Today and yesterday I received so many sms Christmas greetings yet I am not a Christian. Given the many socio-political issues plaguing the country today, the smses that spoke the loudest to me were those from my Muslim friends. Hidup Bangsa Malaysia!!
Most of our close friends know the significance of number 27 to us. Browsing through the Net this morning, I discovered that to Raja Petra Kamarudin of Malaysia Today fame, 27 also holds great significance. I have heard of people differentiating their lives into change-stages of say, 5 year, 10 year periods etc. but never 27 years!
It appears RPK is only just about to embark on a journey similar to that which I am on, but the difference is mine started about 27 years ago. May he find peace along the way; even if he does not live to 81!
To RPK, this is what 27 means:
Fruit from a poisonous tree will be poisonous
They say only Islam is good, all other religions are bad. And those with no religion whatsoever or atheists are even worse. But these people from the good religion want the government to do bad things. That is what troubles me to no end. How can a good religion make people want to be bad?
Malaysia can pride itself in knowing that regardless of what religious celebration it may be, its ethnic groups will come together as one to honour the event, the mainstream newspapers reported Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as saying. Abdullah said religious festivals celebrated in Malaysia serve to bridge gaps and foster better ties among the multi-religious and multi-racial makeup of the country.
Malaysia, he said, was blessed, as the people not only had great respect for each other's religion, but also for the religious occasions that the different segments of society celebrated. Abdullah also said Malaysians never failed to display respect towards each other and it was customary for most to offer help and lend a hand during religious festivities, even to those outside their own race.
“A religious occasion, including Hari Raya, is a day when we seize the opportunity to visit our friends and strengthen our ties as true Malaysians. In our everyday lives, we prioritise aspects of goodwill and understanding towards each other, including on religious matters, which are deemed sensitive,” Abdullah said.
Have you noticed how politicians and religious people -- especially if they are politicians masquerading as religious people -- always say one thing to the non-Muslims and another to the Muslims? When the Indians and Chinese start showing signs of restlessness, they will talk about multi-racial, multi-cultural tolerance and all such crap. But to an all-Malay or all-Muslim audience, when they think that the non-Malays or non-Muslims are not within earshot, they will talk about the ‘enemies’ of the Malays and warn us that the kafir can’t be trusted and can’t be taken as our friend because they are the millennium-old enemies of Islam.
These public displays of keris-waving are small potatoes. The non-Malays were meant to see that. They knew the TV cameras were on and that what they said and did was being beamed live, straight into the living rooms of Malaysians. But what they talk behind closed doors would make even our First Prime Minister and Bapa Merdeka, Tunku Abdul Rahman, who in his days was accused of being a Chinese running dog who sold out the Malays, turn in his grave. Yes, the Tunku was ousted because he ‘gave in’ too much to the Chinese. But it was in the Tunku’s days that Malaysia was most peaceful, until someone came out with the ‘bright’ idea of how to unite the Malays under a common cause.
Can I be so bold as to say that in the Tunku’s days, the Malays were less religious? Not a single Malay senior government officer’s home did not have a bar, well-stocked with beer, brandy, whisky and wine that would make any pub turn green with envy. That was during the Merdeka era when you could admire the lovely legs of Malay women and when bare-back knee-length skirts were the ‘in’ thing. Miss Malaysia would be a sweet, young, Malay, lass in a bikini who would give the Chinese and Indian girls a run for their money -- until Pan-Asian girls appeared on the scene of course. Then we mixed-breed Eurasians beat the panties off the thoroughbreds. Hidup Pan-Asian!
Fifty years on and we celebrate our fiftieth anniversary of Merdeka. By now the Malays have become more religious. No longer will you find any bar in Malay homes. The army no longer toasts with wine but with syrup. And even then toasting, a western custom, is frowned upon. No longer can you get drunk with NAFI beer at fifty cents a can. You have to pay RM15 a glass at a pub and a crate of two dozen cans would be unaffordable for most Malaysians today.
But that is good. Malays have discarded their jahiliyah days or era of ignorance. Malays are now more Islamic. And Malays are told that we must not celebrate Christmas or wish the Chinese or Indians Kong Hee Fatt Choy or Happy Deepavali as this goes against Islamic teachings. Why, therefore, is Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi saying what he said, as reported by the mainstream media? Does he not know what he is saying goes against what Islam stands for, at least according to what the religious people tell us? Or is this a case of saying one thing to the non-Muslims and another to the Muslims? I suppose this is what politics is all about. You have to tailor your statements to suit the audience. And what Abdullah said was meant for the non-Malay ears, not for the Malays.
They say everyone goes through various stages of changes in their life and I suppose I am no exception. If I was asked to sum up my different stages of change, I would probably divide my life into three parts. The first part, the first 27 years of my life, would be what Malays (and Muslims as well) would call the jahil (ignorant) stage. That was when I did not pray, never for one minute stopped to think about God, drank beer, played Gin Rummy, and indulged in all form and manner of ‘sin’ that you can think of. Somehow, the consumption of pork was never one of those ‘sins’ though, for whatever reason I still can’t figure out until today.
When I touched 27 or 28, I suddenly ‘saw the light’ and became a ‘born-again’ Muslim. I used to jokingly tell my friends I was never born a Muslim but masuk Islam (converted to Islam) at the age of 27. From then on, I ‘fast-forward’ to catch up on all that I had missed the first 27 years of my life. I went to Mekah ten times or so, twice for the Haj and the rest for my Umrah (small Haj). I sat down and started reading the Quran and within a few weeks was able to rattle away like one who had learnt to read the Quran at the age of five. Even my Tok Guru was surprised. He said it normally take months or maybe even years for ‘old’ people whose brain had already beku (frozen) to read the Quran. I was able to do it in a matter of weeks. I bought the entire nine volumes of Hamka’s Quran translation and nine volumes of Hadith Bukhari plus Imam Ghazali’s kitab which I read over and over again until I was able to quote from memory.
That was all just before the Iranian Islamic Revolution and I was smitten. During my first trip to Mekah to perform the Haj, I joined an Iranian anti-Saudi demonstration and proudly carried a giant poster of Imam Khomeni high above my head. I wanted the Saudi government to be toppled and the two Holy cities of Mekah and Medina to be governed by an international Islamic coalition a la the Vatican City. I was slightly over 30 then and an Islamic revolutionary to the core.
I became the Chairman of our local mosque and set about ‘freeing’ all the mosques from government control. I helped raise funds to develop as many independent mosques as possible so that we could keep the Religious Department out of these mosques. Some of you probably remember the dua imam (two imams) episodes rampant in the State of Terengganu in those days. Datuk Yusof, the Terengganu head of the Special Branch (KCK), picked me up and brought me to meet the Terengganu Menteri Besar so that they could ‘rehabilitate’ me. They actually wanted to detain me under the Internal Security Act but there was this small complication concerning my father’s cousin (Emak Sepupu) who was the then Tengku Ampuan Terengganu. The Tengku Ampuan Terengganu was sister to the late Agong, the Sultan of Selangor, so they had to handle me with kid gloves.
Yes, I was a problem for Umno Terengganu and they would have liked to lock me away but my palace ‘immunity’ made this impossible. Anyway, eventually I left Terengganu and that sort of solved the whole thing. Five years later, Terengganu fell to the PAS-led opposition, so it really did not matter anymore, anyway.
That, in a nutshell, would be how I would describe the second 27 years of my life, phase two, and now I am in phase three, the third 27 years of my life. Of course, I really do not think I will live another 27 years or else I will live to a ripe old age of 81. No doubt Tun Dr Mahathir is still very much alive and kicking way past 81. But then Tun does not smoke, does not sleep at 3.00am, does not survive with a mere five hours sleep every night, is very careful with his diet, and much more. In short, I do everything opposite of what Tun does, so I do not hold the fallacy that I can live as long as he has thus far.
But that is not the issue. Whether phase three will be another 27 years like phases one and two is not what I want to talk about. What I do want to discuss is what I am going through in this phase three.
As I said, my first 27 years of phase one was the jahil period, and the second 27 years of what I call phase two, the Iranian Islamic Revolution period, my ‘enlightenment’ period. Phase three, however, appears to be my questioning and doubting period, which is giving rise to my disillusionment period.
I accept that I was like one of those lost sheep during phase one. Then I thought I had discovered the truth and saw the light in phase two. But now, in phase three, I am beginning to question this co-called truth. I am beginning to doubt that this was really the truth as I originally thought it was. I am beginning to become disillusioned with what I originally perceived as the truth.
Religion is supposed to be good, not only Islam, but any religion for that matter. And that is what I went through during phase two, discovering religion. But if religion is good, then why are religious people bad? Why is it when I meet unreligious people or atheists, I see good people? And why when I meet orthodox religious people, I see bad people? Yes, that is what has been nagging me in this phase three of my life. If religion is good, then religious people should be good and unreligious people or atheists should be bad. But why is it the other way around? And this does not apply to only Muslims.
I gave a talk to a group of pro-Abdullah Ahmad Badawi Umno people a few weeks ago. In that crowd was one whom I would classify as an ultra-religious person. When I pointed out that corruption is bad and that we must oppose it, he replied that corruption is okay. I then argued that Islam says that corruption is Riba’ (usury) and that there are 80 levels of Riba’ and that the sin for the lowest level is equivalent to the sin of sexual intercourse with one’s own parent. He agreed and said that this is actually one of the sayings (hadith) of the Prophet Muhammad.
I was flabbergasted. There I had before me a religious man. He was preaching to me and saying that the present secular system of government has to be rejected in favour of an Islamic system. He blames the ills facing this nation on the fact that we have turned our backs on Islam and chose instead a western secular system over the Islamic system as prescribed by the Prophet Muhammad. But corruption is okay, he argued.
If even just one Muslim were to leave Islam and become a Hindu, Christian or Buddhist, then it is the duty of all Muslims to violently oppose this. Apostasy is forbidden and the prescribed punishment is death. And Muslims must run riot on the streets and burn buildings and kill people if anyone tries to leave Islam. No Muslim worth his salt will disagree with this. This is not violence, this is not extremism, this is not a threat to national security; this is defending the dignity of Islam. But if you march peacefully to the Agong’s palace or to Parliament to hand over a Memorandum, this is not allowed. The police must arrest you, beat you up, and the leaders or organisers must be detained without trial under the Internal Security Act. This is what Islam asks us to do and is mandatory.
Ask any Malay-Muslim leader. Ask any imam in the mosque. Ask any Mufti. Ask any Religious Department official. Ask anyone from Pusat Islam. None will disagree that the peaceful marchers need to be dealt with harshly and detained without trial under the Internal Security Act. And none of these same people will disagree that apostates need to be dealt with harshly and rioting, and burning buildings, and killing people are necessary in defending the dignity of Islam.
Most of the police are Muslims, but they act violently towards peaceful marchers. Most of the government leaders are Muslims, but they act harshly towards peaceful marchers. And they say that they do this to preserve the peace, which is required by Islam. But if you ‘insult’ Islam or try to become an apostate, then you must accept the violent punishment. And this is not violence or harsh or a threat to national security. This is defending the dignity of Islam. And corruption is okay. Cheating in the elections is okay. Abuse of power and authority is okay. Wastage of public funds is okay. Denying you your fundamental rights is okay. Using the mainstream media to lie is okay. Threatening the non-Malays is okay. Persecution is okay. Detention without trial is okay. Assaulting detainees under police custody is okay. Just do not insult Islam or try to leave Islam. That is not okay and the use of violence to oppose this is also okay.
I see religious people and I see bad people. I see unreligious people and atheists and I see good people. How can religion be good if religious people are bad? How can religion be from God if the product of religion is bad people? Yes, that is what troubles me this third phase of the 27 years of my life.
The more people pray, the worse they become. People who never pray are wonderful people. How can this be? Police officers pray. Government leaders pray. But they are terrible people. There must be something terribly wrong with praying. Is religion merely a scam? How can religion be right when those who profess religion are so wrong?
Sure, I have heard the old argument time and time again. There is nothing wrong with religion. It is the people who are wrong for not following what the religion really teaches us. But why? That still does not explain it. Why is it people who are religious become so bad? Is religion not supposed to guide us to become good? If religion has failed to turn us into good people then surely religion and not people is what is wrong. There is another old saying: there is no such thing as bad students, only bad teachers. If students turn out bad then the teacher has to be blamed. In that case, would not this same argument apply? If religion has failed to educate us then the teacher and not the student has to be blamed.
Sigh….the third phase of my life, the third 27 years, is going to be very traumatic indeed. The first 27 years were easy. I just enjoyed my life. I lived for today and to hell with tomorrow. The second 27 years were also very satisfying. I lived for my religion. Everything I did I did for Islam. But this third 27 years is going to be an endless journey for me. And I may never reach my destination because I am not confident I will live another 27 years. I need to find out whether religions really exist or whether they are mere human inventions and old wives tales. Fruit from a poisonous tree will always be poisonous. It can never be any other way. And the fruit from a good religion must certainly be goodness. It can never be any other way. But that does not seem to be what is happening here.
Today, we are told that Muslims support detention without trial. Today, we are told that 1.5 million Malays from 395 Malay NGOs support the government in its use of the Internal Security Act against peaceful marchers. Many are angry that those 31 from HINDRAF are not going to be tried for attempted murder after all. They want blood. They want the blood of the BERSIH and HINDRAF marchers. They want the blood of those who merely exercised their God-given right of free expression. These 1.5 million Malays are followers of a good religion. They say only Islam is good, all other religions are bad. And those with no religion whatsoever or atheists are even worse. But these people from the good religion want the government to do bad things. That is what troubles me to no end. How can a good religion make people want to be bad?