Wednesday, June 22, 2016

I am a Muslim

JUNE 20 — The month of Ramadan and the abstinence from food does put you in a more self-reflective mood than other months. Of course, self-reflection should be a routine exercise as it spring cleans the mind and the heart.
I am a Muslim or, more accurately, I try to be as good a Muslim as I possibly can. It is both easy and difficult as all contest between good and evil is.
Though genealogically, I am supposed to be a seventh generation “born Muslim”, if there is such a thing. I like to think that I am a Muslim by my own choice from the age of 30 when I finally “came” to the Quran.  How God judges me is His prerogative.
I had a typical Malay upbringing where you are sent to Quran reading classes by the time you are five years old. By the time you are 10, you already know how to read the Quran, pray and fast. You know the basic five pillars of Islam.
However, when I was 12 years old, for an unknown reason, the question of God’s existence bothered me. I became increasingly bored with the sermons of hellfire in our neighbourhood mosque. 
Instead of frightening me into submission, it started to disgust me. The ustad around me also could not answer many of my teen questions and often I was scolded for asking blasphemous queries. But the yearning to know God was very strong in me and almost unstoppable.
This yearning led me to study various scriptures and even go into the church to learn the Bible, talk to Hindu priests about the Bhagavad Gita, and study some sudras of Buddhism. As a teenager, I spent a lot of time reading, debating and thinking about God and religion. I read and debated about atheism too.
I met as many priests, ulamak, swamis and atheists who would want to discuss and debate with me. It was not enough for me to just accept a religion or a scripture. Having come from Penang, I now recall Penang as a liberal and open-minded society, where such discussions are generally allowed or at least no one condemns you to immediate hellfire for enquiring.
That was my journey as a teenager throughout adulthood. I made a conscious decision to be a Muslim from my own evaluation of the Quran, Hadith and scholarly views. I am convinced that the Quran is the most reliable source of revealed scripture but I will not insist that anyone else must believe so too.
I am only too happy if someone wants to discuss the Quran with me because I want to share the wisdom and mercy of Allah with anyone who wants to. 
If someone disagrees with me, I am humble enough to know that my interpretation and understanding is not absolute. Furthermore, I have no wish to usurp the jurisdiction of Allah when it comes to guidance. I simply refuse to play the role of a demi god on earth though I know that many religious “leaders” and experts have absolutely no compunctions behaving so.
When I came to the Quran, I realise that the prophet Abraham also took the road of enquiry and seeking. His own father excommunicated him merely for enquiring. There are many instances of prophets reflecting and meditating to understand the world.
I am happy that today there are more and more Muslims beginning to make an effort to understand the Quran instead of merely reciting it. However, it saddens me too that there is also an increasing trend towards coercion by a minority but dominant and loud groups.
This religious coercion takes various forms from extremist statements, extremist and fascist behaviours and to even legalising certain “religious laws” on the sly. I say on the sly because these laws are enacted without my actual consent. Thus, being legally a Muslim, I am compelled to be subjected to it. 
However, those that impose those laws will not be present before Allah with me to defend me if they are wrong.
Does not this compulsion, to accept the views of others regardless of how learned they claim to be, an oppression? 
Muslims may, sooner or later, ask how do they reconcile the Quran’s clear principle that no one else is responsible for our actions and belief except ourselves with the insistence on forcibly accepting so called learned views?
Feelings of guilt or deluded sense of piety does not help to resolve the conflict between compulsion and personal responsibility in matters of faith. I may be wrong but the problem could very well be in the fact that being a Muslim, which is a journey, had been turned into a set of behaviours which is forced upon you even if you are not spiritually ready. 
In other words, in the interest of uniformity, you are compelled to be a hypocrite to avoid worldly punishments. Administrative and political expediency seems to override the individual’s right to have a personal relationship with his Creator.
Muslims attend prayers at Masjid Wilayah in Kuala Lumpur. The writer says compulsion to accept the views of others could be regarded as oppression. — Picture by Azneal IshakMuslims attend prayers at Masjid Wilayah in Kuala Lumpur. The writer says compulsion to accept the views of others could be regarded as oppression. — Picture by Azneal IshakI also note that politics cannot seem to keep away from the religion of any majority in any country. In India, for example, Hinduism seems to creep in and in Malaysia, Islam. The Christian world had already undergone its share in political history. This is actually a malady because politics being what it is, may very well interfere with the free practise of one’s faith as he deems fit.
This interference becomes effective with the cooperation of some of the religious class who likes the power that comes with cooperating with politicians.
As a Muslim, I believe that so long as there are mere humans who insist on monopolising the interpretation of Allah’s words, there will be strife, tension, disunity and oppression in the name of Islam. 
I pray that the Muslim spirit is allowed to be developed as enjoined in the Quran through beautiful preaching and polite discussions and not by coercion or force. Happy Ramadan.
* Jahaberdeen is a senior lawyer and founder of Rapera, a movement that encourages thinking and compassionate citizens. He can be reached at
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

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