FEBRUARY 28 — Under fire from Malay-Muslim groups for organising a conference in Penang last week, a senior member of a regional Freemason grand lodge was forced to defend the fraternity, explaining that it is “just like the Rotary and Lions”, referring to two major international service groups.
In hindsight, perhaps it was a bad comparison, considering that Palestinian fundamentalist resistance movement Hamas consider Rotary and Lions the same as Freemasons in its 1988 charter: secret organisations working to serve the Zionist interest through sabotage.
As with the blind zealotry with regards to the Palestinian cause, this accusation by Hamas has played a part in shaping the community’s hysterical phobia against Freemasonry.
It is this phobia that led to a crusade against the four-day Scottish Masonic Conference in George Town, organised by Klang-based District Grand Lodge of the Middle East (DGLME) that oversees 22 lodges in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
The fire was stoked by Umno Youth executive council member Armand Azha Abu Hanifah early this month, himself an avid conspiracy theorist. (Last month, he complained against local broadcaster Astro’s advertisement, claiming the presence of the Eye of Providence, a fabled Illuminati symbol.)
Of course, sanity prevailed as the conference went on without a hitch, despite a massive protest of 20 people by the Red Shirts, the new melting pot for everything concerning Malay-Muslim supremacy.
A major fear driving anti-Masonry among Muslims seems to be the false conflation that Freemasons are Illuminati, a cabal allegedly pulling the strings behind the world — imagine a round table in a smoky room, with the world map as a backdrop. You know, the stuff you see in fiction.
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Some Muslims not only believe that Illuminati actually exists, but claim that it is serving the Zionist agenda — which can be traced back to the The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, perhaps among the world’s biggest frauds, continuing to fuel conspiracy theorists’ wet dreams nearly 100 years since it was exposed as forgery in English paper The Times in 1921.
Freemasonry’s clandestine brotherhood, rituals and symbolisms inevitably led it to be compared to the Illuminati. It also does not help that the Temple of Solomon plays a big role in its symbolism, leading to accusations that Masons aim to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque in order to restore the holy Jerusalem temple.
But this phobia goes way back before Hamas, to early 18th century. And this fear among some Muslims has its roots in, surprisingly, Christianity.
Celil Layiktez, a Mason and an editor for the Grand Lodge of Turkey, suggested that anti-Masonry in the Islamic world started when Sultan Mahmut I of the Ottoman Empire outlawed Freemasonry in 1748 — but the monarch only did so in response to Pope Clement XII’s excommunication of the group, 10 years prior.
Layiktez also claimed that among those who deposed Sultan Abdul Hamid II in 1908, the last Ottoman Sultan, and therefore the last Caliph, had been Masons — leading to further animosity from Muslims.
Fast forward to the future, Freemasonry is now illegal in almost all Arabic countries.
But it was not until Nazi Germany that anti-Masonry took on an anti-Semitic slant. Adolf Hitler, a fan of the above-mentioned Protocols, believed that Freemasonry was part of a Jewish conspiracy, and it was banned under the Nazis. It was estimated that between 80,000 and 200,000 Masons were murdered under the regime.
It is not hard to see shades of Hitler’s anti-Semitic attack against Freemasonry in a fatwa released by the Saudi-based Muslim World League, that had perhaps cemented anti-Masonry in Muslim-majority countries.
The group’s Islamic Jurisprudence Council held its first session in 1978, and the first thing they discussed? Freemasons.
(Well, the second resolution in that session was on Communists, and then the Ahmadis, the Baha’is, and then insurance policies; you can see where their priorities were.)
In the religious decree, the influential Shariah interpretation body said that Freemasonry’s “original organisational roots are Jewish; its secret global high administration, Jewish; and its activity, Zionist.” It also claimed that the group’s “secret real aim” is to destroy Islam.
The same fatwa also named Rotary and Lions as conspicuous Freemason branches, “operating under pseudonyms.”
Decades later, Freemasons and Illuminati are now used interchangeably by many Muslims, and lumped together with Zionism and Satan worship. The Eye of Providence was even taken by some to symbolise Dajjal, the one-eyed Muslim anti-Christ that signifies the coming of the end of times.
The protest in Penang too had labelled Freemasons as anti-Islam, warmongers, LGBT supporters, DAP allies... all that is evil in the world, basically.
Forget that there are Muslim Mason brothers worldwide (after all, belief in a Deity is a requirement in some organisations).
Forget that Freemasonry has had a long history in Muslim-majority countries, including Malaysia, and they are hardly secret, being registered societies.
DGLME itself started operating in Kuala Lumpur in 1916, bringing together three lodges in then Malaya — Lodge Scotia in Penang, Lodge Tullibardine in Kuala Lumpur, and Lodge Malay in Klang.
While DGLME is under the Grand Lodge of Scotlands group, there also exists the District Grand Lodge of the Eastern Archipelago (DGLEA), that is under a different movement, the United Grand Lodge of England and dates back to Penang’s foundation by Francis Light in 1786.
Islam does not need Freemasons to destroy itself, after all its zealots can perfectly do that by themselves. But some Muslims do need the Freemasons, as the bogeyman, to justify their acts of ignorance, and as excuse to cover up their failings — from the fall of the Ottoman Empire to the decline and rotting of Islamic institutions.
The immense ludicrousness of the Freemason/Illuminati conspiracy theory in a way makes it very popular, and very effective when used against critics and detractors. I can already imagine myself being accused of being a Mason for writing this.
Just like how Freemason lodges will continue to thrive, its myth will endure, thanks to Muslims who in lieu of the Devil in the real world, have named Freemasonry as the manifestation of all its deepest fears and worries.
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.