Ramadhan in restrospect

The voice over the loudspeaker reminds the listeners about the virtue of patience and acceptance. A sea of men sitting cross-legged on the green carpet nod, some into slumber and some into lulling acceptance.

The Imam finishes his sermon with a prayer, the hall murmuring ‘amen’. This is a weekly occurrence in mosques all over the nation on Friday afternoons.

The past Ramadan had been a perplexing one to me. Since day one of this holy month, controversial issues had been spread all over national headlines. The foolishness of Alvin, Vivian and their bak kut teh scandal was just the beginning. It sparked fires all over the nation and everyone wanted a piece. Politicians and the public slammed them. The courts ruled a no-bail sentence that was thankfully overturned after the decision held a negative response all over the country.

As the day progressed, more distressing news made headlines. Through social media, suddenly an obscure school in Sungai Buloh came under fire. The students were discovered to have been eating in a washroom. The issue rapidly spiralled out of control and as with anything to do in Malaysia, it became a religious and racial issue.

Among the more recent confusing developments to the issue is UMNO Selangor calling for charges to be pressed on the parent who uploaded the original photo. Angry Malaysians have also flocked to the Headmaster’s Facebook page, calling for death threats and his sacking. It took his daughter’s pleas to remind us how much we tend to dehumanize.

Of course, there’s also the four Muslim women who were banned from joining this year’s Miss World Malaysia Pageant. The National Fatwa Council cited an edict from 1996, prohibiting Muslim women from taking part in any form of beauty pageants. While I am against objectification of women, I find the gazetting of the fatwa as a law goes against the very idea of a fatwa being what it fundamentally is: religious opinion.

I may not be armed to the teeth with religious knowledge as those sitting in the National Fatwa Council but there’s clearly something wrong somewhere when opinions are turned into laws. It would also be interesting to note that action can be taken against anyone questioning a fatwa under the Malaysian Syariah Law. Malaysia is one of the few countries that makes these religious opinions legally binding, leaving no room for debate.

After reciting my prayers at the mosque after the crowd disperses, I can’t help but ponder over the message Islam has been trying to convey and how far we’ve strayed from it as a society. The modern dilemma Malaysian Muslims struggle with is to walk the line between liberalism and religion. It isn’t difficult to identify these two camps among the people you know and very few fall in-between.

What happened to the Islamic concept of Al-Aql demonstrating intelligence and reasoning? The Islamic philosophers and intellectuals of the Renaissance such as Ibn Sina, Ibn Khaldun and Rumi were men who reasoned, debated and engaged in discourse. Even the founders of the main Sunni sects, Shafi’i, Hanbali, Maliki and Hanifi based their schools of thought on reasoning, discourse and debate.

In Malaysia, where the Shafi’i school of thought is prevalent and almost considered canonical, it doesn’t come as a surprise when we have the Malaysian Muslim’s occasional uproar over how the Shia Muslims should be eradicated and outlawed. Instead of engaging with rational thought, we’re taught to hate without reason.

As this year’s Ramadan draws to an end, I feel a part of myself dying. There is no joy in the spiritual experience of fasting this year amidst the controversies. As I see online comment boards and news headlines splashed with statements fuelled by hate and giving no chance to level-headiness and patience – I feel the spirit of Ramadan lost.

This is not the religion I grew up with. This is not the same religion I know that promotes unity, non-discrimination, understanding, patience and intellect. In our pursuit of Islamification of Malaysia, we’ve lost the true meaning of religion buried under laws, prejudice and threats.


This article was first published in The Malaysian Insider.