Of Bigotry

Why Encik Mohd Fauzi Mustaffa, the head of the Syariah department of Takaful Malaysia Berhad must be sacked and not be allowed to resign.

Takaful Malaysia Berhad is an Islamic Insurance Company. In their Corporate Mission statement on their website, they claim that the basis of their operation is ‘founded on the principles of Shariah with the primary objective to provide comprehensive takaful facilities and services to the Muslims and all Malaysians’.

I confess to finding it strange, just a little strange, that Takaful Malaysia should feel the need to draw a distinction between ‘the Muslims’ and ‘all Malaysians’ for two reason. Firstly, to mention that Shariah based insurances facilities are for Muslims is superfluous. The second reason is more insidious. It betrays the unspoken internal attitude of the Takaful Malaysia management. But I am getting ahead of myself. To me, the phrase ‘Malaysian’ means someone who is a citizen of Malaysia. But this is not how many Malaysians usually distinguish themselves. They tend to categorize themselves either by race (Chinese, Indian, Malay, or other), or religion (Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or other), or political affiliation/connected (Barisan Nasional, Barisan Alternatif), or wealth (the spectrum from the politically wealthy to the financially impoverished). So in either senses of the word, ‘the Muslim’ inevitably forms part of ‘all Malaysians’.

Why then this distinction? Because as the sentence structure implies, ‘the Muslim’ does not only stand apart from ‘all Malaysians’ but comes first. Embedded in the idea of being the first is also the notion of primacy. Linked to the notion of primacy is the idea of dominance. Often those that are the ‘First Movers’ that are able to establish and perpetuate dominance or at the very least a great deal of influence over a virgin area. Clearly Takaful Malaysia Berhad thinks that a Muslim stands apart and above all other Malaysians. From here, it is a short step to bigotry.

And Encik Mohd Fauzi Mustaffa, the head of the Syariah department, took this short step on 3 October 2006 when he sent an email to all the employees of Takaful Malaysia Berhad prohibiting them from wishing their Hindu friends Happy Deepavali. He opined that the Muslim who wishes his Hindu friend ‘Happy Durga Pooja’, ‘Happy Lakshmi Pooja’ and ‘Happy Deepavali’ was deemed to be a greeting to the Hindu Gods Durga, Lakshmi and Krishna and hence blasphemous.

Clearly the proposition that he has put forward blasphemes against common sense, logic, taste, sensitivity and is downright offensive. So clearly wrong was he that the very next day after Encik Mohd Fauzi’s bigotry hit the news, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Dr Abdullah Mohamad Zin came out rather lamely to just say that the email was just his own personal opinion based on a narrow understanding of Islam and that Encik Mohd Fauzi did not issue a fatwa. Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (Ikim) director-general Dr Syed Ali Tawfik Al Attas also came out to state that Encik Mohd Fauzi was not fit to hold his position. These were all rather tame as far as I’m concerned. I’m more in tune with Malaysia Hindu Sagam President, A. Vaithilingam, who called for his sacking. In fact, I would go further to say that Encik Mohd Fauzi should be made an example of by Takaful Malaysia if it wishes to redeem itself from being known as an institution of bigotry. He should not be given a chance to resign and slink into whichever pit he crawled out from. He must be sacked. Let me explain why.

Before Encik Mohd Fauzi issued his email, I should think that he gave its contents the most anxious and thorough consideration before issuing it. I would like to think he made every effort to ensure the integrity and rationality of his interpretation and opinion by referring to many sources and perhaps even consulting people more learned than him before even typing out that email. The website indicates that Takaful Malaysia has a Syariah Supervisory Council. He should have consulted them because he was sending out an email to all the employees in a hundred over branches of Takaful Malaysia all over Malaysia. Anything less than this, especially bearing in mind the present climate of inter-religious discourse, would be gross negligence on his part. He would have behaved like a rank amateur with no learning instead of the head of the Syariah department of Malaysia’s premier Islamic bank.

But for his sake, let us assume him to be a competent and diligent chap, and so assume that he did all his homework and consulted learned people. Now what kind of material did Mohd Fauzi consult to reach that interpretation? He would have first recourse to the Al-Quran. But then the Quran never says that to merely greet a non-Muslim with a culturally appropriate greeting is an acknowledgement of gods other than Allah. In any case, how can this be when Allah knows all? Mohd Fauzi’s interpretation seems to deny all pervasive knowledge to Allah. What blasphemy!

This interpretation is also a logical failure. If we accept Mohd Fauzi’s proposition, then all a faithful Muslim who practices the five pillars of Islam needs to undo all his good work is to wish his Hindu friend Happy Deepavali. I am also quite certain that there are no hadiths that supports his interpretation for Nabi Muhammad S.A.W. had always made it a point to have good relations with other faiths. During the Muslim rule of Spain in the 14th century, the culture of the Jews and Christians flourished and synthesized with Islamic culture. What primary sources then did he consult? We do not know.

What is also obvious is that Mohd Fauzi knows nothing about Hinduism. If he even took the effort to read a little about Hinduism (K.M. Sen’s excellent introduction ‘Hinduism’), he would realize that the presence of many deities in Hinduism did not necessarily mean that they worshipped many different gods. He would also understand that there so many branches of Hinduism and that some branches see the plurality of deities as merely the different manifestations of one Supreme Being i.e. monotheism no different from Islam. Islam has the ninety-nine names of Allah. Hinduism has many different names or images of the Supreme Being to serve a particular purpose. Some of its worshippers are more comfortable with certain names and images. I also think that people of Mohd Fauzi’s mentality would benefit from a close reading of Voltaire’s superb essay ‘Idol, idolator, idolatry’ which demonstrates that there never was a major religion which promoted idolatry. So he should have been very sure just which branch of Hinduism he was addressing. Clearly he appreciates nothing of Hinduism except its most superficial adornments.

So who then did he consult? I should hope it is not the Syariah Supervisory Council. If they did then everybody in there who agreed with Encik Mohd Fauzi should be sacked along with him. But they have not said anything, so let us thankfully assume that they had nothing to do with it. Who else is he authorized to consult other than the Council? I think none. The Council is Takaful Malaysia’s deciding matter on all matters Syariah. So it is to them that all advice and opinion on Islamic matters should rest. If it resides anywhere else then Takaful Malaysia is misrepresenting itself. If Mohd Fauzi consulted anybody outside or else other than the Council then he was wrong. It is worse if he endorsed a Takaful Malaysia outsider’s view over and above the Council. So to be kind to Mohd Fauzi, let us assume that he kept his counsel.

It would appear then that Mohd Fauzi didn’t consult any primary sources, read up about Hinduism, and consult the Council or anybody before he issued his email of bigotry. If this is true then Mohd Fauzi is not only a bigot but a highly incompetent one as well. That he still remains in his position or in Takaful Malaysia tantamount to nothing less than an endorsement of Mohd Fauzi’s incompetence and bigotry, and a reflection of itself as an institution.

This is why a sorry from him or Takaful Malaysia will not do. This is why a retraction of the email also would not do. This is why the Prime Minister coming out to say that there is nothing wrong for Muslims to extend festive greetings to non-Muslims is irrelevant to the issue. This is why nothing less than a humiliating sacking for Mohd Fauzi will do. Anything less than that would mean he will still be there perpetuating his own homegrown brand bigotry and incompetence with the tacit approval of Takaful Malaysia. If anyone required a local example to show how Muslims with very little learning bring Islam into disrepute, here it is.

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Posts by Fahri Azzat

Fahri Azzat practices the dark arts of the law. Although he enjoys writing and reading, he doesn't enjoy writing his own little biographies of himself. Like this one. He wished somebody else would do it for him. He has little taste in writing about himself in third person. He feels weird doing it. But the part he finds most tedious is having to pad up the lack of his accomplishments, or share some interesting facts about his rather uneventful life, as if there were some who found that oh-so-interesting; as if he were some famous person, like Michael Jackson. When he writes these biographies, the thought, 'Wei, Jangan Perasaan- ah!' lights up in his head. So he usually just lists what he got involved with, positions he held and blah, blah. But this time. Right here. Right this very moment. Uhuh. This one. This one right here. He's finally telling it like it is.

Posted on 26 October 2006. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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