Over the last few weeks we have been seeing quite a bit of controversy regarding the Oktoberfest beer festival and the ‘pat a dog’ event. A number of mufti and ulama’ have spoken out against these on the argument that these may mislead Muslims, and that it insults Islam, and so on.
We have to be very careful with how we position Islam in Malaysia. While we can argue that Malaysia is not really a Secular country in the full sense of the word where there is separation of church and state, Malaysia is not an Islamic State either.
For all intents and purposes, Malaysia is something in between while, according to the Federal Constitution, Islam is the religion of the Federation. Hence we need to seek a balance where Muslims must comply to the Sharia while non-Muslims must not be denied their rights to practice their religion, customs, traditions and culture.
The beer festival was meant for non-Muslims so it does not really affect Muslims. On the argument that dogs are haram for Muslims, different ulama’ have different views. While some ulama’ argue that dogs are haram to Muslims, others argue that dogs are not haram but just unclean and if you touch a dog you can always clean yourself with no harm done.
And we must remember that one mufti of Terengganu actually owned a dog and took it for walks every day. This shows even muftis do not always agree on what is allowed and not allowed in Islam. Hence we must differentiate between what is Islam and what is merely the opinion of certain religious people.
Nevertheless, this is not really the point. The point is while beer and dogs may be issues that need addressing, these issues are not really as critical as the more important issues that are plaguing the Muslim world.
We are currently seeing an increase in religious extremism in the Muslim world. Take what is happening in places like Libya, Iraq, and many other places. Even Malaysian Muslims are going to join what they perceive as the jihad being fought by the Islamic State and the numbers are increasing and becoming quite alarming.
Back during the days of the Iraq War, Malaysian Muslims were wearing Saddam Hussein T-shirts while, during the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, Malaysians were cheering.
This is more worrying than the issue of beer festivals and dogs.
The mufti and ulama’ should focus on these issues and come out with statements warning Malaysian Muslims regarding religious extremism. If this state of affairs is allowed to continue there will come a day when religious fanaticism will become a problem for Malaysia.
The other worrying problem is regarding racism, which appears to be increasing by the day. No ulama’ or mufti has yet come out with any statement to say that in his last sermon or kutbah the Prophet Muhammad has declared racism as contrary to Islamic teachings and is forbidden under Islam.
I am not saying that religious scholars must not talk about beer and dogs. However, there are more crucial issues that need addressing and the religious scholars are remaining silent regarding these. If religious extremism and racism are not kept in check, the damage done to Malaysia will be far worse than the issue of non-Muslims drinking beer or Muslims patting dogs.