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The Danger Of The Word ‘Muslim Ummah’ In Malaysian Politics – OpEd


Folks, I am back. Quite a hiatus.

And in the Malaysian Parliament, what a tabling of Abdul Hadi Awang’s motion on the proposed amendments to the Syariah Court (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 it was, I saw on YouTube. It was a good early morning speech made in Parliament while the roosters and the frogs and the cuckoos in the village were sleeping.

First Hadi Awang made his presentation and then all of a sudden there was no debate. Maybe people were dying for a teh tarik and nasi kandar kaw kaw breakfast that the debate had to be postponed to July. It was then that the opposition roared, “Takut… Takut… Takut…” (loosely translated as “Chicken Out… Chicken Out… Chicken Out…” in gangsta English). The power of the Malaysian power breakfast for champions.

Then I thought, what’s going to be the shape of the Malaysian Parliament to come circa 2050. The year of the new slogan for TN50.

At the rate of Parliament having marathon 20-hour sittings till the wee, wee hours of the morning, past midnight, past bedtime, past teh tarik session time, way past futsal, Malaysians are going to have politicians and lawmakers able to work at night and sleep in the day.

The next breed of parliamentarians will come from the children of Dracula, Batman, Night Watchmen, Mat and Minah Rempit Johor, Pontianak, and also members of the Rukun Tetangga – those who are friends of the night. Unless debate sessions that must happen after two in the morning are held in a different time zone – New York City at 1pm daylight saving time.

Cost will be an issue. Unless we use the government’s private jet. Maybe the next hudud debate session can be held in Uganda? Or Transylvania – home of Count Dracula?

In tabling the hudud bill, Hadi used the words ‘Umat Islam‘ a lot. Here is why the words are dangerous from a Platonic and Socratic point of view. Or even common-sensically.

‘Umat Islam’ or the ‘Muslim Ummah’?

Dangerous words used liberally and carelessly, isn’t it? A universalising third person pronoun used by preachers, Islamic religion teachers, and even by imam and politicians.

‘Umat Islam’ connotes and denotes the one-dimensional and one-lump-sum thinking of all Muslims – from the believers of the coming of the mythical al Mahdi, of Gog and Magog and the Dajjal, the Taliban, the Boko Haram, al Shabaabs, the IS and of Muslims everywhere in all four corners of the world.

It assumes that all Muslims think the same in all issues and ought to be following the same set of teachings, the Sunnah, the Hadiths, and believing in the same story and the same political ideology of we versus them, of the Muslims vs the Infidels and the we versus the enemies.

Because the idea of an ‘ummah’ is a millenaristic-supranationalistic concept of global-political implications, PAS and others use it alike to coerce and force other Muslims to agree to whatever that needs to be agreed upon. No room for critical thinking, No room for questions. The ‘Umat Islam’ must agree because the ‘ummah’ is even higher in status that the nation state.

Hegemonising, generalising and colonising a word it is. The words ‘Umat Islam’, used by political parties the species of PAS and the like.

Every Muslim is different. Each does not belong to an ‘ummah’. To each Islam his/her own. Not PAS-Islam; an Islam that is failing, holding on to the rhetoric of ‘Umat Islam‘. Revise your rhetorical device, if you understand what it means.

Remember – Islamic State (IS) used the words ‘Islamic State’ and al Mahdi and umat Islam successfully. The power of generalising. The power of rhetoric…

Child marriage is okay?

And then related to the path Malaysia is taking towards the Islamic State of IS is the issue of the okay-ness of child marriage as blurted out by some prominent Islamist, okay-ed by many of those who think that marrying a nine-year old is Islamic. So I wrote this on my Facebook page:


advocates of child marriage
Are you going mad?
Why must you follow the Talibans?
a girl belongs in school, not to your lustful needs
not an Islamic, but an Arab tribal practice when marrying a nine-year old girl is permissible. Girls deserve to have a good childhood, good education, and good sense of the meaning of being a woman – ar

Here are my thoughts on a girl’s education:

It never ends, formally or informally. A girl must be given all the rights, privileges, and opportunities to achieve the highest level of education, according to her wish and the means available. Marriage should not be a hindrance. If a man feels inferior to his partner’s educational level; he will need to get rid of such a feeling and try harder to be at par, taking a different path.

It is not a competition, as life ought to be. It is about equality, equity, and equal opportunity, framed accordingly. But a girl is not for marriage alone. She is for the world to be made a more peaceful, wise, and humane place. For Mother Earth to flourish.

My last words for this column on the ways things are going in Malaysia these days:

From issues manufactured to the nature of bills tabled, to the trivial topics released in the public sphere, the number of distractions have grown – clouding the issues of massive corruption and the selling of the country off to other nations.

This is an old tactic of divide and confuse and conquer, produced in the name of an illusion called democracy and diversity of opinions. And Facebook becomes the arena to diffuse mass anger by still being angry albeit fragmentally.

I hope we come back to our senses. It is better for Hadi and his band of Holier-than-Thou men and women to table a bill on what kind of hudud will be necessary for the billions of ringgit stolen from the country.

Now, that bill will be good for the ummah – Malaysian Muslims and non-Muslims alike. And another bill is to stop dehumanising women and blaming them for rape. Agree?

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Dr. Azly Rahman

Dr. Azly Rahman is an academician, educator, international columnist, and author of nine books He holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in international education development and Master's degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies, communication, fiction, and non-fiction writing. He is a member of the Columbia University chapter of the Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education. Twitter @azlyrahman. More writings here. His latest book, a memoir, is published by Penguin Books is available here.

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