Has Malaysian Islam failed our young?

JULY 9 — At the few Peacemeal, Crescent Collective and Third Space events I attended, I noticed many young Muslims, and a few mature ones around my age, attending and listening to the speakers enthusiastically. 

I can understand why: their events have this bohemian vibe which is welcoming. The sessions are not the typical utilitarian usrahs we are always subjected to. Aside from the fact that the sessions are conducted in English, which itself is a strong pull factor, the speakers who visit are Sufistic in manner, and warm. 

The classes which range from Tasawuuf Lite (soul cleansing) to zikirs and alternative healing, have drawn many, and most times, the classes are packed. I also noticed that these events embrace Malaysian Muslims from varying socio-economic status to ethnicity. They are truly inclusive usrahs.

And while these three groups operate in their little spheres, in Kuala Lumpur, there is an explosion of foreign imams and teachers flying in and out of the city, teaching Malaysians of all ages, what it means to be Muslim. 

The Putrajaya International Convention Centre hosts many talks by foreign Muslim luminaries, and when famed Mufti Ismail Menk arrives in Kuala Lumpur, Muslim KL-ites go nuts. Ever tried attending one of these events? Start early, the jams will kill you. They don’t come cheap, these tours, but Muslims flock to these talks.

In fact, this year’s Ramadan will see Syrian, Egyptian and Zimbabwean imams leading the congregation during Terawih prayers at mosques in the city and Putrajaya.

(On another note, young Muslims out of Kuala Lumpur will have to contend with our local neo-ulamas such as Ustaz Azhar Idrus, Don Daniyal, Ustaz Mohammad Zawawi Yusof, et al).

As I listened to a talk organised by Peacemeal recently, I noted the frenzy of friends attending these talks — and in light of news of our homegrown jihadists — I wondered if our (Malaysian) way of communicating about our faith, Islam, to our young, has not just been detrimental, but also failed us Muslims.

We are so harsh when meting out Islamic teachings, and do not take into account real-life situations that Muslims endure. In Malaysia, we are good at judging and condemning others.

The reflection of a Muslim man is seen as he attends Friday prayers at the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur April 11, 2014. — Reuters pic
The reflection of a Muslim man is seen as he attends Friday prayers at the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur April 11, 2014. — Reuters pic

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For many young people, the fear of being seen as base, ignorant of Islam, is just too much to bear. The Internet, and now these foreign imams and collectives, have provided them a safe haven, to be observant Muslims.

Could it be that our way of imparting Islam, has in some ways, pushed some of us to seek extreme forms of Islam? What induces our young men to follow that path? Zurairi AR’s What is driving young malay men to jihad offers some theories. 

A Facebook friend, whose non de plume is Buku Rejuvenasi PAS (I still don’t know what his real name is!) and I chatted on WhatsApp about this. His idea was that Western democracy wasn’t doing it for these young jihadists, and living in well-to-do Malaysia, which spouted Islamist ideals but didn’t practise them, pushed them further to that path. The West and Malaysia (somewhat) have failed them.

Back to the previous essay I wrote about young Muslims who are agnostic in secret. What a hullaballoo that caused. Friends asked what they could do to stop the young from opting out of Islam. 

Social media liberalists espoused freedom of choice and apostasy happened because there was no space, no room for the young to question Islam. I spent a day or two dealing with a few cranks, one of them a much older gentleman wanting to discuss faith, secularism and Malaysia, who sported a profile picture of him shirtless with sagging man boobs. If you’re trying to pick me up honey, old man tatas don’t do it for me.

We need to do more than just ask how we have failed our young, and Malaysians, and why. Less chest thumping and pulling of hair, and angsty tears. While the topic du jour is our jihadists, and in no way is it a lesser national challenge, we must ask ourselves what kind of Islam we want for our Malaysia, and whom we want to speak for us.

Because it would seem that what we have now is pushing us away. Even us moderate, observant Muslims.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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