I came to learn of Dr. Mohd Asri Zainal Abidin’s arrest by JAIS a few days after the event. I immediately surfed the net for more information. I wanted to know why we are reviving back the olden culture of persecuting Islamic scholars.

My brief research stint led to a few reasons – each one just as dubious as the other:

  1. He is an uncertified “pendakwah” (preacher) who at the moment is allegedly spreading Wahhabism among groups of elites and university students through his lectures (much to the dismay of our moral and religious police, I bet).
  2. The authorities had this fear that his activities will further divide the ummah in Malaysia especially since Malaysia’s Muslims are Sunnah Wal-Jamaah followers.
  3. Some even relate this to his refusal to accept the offer to head YADIM and the subsequent protest from the Islamic NGOs over the offer.
  4. Dr. Asri is a stubborn lad. He had issued opinions that some found are controversial and unwarranted. He stood up for the right to privacy on the issue of “tangkap khalwat“. He criticized how “Kursus Haji” is profit-oriented. He spoke his mind on yoga being made haram for Muslims and the use of Allah in the Bible, and also had the nerve to question the need for the Fatwa Council to convene and discuss trivial issues like the use of decorative henna paint on the hand.

In short, he was just doing his job.

On the other hand, the Selangor Exco is under fire due to this issue. They claimed that Islamic matter is certainly not under their jurisdiction or purview. The action by JAIS and MAIS is beyond their control.

So, my question is: what’s the problem if he is a Wahhabi?

The question of course leads me into reflecting on how we criminalize and mainstream religious teachings in this country. I have to bring up the infamous list of cults and deviant teachings banned in Malaysia.

Let me share my observation on how the Shi’ah are treated in the country and relate it to Dr. Asri’s arrest.

If you check the JAKIM’s Gazetted List of “Ajaran Sesat” (deviant teachings), you will realize that Shi’ah is also on the list, amusingly in the same league with Ajaran Anak Rimau and Ayah Pin. (There are a few Tarekat on the list as well, that my friends who I believe are more learned than me in this area has over the years qualified as not “sesat” but merely a result of diversity in approach.)

But then, I realized how we are selective in the ways we responded to school of thoughts other than Sunni.

Check out this simple example – During a public rally opposing Israel’s aggression in Lebanon, I found it amusing to see posters of Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Hezbollah party, being paraded by the demonstrators. It seems to me that we are eventually able to brush aside our differences and lend our support to our Muslim brothers and sisters in Lebanon during that conflict.

THAT or maybe we did not know Nasrallah is a Shi’ite.

We also forget, I guess, when we arrest Dr. Mohd Asri, that we also send Malaysians to perform their hajj in a country that approved and adopt Wahabism (read: Saudi Arabia). As much as we claim that these examples do not implicate our internal policies or approach to Islam, but does it not reflect poorly on our worldview if we think that diversity of Islamic thoughts and sects would divide the ummah and in the end, threaten national security and social harmony?

The thing is in Malaysia, it isn’t the flourishing of Wahhabism or the Shi’ah sect that divides us. We have institutionalized racism and unjust distribution of wealth to thank for that division. We need not go through all the drama and arrest a scholar to manifest our commitment to national unity of the ummah.

We also have people who trade religion to preserve political interest or maintain the status quo. Politicians, who would not think twice to perform ablution in front of the camera for cheap publicities or undertake the swearing ceremony to prove their innocence …. well, albeit a reluctant Imam. Wouldn’t these characters be more detrimental to our efforts towards a better understanding and appreciation of Islam in the society?

I think what the system feared the most about Dr. Asri is that he is a non-conformist. A rebel, who if not silenced, will further challenge the structure. One of those mice that when asked by its leader whether it would volunteer to tie the bell around the cat’s neck, would most probably answer, “Lets implant a nano GPS in his tail so that we could track his whereabouts”.

It is not to say that I for one, subscribe to all his arguments. I do have some reservations about planting the nano GPS in the cat’s tail. But as our wealth of Sirah has illustrated, it is easier to burn bridges, to let blood be drawn or tears be shed because of our different thoughts, ideas and understanding of our religion. Islam is dynamic and time has changed. Must we still succumb ourselves to ignorance, power and ego?

If he is uncertified, tell us how did he become the Mufti of Perlis in the first place? By way of a religious Big Bang? If the allegation is true, wouldn’t such an allegation reflect poorly on how our religious institutions are managing its affairs?

Lesson that I learned from this incident, as a Muslimah and also a mother is the urgent need for us to start recognizing that there is no such thing as 1ISLAM but only ISLAM. As we embrace universality in the ways we conduct our political, social and economic affairs at the local level (re: think glokal, friends?) we also need to open our eyes and minds to diversity. I don’t want my only daughter to grow up a dogmatist as she witnesses Islamic scholars whose intellect and freedom of thought are being stifled, instead of encouraging further dialogue or debate in a healthy democratic forum which will greatly benefit the people.

We have enough of religious extremism in the world today. We have enough.

So, please put off the fire and rebuild from whatever is left from the ashes of hatred.

Shazeera is a Malay Muslim that is still unable to understand why groups like PERKASA exist. But as long as they are around, she will be around too.

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