Muslims cannot and should not impose their faith and measuring rod on others who do not share their religious belief, says Mustafa K Anuar.
The joke, if at all, that was allegedly expressed by a senior teacher at a primary school in Sungai Petani recently is in bad taste – for you don’t callously tell impressionable primary school kids to drink urine if they can’t get water from the pipe in the toilet. It is an abominable suggestion, to say the least.
But it is more than just bad taste. The alleged joke was expressed in the context of the holy month of Ramadan during which the Muslim teacher allegedly forbade non-Muslim pupils to drink (if not eat) in class in the presence of supposedly fasting Muslim kids. Hence, the non-Muslim schoolchildren were relegated to the toilet in order to quench their thirst.
This matter was understandably taken seriously at least by the parents of those non-Muslim pupils – even though there were quarters who later denied that the joke was actually articulated by the individual concerned.
The parents who were visibly concerned also might have been mindful of the incident in a national school in Sungai Buloh in 2013, when non-Muslim students were instructed to eat near a toilet away from the sight of fasting Muslim students. In other words, this may not be an isolated case at a time when Islamic overzealousness is rearing its ugly head.
One question that’s begging to be asked here is, why must the non-Muslim students be instructed to drink or eat at a place that is inconvenient and/or unhygienic?
Would anyone in their right minds, Muslims included, eat and drink near, let alone in, the toilet especially given the kinds of toilet that we normally have in schools?
Aren’t the non-Muslim students also entitled to decent facilities in schools, including the canteen, during and outside of Ramadan? And why can’t they be together where a group of them drink and eat and another fast?
Could the reason for this “segregation” be to avoid the temptation to break fast prematurely among the Muslim students? If so, wouldn’t this be an implicit admission by the Muslim authorities that these students might not have been properly trained to exercise self-restraint as enjoined by their Islamic faith?
Anyway, these young children are still learning to fast, with a few hiccups like having the inclination to break their fast much earlier in the day. Nonetheless, I am sure they would eventually harden their resolve to complete their fast.
To reiterate, surely the exercise of self-restraint among Muslims, especially the adults, is vital during Ramadan, when temptations of the real world exist and appear robust. And surely this is the real test of the faithful in the true spirit of Ramadan – without having to rely on the self-appointed moral guardians in our society to police the Muslims.
At the risk of sounding didactic, the values, such as self-restraint, moderation, compassion, respect and patience, which inform the very practice of fasting during Ramadan, should always be imbibed by the faithful.
These values are important in terms of the relations not only between Muslims and non-Muslims but also within the Ummah itself. Take moderation, for instance. If some of the Muslim adherents were true to the values of their faith, they would not have committed the “sin” of breaking fast in an extravagant fashion whether in five-star hotels or in the comfort of their homes – with the consequent food wastage.
Unlike catching Muslims who don’t fast – especially those found patronising small eating stalls and nondescript restaurants – policing consumption of sumptuous buffets in hotels during Ramadan seems to be an insurmountable task for the moral guardians and religious authorities.
This is because it normally involves the well-heeled, political leaders and the powers that be whom the religious establishment often shy away from in their line of duty.
In short, a class factor appears to hinder in this context the effective implementation of Islamic values that essentially defy the borders of ethnicity, class, colour and political affiliation.
The urine joke at school as well as the recent incidents of “sarong-gate” in government departments point to the importance of Muslims having to appreciate the fact that they are living in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multicultural society where differences and diversity must be respected and celebrated.
As in the case of fasting, Muslims cannot and should not impose their faith and measuring rod on others who do not share their religious belief, whose notion of, say, physical decency varies from one group to the next.
In the case of women in skirts being disallowed from entering government departments, there is a possible mix of religion and patriarchy at play, with men in authority (i.e. the security guards) subjecting the (non-Muslim) women to their discriminatory diktat. As mentioned above, the case of the urine controversy suggests a likely factor of religious overzealousness.
Having said that, what is also feared is that in these two cases there might be attempts by certain people, inspired by the notion of Ketuanan Melayu, to flex their muscles. In a social context where the constitutional synonymy between Islam and Malay becomes a heady brew for some in the Malay community, this trepidation may not be so far-fetched.
It is also important for many Muslims to appreciate the fact that morality (and piety) doesn’t stop at the length of the skirt. They must also be concerned about things such as corruption in the country’s administration, accountability on the part of political leaders, respect for human rights, and compassion for the poor, the minorities and the marginalised. These are moral issues, to be sure.
This is because committing corruption especially in high places, violating human rights and having little compassion for the down and out and the minorities make a mockery of the Islamic faith. Similarly, to ignore these corrupt and immoral practices by the faithful is to also ridicule the faith.
Clearly, practising the good values in Islam would in itself present a good image of Islam and its adherents so that you do not need the services of international public relations consultants to boost its public profile; neither would you need the moralistic intervention of self-appointed moral guardians.
Besides, in this way you would be able to arrest the creeping extremist versions of Islam in our midst that can not only cause problems to the mainstream Muslim community, but also to inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations in the country. Indeed, Islamic extremism stinks to high heavens.
But more than that, Muslims would have embraced snugly the vital values that are imparted by Islam, which go beyond the equally important rituals of the faith.