Controversial Indian-born Islamic preacher, banned in the UK is now in Malaysia on a lecture tour or what he called global “dakwa”. The people are uneasy over his presence. Some want him to speak. Some want him to pack his backs and go back to India. Here are my thoughts on him as memories of Malaysia’s cultural philosopher extraordinaire come a visiting’.
“To let him speak or not to”, that is the question. One that is distracting Malaysians from focusing on the 1MDB mega-money laundering scheme, the revelations of the Panama Papers, and the question of who is going to take over the country when the time comes for a premature inevitable change in leadership.
But let us put this Zakir Naik’s issue to rest. It is a simple matter.
Let him speak. Maybe he has some good things to say but he has to understand how to speak well, with diplomacy, in a multicultural and multi-religious society such as Malaysia in which people are shunning any talk that can further divide the different races and faiths.
Let him talk, as this is good for dialogue but make sure he is ready to talk sense and not blurt our partial nonsense, especially in matters of the history of science or even in the anatomy, psychology, and philosophy of major religions. Let the Malaysian audience do fact-checking as well to judge the credibility of this speaker. But he must not shout into the microphone when answering questions – that is rude and not the mark of a good speaker.
The audience must be able to refute him in public at instances where he spit out and blurt and vomit answers that constitute misinformation especially concerning the faith of others. Zakir Naik must not agitate and aggravate and provoke his audience, like a preacher on a leash selling miracle snake-oils. Islam is a gentle religion and true Islam is philosophical, not dogmatic and punitive.
Let scholars of comparative religion sit in his lectures. Let members of Hindraf and the Malaysian Indian Congress attend as well. Let it be a time for good and critical dialogue, a time to understand each other with civility by celebrating diversity and the beauty of pluralism.
But on a similar note – the Malaysian government must also intellectual discourse to happen especially in our public universities – let Islamism, Liberalism, Marxism, Anarchism, Punk Rock-ism, Ya Hanana-ism, Sha na na-ism, Justin Bieber-ism, Ethical Humanism, Rock Kapak-ism and all kind of non-violent ‘isms’ be the varieties of discourse allowed – so that our students will not just be interested in making the biggest donuts, umbrellas of love, biggest dodol, biggest petai and jering floral arrangement or the biggest of anything just to get into the Malaysian Book of Records.
Let big ideas be the big thing in our biggest universities – so that our future leaders will not grow up and old to steal big money – big-time.
Let Zakir Naik talk – as long as he does not talk partial nonsense, like a seller. As long as he talks about other religions with deep respect and intellectual reverie, like a true comparativist of religion. If he cannot control himself and behave and angers Muslims and non-Muslims alike, he will have to be taken off the stage or his microphone switched off.
I think Malaysians are now very tired of religious bigotry or any kinds of talk that amplify and exacerbate all kinds of religious phobia be they Islamophobia, Christianophobia, Hindu-phobia or even Pagan-phobia. We are already, as a nation phobic of what is going to happen to our debt-ridden beloved country run by those we voted into power yet turned into abusers, schemers, troublemakers, robbers, and oppressors. We are tired.
Let Zakir Naik speak, he too needs to make his big ringgits and rupees before going back to Mumbai. Many Malay-Muslims adore him, anyway.
After P Ramlee, an irony
We are so fascinated by ‘Islamic preachers’ from outside even though they grew up in and continue to live in societies plagued with violent radicalism, chaos, intellectual shallowness, low rates of literacy, racism and bigotry, not mentioning how these societies view women and people of others religions as well as how they even view child marriage.
Because we fail to see that the Hindu-Buddhist syncretist Malay cultures that have existed centuries ago have shaped the traditional Malay culture into a more sensible, cultural, and enriching way than how the imported cultures of the land of the Bedouins have mis-shaped us.
Even looking at contemporary colonising and reshaping of the Malay society, we have failed to appreciate the notion that the teachings of the Malay sage, artist of life, and messenger of peace, P Ramlee is better than any all the lectures of Mumbai preachers like Zakir Naik combined.
Who needs people from the land of the Talibans or the Deobandis or the Wahhabbis or sects strange to the Malays to tell the people here how to behave like Muslims, when these are the societies in which the leaders are not good models of progressive Islam themselves?
Time to get out of this ideological mess we have imported lock, stock, and barrel – of teachings that are mainly interested in emphasizing the length of one’s robe and beard and how to maintain the subservience of women.
Fair comment, I hope I have made. And it is good to be back writing in after a two-month hiatus – writing about the dearest thing to me – seeing this badly-wounded nation heal beautifully again.