What Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said about Islam being vulnerable to threats due to severe divisions in the Muslim community and Islamic nations was indeed an eye-opener.
We have known this all along, but what are Muslims across the globe doing to overcome this? They need to map out strategies to make Islam and Muslims rise above the depressingly negative perception that the world has of them right now.
Addressing a colloquium on “Demystifying Islamophobia: Towards a Deeper Understanding of Islam”, organised by Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia recently, Dr Mahathir illustrated his points by comparing the present to the time of Prophet Muhammad, when there were no Sunnis or Shias as there was only one Islam.
I quote what the PM said: “The Quran forbids us from teaching Islam in a way that breaks us into different sects. Today, there are many sects. We are so divided that there are quarters who use our antagonism towards each other to achieve their objective of controlling Muslims.”
Today, Muslim communities across the globe are mired in not just beliefs on how Islam should be practised and administered, many Islamic nations have been thrown into sectarian wars and Muslims tossed into extreme poverty and deprivation, not taking into account the economic sanctions driven by powerful nations against them and their native land.
Muslims are indeed in a deplorable state, with Muslim refugees seeking protection and asylum in countries across Europe as a result of relentless fighting in Syria and Iraq. And not forgetting the plight of Palestinians, the Rohingya and Uighurs, who have been continuously abused for who they are and what they believe in.
Then, we have the ISIS/Daesh militancy that has made many young Muslims across the globe even more confused.
They are confused because they have been indoctrinated to the idea that their commitment of loyalty, or baiah, to a purportedly caliphate (declared by the presumed dead ISIS leader Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi) is wajib (compulsory).
They have been made to believe that all Muslims must support ISIS and carry out jihad, particularly to wage a war against the infidels.
On July 29, 2014, al-Baghdadi had claimed a caliphate nation was formed, stretching from the inlands of eastern Syria to northern Iraq.
While what’s happening to Muslims across the globe is worrying, the little but continuous friction between the sects that we are seeing in this God-blessed country should cause deep concern to us.
Quite recently, a video went viral of a certain ustaz accusing Perlis, under its mufti, Datuk Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, of promoting Wahhabism.
Wahhabism is a strictly orthodox Sunni Muslim sect, founded by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahab (1703–92), that advocates a return to the early Islam of the Quran and Sunnah, rejecting later innovations and is a predominant religious force in Saudi Arabia.
There have been similar finger-pointing by many other ustaz in the past, accusing Asri of being a Wahhabi.
Whilst these accusations are not true, they will cause disharmony as much as suspicions amongst practicing Muslims in the country.
Sometimes, I feel it is better left unsaid as we need to embrace the difference in what we believe and practise.
Then, will it make us less defining Muslims when we qiyam (standing in prayers, preceding the rukuk) behind the famous Makkah Imam Abdul Rahman Sudais (who is known to be an orthodox Sunni that many equate him as a Wahhabi) while carrying out haj or umrah pilgrimages to the Holy City?
People love to label and brand others as such when they don’t fancy the different beliefs practised by others.
In the local literature world, prolific author of Malay novels Dr Faisal Tehrani has been smothered with accusations that he had been a Shia adherent.
Subsequently, a defunct Malay newspaper in its expose claimed that there were a million Shia adherents in the country.
I don’t know whether this is true, but why are we making such a fuss over this issue when we have many other agendas to develop the Muslim community?
Even in the four different mazhab (schools of Islamic jurisprudence, namely Hanafi, Maliki, Shafii and Hanbali), we have, at times, slightly different methodology in praying to the Almighty, including whether to exclude the recital of Iftitah or the Qunut doa.
Case in point, a Maliki stands in qiyam in sadl’ posture that refers to leaving the hands loose (hanging free) by the side of the body during prayers.
This posture is attributed to the people of Madinah where the Prophet Muhammad spent the latter part of his life. Imam Malik used to pray in the posture of sadl’.
I had come across a Malaysian who was a first-timer to Makkah, feeling uncomfortable, running back to a mutawif (a guide to the Holy City) complaining about those Malikis not clasping their hands across the abdomen when they prayed.
The mutawif then allayed his fears and told him to embrace the difference in ways that Muslims from all over the world prayed.
Dr Mahathir was spot-on when he called on the Muslim community to learn more about their religion and reject deviant teachings to remain united.
“What you see in certain countries, fighting for centuries, were between Shias and Sunnis, because each consider the other not Islamic enough and see the other as infidels,” he explained.
We are an ummah created to believe in the Unseen, steadfast in prayer and spend in the way of
God as recommended to us in Surah al-Baqarah.
Are we not Muslim enough although we are different? All we have in us is the conviction when we recite and invoke in our prayers — the declaration of faith LailahailaAllah, Muhammadur-rasullullah. Ponder upon it.
C’est la vie.
The writer is a former NST journalist, now a film scriptwriter whose penchant is finding new food haunts in the country
Published in: The New Straits Times, Sunday 17 November 2019