I don't mind, but they are not mine!

JANUARY 23 ― In the year 2005, from December 15 to 18, the Asia Europe Institute of Universiti Malaya conducted a survey on over 1,000 randomly chosen Malaysian Muslims in Peninsular Malaysia.

The project co-ordinator was Dr Patricia A Martinez. “The objective of the survey,” said the report, “was to get Muslims themselves, instead of those who spoke on their behalf, to define their identity, issues and concerns. “

Like all surveys, this particular one was “not perfect” and faced limitations, the report caused ripples among the local intelligentsia and social activists involved in issues of culture and religion.

Some of the findings were as follows:

•         73 per cent chose being a Muslim as their one, top-most identity; 99 per cent felt that they were all three: Malay, Muslim and Malaysian

•         While 47 per cent felt that the Malaysian government was sufficiently Islamic, 49 per cent said no. Yet 77 per cent didn’t want an Islamic state like Iran

•         For those who wanted an Islamic state, it was because constitutional democracy didn’t work in Malaysia

•         While 64 per cent wanted shariah rule to remain under the Constitution of Malaysia, 31 per cent wanted it to replace the Malaysian Constitution

•         77 per cent felt that the shariah laws in Malaysia were not strict enough, and that 44 per cent believed that the state religious authorities should monitor and punish wrongdoers

•         Last year, in April 2014, the Merdeka Center followed up with another survey to gauge public opinion on hudud implementation. There are some of the findings:58 per cent of Malay respondents report that the country is not ready to implement Islamic penal code (hudud laws) along with 59 per cent and 61 per cent Chinese and Indian respondents respectively

•         With respect to support for hudud, the survey found a small majority (53 per cent) of the respondents stated that they support hudud laws. This number comprised 71 per cent Malay respondents and both 26 per cent of Chinese and Indian respondents respectively.

•         It should be noted that 20 per cent of Malay respondents opposed hudud laws along with 65 per cent and 69 per cent Chinese and Indian respondents respectively. However, Malay voters under the age of 30 years old registered the highest level of support at 83 per cent compared to other older age groups, consistent with Merdeka Center’s earlier findings in the 2011 study of Muslim youth sentiments.

I mention the above data to demonstrate to you that (many) Muslims in Malaysia no longer view or accept the fact that the official religion of the country is Islam and that Malaysia is a secular country. 

And for the Malays under the age of 30, living in a pluralistic society under shariah law is not a contradiction. Whether they understand what hudud entailed was and is of no significance to them.

The conversation we must have now is no longer about what the liberal, Western-educated class believes what Islam in Malaysia should be.

It’s time to talk about and admit that Malay Muslims who are not “liberal” and represent the majority of Muslims in Malaysia, want their Islam: that the Quran is the final word on faith and practice; that the Hadith is sacrosanct, and that they already view that they have or are achieving their own freedoms, within the confines of their faith.

And no matter how much debate there is on polygamy or Muslim women’s rights in the public sphere, Muslim women believe they can challenge or resist patriarchy by following and understand the holy texts.

For many Muslims, and among my family and friends, being an observant Muslim provides many freedoms. The young can still be in the arts or creative fields, the women can still be at upper management, and the men may have no issues about earning less than their spouses, but whatever they do, must follow hukum syarak.

You obey Allah first, and everything follows suit.

***

A dipstick survey among friends ― highly educated, professionals, English-speaking and yes, make up the majority of Malay Muslim Malaysians ― prove that they want a Muslim state.

Nadge Ariffin is a cultural activist, linguist and avid traveller. He’s very measured in his manner and articulate. He won’t look out of place in a GLC, except that he has chosen the path of a freelancer.

Then there’s Mohd Nadzrin Wahab, a corporate trainer, who’s into silat and another articulate Facebook friend.

“Those varying degrees of expectation can vary greatly! The devil's in the details. Some don't want a single pig around for example. An Islamic state and a Muslim country are fairly different terms,” Nadge said.

“With no intention of being funny, I seriously want a state of Islam, rather than an Islamic state. I want a community that self-regulates with love and counsel instead of force. I have only ever experienced this growing up in and around tariqat. But therein lies the impossible dichotomy. They think that when Pakatan wins Federal, PAS will get to turn this country into an Islamic state!” Nadzrin said.

Nadzrin told us all of the time he spent at a local university which had pretty harsh ideas of Islam. “I never felt love there.”

Another friend who preferred to not be named in this column, added that personally he wanted a country like Denmark or any Scandinavian country which spiritually and socially are more Islamic than “Islamic” countries.

“I want freedom but as a practising Muslim myself I have to agree with anything 'Islamic'.”

I asked if the public Muslim voices spoke for them.

They were vehement in their agreement that they (G25 and others) did not. “Not from a legal, economical or intellectual perspective. I don't mind them, but they're not mine.”

Next: Are we speaking for ourselves, or for all of us? And will Malaysia(ns) achieve a state of Islam?

Notes:

While the notes below refer to women and their practice of their faiths, they apply to all genders

[1] Sylva Frisk’s Submitting to God is an excellent reference on Muslim women in Malaysia who are of the professional class and have found solace in their weekly religious classes conducted at mosques.

[2] Phyllis Mack in 2003, wrote in her essay, Religion, feminism, and the problem of agency: reflections on eighteenth century Quakerism, “Quaker women defined agency not as the freedom to do what one wants but as the freedom to do what is right. Since what is right was determined by absolute truth or God as well as by individual conscience, agency implied obedience as well as the freedom to make choices and act on them.”

[3] In Marie Griffith’s God’s Daughters, she wrote about how there was an assumption made by “many outsiders that the conservative, Christian women of the organisation are merely participating in their own victimisation, internalising patriarchal ideas about female submission that confirm and increase their sense of personal inferiority.” But the women claimed that submitting to God led to freedom and transformation.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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