil ‘Alamin starts with that greeting. Live it, and we shall have enduring peace and understanding.
The writer is a former NST group editor. His first column appeared on Aug 27, 1995, as ‘Kurang Manis’
Published in: The New Straits Times, Sunday 10 November 2019