Pinkdot: A Muslim’s View

Pinkdot is an event which celebrates the freedom of LGBT, recently held in Singapore. I’m not sure what their objective is exactly, but as a moderate Muslim, I really disagree with the promotion of LGBT lifestyle.

The issue of LGBT itself is not new, but it seems that many Muslims forget the unanimous view among our spiritually-discerned ulama. Not one of the them said that homosexuality is halal. Not. A. Single. One.

Admittedly, the issue itself is complex. It is imperative that we focus our discussion not on men who may appear feminine and vice versa (there’s a specific hadith on that, by the way). Instead here, we are talking about people who engage in homosexual relationships.

What’s our position?

Homosexuality has been discussed for hundreds of years by the ulama. They concede that some people may develop certain tendencies towards people of the same sex. They even talked about the permissibility of praying behind someone with such tendencies, as Hamza Yusuf clarified:

But nowhere do they say that it is okay to act on those tendencies. In fact, as many others, including Tariq Ramadan (video below) have argued that these feelings represent the personal challenges for these Muslims. Just like someone who have tendencies to be violent, does it make it okay to act violently? Or someone who has the tendency to commit adultery or steal, does it make it okay for them to act on it? Definitely no. This self-improvement is among the focus on their jihad in this world, to gain the pleasure of Allah in the next.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we must excommunicate or totally ostracize the gay Muslims. Instead, we should take the steps to make them understand their religion even more, and create the necessary space for them, as Sherman Jackson argued:

My interpretation of the necessary space here is not one that encourages nor allow homosexual Muslims to engage in sinful acts, but a space for them to interact with true Muslims, those who love Allah and strive to make amends to improve themselves. We need the space so that we can identify and educate our fallen brothers and sisters, so they can get back on their feet .Because without such space, what we are doing it basically alienating them to one corner of society that envelopes them from outreach efforts.

With such a “space,” expert counselors can talk to gay Muslims and make them comprehend the hikmah of Allah’s law.  Spiritual guides can talk to their family and make them supportive of the correct Islamic teachings, instead of something which is heavily influenced by the we-can-do-anything-as-long-as-no-one-gets-hurt hedonism. Thinkers can help develop a plan at the strategic level so that our precious young ones fully follows deen from very early on.

The big(ger) problem

On a wider plane, I personally think that the “popularity” this gay lifestyle is a by-product of globalization, one with very modern-Western-centric influences.

One example is the TV. If we switch our TVs on, and our minds off, then we will unknowingly consume all that rubbish in our own living room. Take for example the drama Glee. Sure, they make for great entertainment, especially if you love singing and dancing. But the garbage that is deemed to be primetime TV is also a great waste of time. More critically, they bring about these unintended “values” that we Muslims are suddenly finding ourselves in its midst. The acceptance of homosexuality is definitely one of them.

Before we know it, our frame of mind is influenced by the premises set in such shows. Thus when we talk about rights, the modern Western definition of rights come up to our mind. Same goes for freedom. Freedom to wear what what the nafs (and billion-dollar fashion industry) wants. Freedom to watch what you want. Freedom to do as you please. Leaving nothing to be sacred.

Methinks, the proliferation of gay personalities on popular TV shows such as Glee, Ellen, How I met Your Mother, and many more TV shows is a contributing factor. At first Muslims might think, “Hey, these gays, they’re not bad people.” Of course they are not. We have nothing against the gays. What we oppose is their action.

But with increasing acceptance of such personalities, common everyday Muslims will find it hard to filter which is good and which is bad; which of their commendable characteristics should be praised (creative, hardworking), and which of their bad characteristics should be condemned. The line simply is blurred when they accept such people as a whole, instead of viewing an individual critically.

Now imagine a 12-year-old Muslim boy watching Glee, and suddenly remembers that he has a boy crush on his class monitor. In my time, those things are considered to be normal, and one grows out of it. In this time, he may very well think that he is “born different” and should “be true to himself” and “not succumb to the pressure of conservative family ideals.” In my time, boy crush means that you try and be best friends with that class monitor. In this time, boy crushes may be honed to be the the foundation of homosexuality.

Similarly, I believe our kids know Ryan Giggs, John Terry, Christiano Ronaldo very well. In addition to their football skills, news exposés also revealed their sexual misconduct (to put it mildly). So just as we tell them that these sportsmen train very hard to get to their peak, we should also be very clear to them that their merit is limited only to soccer, and not anything more. The lines drawn should be decisively clear.

Conclusion

As such, it hurts me to watch this scene (00:12 mark).

I don’t imagine handling such identity issues will be easy, but I pray that the family involved are taking steps in the right direction.

And my parting thoughts to my fellow Muslim brothers who see themselves as part of the homosexual community, please, be with the right company. Be with people who love Allah and His messenger PBUH. Those that pray five times a day, and realize that it trains the nafs. Those that fast often, and know that obedience comes before desire. For, when stepping on Allah’s land, and roofed with Allah’s sky, the least we can do is to make that effort live with Allah’s rules.

Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity. It will have [the consequence of] what [good] it has gained, and it will bear [the consequence of] what [evil] it has earned. “Our Lord, do not impose blame upon us if we have forgotten or erred. Our Lord, and lay not upon us a burden like that which You laid upon those before us. Our Lord, and burden us not with that which we have no ability to bear. And pardon us; and forgive us; and have mercy upon us. You are our protector, so give us victory over the disbelieving people.” Al-Baqarah:286

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How come got opposition rally in SOPA?

So I was watching the video above explaining why we should not support SOPA. Normally I try not to read too much into domestic US issues, but with heavyweights like Wikipedia shutting down their websites in protest of SOPA, I took special note of this.

Basically, the SOPA detractors are worried that this new bill will be dominated by the lobbying music and movie industry to unfairly target and sue websites that they deem infringing on copyright (now which Youtube video doesn’t use some popular song or movie clip?). The video noted that even baby clips are taken down because background music belongs to some giant record label.

Also if the US SOPA bill gets passed, other governments may be over-zealously end up censoring things on the internet with their own version of SOPA. Such as, censoring speeches or videos from those who disagree with their rule.

[The internet is] a vital and vibrant medium. Our government is tampering with it’s basic structure so people will maybe buy more Hollywood movies. But Hollywood movies don’t get grassroots candidates elected. They don’t overthrow corrupt regime.”

Suddenly I notice this. With the HDB flats as a dead giveaway, I’m sure that is one of the Singapore opposition political parties’ rally. But I don’t know which one it is.

And the voiceover that comes with this image? “But Hollywood movies don’t get grassroots candidates elected.”

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CNET, Chinese accent is NOT Singaporean accent

CNET Asia, you guys really dissappoint me. I saw this video of you guys testing Siri:

http://asia.cnet.com/videos/first-look-siri-and-asian-accents-45699808.htm

At first there was the Filipino accent, then Malay accent. Then a guy with distictively local Chinese accent tested the phone, and the caption reads “Singaporean accent.”

My reaction, had I been eating cereal.

Chinese accent = Singaporean accent??

Really??!!

And that Malay and Indian accents were not in any way “Singaporean?” I guess that Freudian slip clarifies the way you think, and how you look at others.

Mr John Chan, CNET Asia editor, you’ve really got some editing to do.

Tsk tsk.

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Post-GE2011: Where are my real Malay-Muslim leaders?

A member of the infamous million-strong PAP Makcik Batallion. How can the opposition win them over? (Image credit)

So GE2011 wasn’t what I wanted it to be. I am not happy with the results. To be frank, I was hoping that Tin Pei Ling and the whole of PAP Marine Parade team to succumb under the pressure of NSP and Nicole Seah, but let’s focus on the Malay issues.

Did the bulk of Malay-Muslim voters still side with PAP? Let’s see.

A day after polling day, hey-Muslims-be-less-strict-lah LKY and his dutiful son LHL came out a day just to rub a bucketful of salt and sand into the gaping wound. The former insisting that his comments didn’t affect Malay votes (link), and the in latter’s exact words: “I believe that the Malay votes were with us in this general election. I think Yaacob (Ibrahim) would confirm that.” (link)

I take it their electoral analysts have really managed to narrow down the vote patterns based on the ballot boxes. So do the Malays really forgive that fast?

Then two days later I found myself having teh tarik with some friends, and naturally GE hogged the conversation.

“You know,” said a friend. “I think the reason the opposition failed to get more seats was because of their weakest link.”

“Weakest link? You mean Chiam See Tong?” said another who’s more concerned with emotional articulation than substance. Fair point though given he’s one of those first-time voter.

“No, not him. I mean, the Malays in the opposition lah,” the friend quipped.

True enough, I thought.

To be honest, I cannot even name more than two of the Malay opposition candidates correctly. And the one I can name correctly is because I know he looks very familiar – which I found out later he’s a friend’s acquaintance.

Most of us followed the frantic 9 days of campaigning. But can you recall a time where a Malay opposition candidate was singled out because of merit? Not once. Heck, even TPL garnered more publicity than any of the Malay opposition candidates. Granted for the wrong reason, but still, why is there no prominent Malay opposition candidate?

I know of so-called up-and-coming Malay professionals who claimed they were courted to join the PAP, invitied to one of those tea parties, and even interviewed. But none of them were even appraoched by the opposition parties. I know the opposition lack resources and funds, but they really gotta work the ground. And if they are really serious about getting Malay votes, the have got to find the right Malay candidates.

For me, I like the opposition not because of their Malay candidates, but because of their manifestos and policies. Really, it’s a world apart from the pro-corporatist PAP which doens’t sem care if the rich gets richer and the poor gets poorer. It’s like the freaking GDP is their holy grail, and if they get that, all other problems are magically solved.

But somehow, it seems to me that a bulk of the Malays are not able to process anything beyond the candidates personality or qualifications. Of course, the extra cash ala Grow and Share helps too, especially to those who are cash-strapped and regard the handout as a literallifesaver.

Yet this particular Malay demography do raise a pertinent point for the opposition parties to ponder; they don’t want some Amat, Mamat or Rahmat to represent them in parliament. Read again: these electorate don’t care about policies. They see themselves in a weak state, and they want someone highly qualified to be their voice in parliament because of that feel-good factor. I know how irrelevant a Malay PAP Member of Parliament is for the Malay-Muslim cause, but again it seems that to this particular demography, it doesn’t matter. So read this again: Choosing between some Malay diploma holder or obscure businessman or financial consultant, I really believe they will instead pick someone with a “Dr” behind their name. See their logic? Irrational as it is, you gotta whink like one to win their hearts.

And then comes the next issue, and here’s my personal grouse. The Malay-Muslim Singaporeans – in general – should better position themselves in politics in order to ensure that they stand a chance to actually shape the direction of Singapore. Look, I’m not saying we go about doing some covert ultra-right-wing nationalist underground clan, but the own community should make sure that they are represented in parliament with good, strong Malay-Muslim individuals.

Look at the other minority, the Indians. We have a whole lot to learn from them in politics. Be it in the PAP or opposition, they have really capable people represented there. Look at the likes of Pritam Singh, or Vincent WijeySingha, or even the Singaporean-celup Janil Puthucheary. It’s not hard to imagine one of them to be appointed as ministers. But do we have Malay candidates who shine like that? Where are our real Malay candidates? When will we ever have our own Rajaratnam or Dhanabalan?

It got to start from now. At least to look after our own interests, we should have good, solid, people throughout. We gotta stop thinking short-term and make sure that we are prepared when the next wave comes by the next general election. Maybe it will take another 2-3 terms to see the opposition breaking the two-thirds majority. And that means we have between 5-15 years to groom some solid Malay-Muslim politicians. One who is strongly rooted in the community, with excellent qualifications and experience, and most importantly born with titanium backbones. For own our sake.

And by we, I’m looking you, opposition parties.

PS: Even the semi-foul-mouthed Tuan Johari Awang is looking at these issues closely. He had a blast with his first piece, and has agreed to contribute more to this blog. So keep on a lookout for him in future postings, which will be categorized under “Johari Awang.”

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Woi Vote Betul2 La!

(Image credit)

Presenting our special guest writer today: Johan bin Haji Awang

“Melayu takde bodek!

Bila time berbual, satu2 macam betul je kutuk PAP itu lah, ini lah, harga HDB mahal nak mampos, harga bas/MRT asik naik even though tiap2 tahun untung ratus2 juta. Harga barang kat pasar naik pasal government pilih landlord ikut harga supermarket, harga hospital naik, obat naik, klinik naik, semua naik. Gaji je tak naik2. Kalau naik pon very pathetic.

Dah tu duit CPF sendiri, da lah kena paksa simpan tiap2 bulan, dah tua belum tahu dapat keluarkan. Suka aku ah nak buat beli kereta ke nak pegi haji ke nak bukak bisnes goreng pisang. Duit aku apa! Tiap2 bulan aku simpan! Da lah kau makan duit bunga dia puluh2 tahun tak kenyang2 ke?

Abistu orang melayu masuk army pangkat tinggi2 pon jadi apa? Berhenti masok Ass-tar? Pilot cume boleh bawak cargo plane je. Navy? Hahaha jangan buat kelakar sini ok aku serious.

Apa Singapore takde corruption? Takde nepotism? Kau tengok sape pegang post paling tinggi? Anak dia jadi apa skarang? Anak dia nye bini kerja mana? Gaji brape? Apa takde orang lain ke boleh buat kerja2 tu semua?

Please ah. Ada banyak lagi. Orang luar datang belajar ada scholarship, da tu dapat PR senang2. Gaji pon muai, NS tak kena. Sini punye policy semua pasal duit aje. Duit duit duit. Takde duit pegi mampos. Kau tengok casino. Kena pelawa mcm anak dara. Kompeni2 semua lagi precious dari orang. Ugama jangan cakap, aku tanya ustat2 aku, diorang pon tak tahu apa direction skarang.

Aku da give up. Ramai orang da give up.

Cuma yang aku tak paham, lepas ye2 berbual2 macam gini, aku tanye orang diorang nak vote sape, satu2 takot nak jawab. Bukan pasal secret, tapi pasal diorang takot kalau diorang vote PAP nanti tak dapat beli rumah, kena target pat kerja, hidop susah lah.

COME ON LAH!! Korang dah kenapa??! Berapa ramai orang vote PAP pon susah dapat rumah jugak, bodoh. Nak bet? Kau tanye makcik2 pengampu PAP yang selalu pakai baju putih, rebut2 salam cium tangan dengan MP PAP semua. Kau tanye diorang anak diorang senang dapat rumah tak? Kau tanye diorang time diorang bayar bill api air ada dapat special “Pembodek PAP Discount” tak? Ke diorang ada special EZ-link card bila naik MRT jadi orang cacat nak kena kasi diorang tempat duduk?

Takde dok! Semua sama je. Ni semua dalam kepala otak kita je. Aku baru baca pat suratkhabar hari ni, ada opposition punye orang dia dulu2 pon vote for opposition, padahal dia keje civil servant siak. Lepas tu dia masih dapat promoted macam biasa. Kawan2 aku vote opposition pon masih sama je. Pakcik makcik aku vote opposition pon lepas tu dapat promotion boleh tinggal bungalow some more!

Kenapa?

Pasal vote tu secret. Diorang tak boleh track. Blog agaknya orang boleh track, tapi vote tak boleh.

Memang voting card ada serial number, tapi tu untuk make sure yang that the card is authentic. Lepas tu kau tengok cara the vote is collected, dalam kotak, diorang longgokkan semua, dengan kehadiran (kan aku da pakai proper Malay word) opposition party members, it is impossible to know who voted for whom exactly. Kalau kau rajen sket pegi baca la pasal ni (link 1, 2). Jangan jadi pengecut tak tentu pasal! Macam mana Melayu nak maju gini?

Jadi kau, orang Melayu, yang konon2 berani, jiwa pendekar, cucu Hang Tuah, sepupu Badang, and most importantly orang yang ada agama. Kau tahu apa yang betul, apa yang salah. Kalau kau hidup bawah Fir’aun yang zalim, lepas tu Fir’aun intimidate/bayar kau untuk pilih dia jadi raja lagi, padahal kau tak agree dengan dia, AND kau ada choice lain. Tapi kau still vote for Fir’aun. Kau rasa what does that say about you?

Bodoh, focus sikit boleh tak. Walaupon PAP macam Fir’aun, aku tak cakap yang opposition tu Nabi Musa. Aku tanya, kau punye punye prinsip harga brapa? $600? $800? $1000? Atau the perception yang hidup kau akan susah?

Nanti lain kali kalau kau kene make hard choices, kau cuma nak pilih yang hidup senang dapat duit je? Kalau gitu, kau memang patot jadi PAP supporter sampai mampos.”

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The Divisive Power of LKY

(Image credit)

As a post-65er, along with the vast majority of my peers, LKY is generally seen as a person who is past his prime. Look at across the Causeway, and you see Mahathir aptly knowing his place. He was ordained as a Tun, kept out of politics (more or less), but at least relinquished his official position. Over on this side, you see Malathir’s mirror image, except the senior citizen here somehow is still warming the same seat for the past few decades.

In an attempt to ensure relevance, or perhaps due to the insistence by some opportunistic quarters to milk the cow before it lays permanently on the pasture, a book was published. Reeking of a sense of desperation by the marketing team and thus entitled “Hard Truths,” it not only affirms an unmeasurable degree of haughtiness (in which his word is the truth) and immensely prejudiced worldview, but also confirms an eccentric paradoxical characteristic; the relentless, repugnant stubbornness that ceases to shrivel unlike overripe grapes, or an 80-something year-old’s skin.

Irrelevant analogies aside, I tried hard not to take note of this recently-published book. Admittedly it is difficult to do so when passages of it screamed into front-page headlines in the national broadsheet. So whether I like it or not, the customary morning coffee-newspaper routine is distracted with noises coming from old, broken records.

Then after days of brushing aside incessant and blatant indoctrination through the Straits Times (well it’s inherent to be fair), counter-propaganda was finally provided by its international counterparts. Along with the unrealistic, obsolete view of the Malaysia and Indonesia [wanting to conquer Singapore], and that higher-educated parents make better children than gardeners (yes he actually said that), the AFP, and republished in the Jakarta Globe, Malaysia’s My Sinchew, among others, highlighted parts of the book deservedly. And this takes the cake:

“I would say today, we can integrate all religions and races except Islam,” he said in “Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going,” a new book containing his typically frank views on the city-state and its future.

“I think we were progressing very nicely until the surge of Islam came and if you asked me for my observations, the other communities have easier integration — friends, intermarriages and so on…” he stated.

“I think the Muslims socially do not cause any trouble, but they are distinct and separate,” Lee added, calling on the community to “be less strict on Islamic observances.” (AFP)

“Less Strict?”

As expected, reactions come in hard and fast.

But first, let’s divulge at the crux of the issue: What is exactly meant as “less strict,” and that Islam can’t really be “integrated?”

Here’s the exact context:

Apparently, to integrate, one must be able to drink beer and not eat halal food. Shortsightedness is the weakness of many, and can be rebutted rather easily:

1. Just how imperative is food in “integrating” with one another? Is there not other ways that people can mix with another? Sports? Reading? School? Work? Eating is just one of the various forums of “integration.” To single it out is simply unreasonable. Apparently he has never seen canteens in schools and universities, where Muslims and non-Muslims sit together eating their respective food with no issue at all.

Edit: BBC interviewed author/scholar Jill Partington who said that food has never been a uniting factor among peoples of different culture. In fact, it’s the opposite, as each has their own dietary requirements;  halal, kosher, vegan, etc.

2. Even if one decides that eating together is somehow most vital for one to know another, then must a Muslim disown his principles in order to “integrate?” Hell, no.

Similarly, would any sane person, one who is sincere in integrating with others, force a vegetarian to eat meat? Or a non-alcoholic to drink?

3. What sort of integration are we talking about here? Only the integration between religions? What about secularism? Secularism is not a value-free concept. It has its own values and principles; secularism must also make effort to integrate with religions. Integration is not a one-way street.

4. Integration of religion is one. What about integration of various “classes” of Singaporeans? Some years ago, there was a blog about some high-ranking official’s daughter who berated against the “commoners.” And I distinctively remember reading a letter in the ST, in which a person from a “privileged background” who had never endured any sort of financial hardship in her life, whose friends only live in private properties (apparently only one of her friend lives in a 5-roomer HDB flat), expressed her surprise at what us common Singaporeans go through everyday.

So why single out an egalitarian religion as an obstacle for integration? One which forces its adherents to help the poor and teach them to mix with peoples of different background?

To sum up, it seems to LKY the way to properly “integrate” Singaporeans is if Muslims become “less strict,” to be able to drink beer (and eat pork?) together. Unfortunately this is where his logic fails, as he conceded in the earlier part of the interview that religion supersedes everything. And to even ask someone to be “less strict” in religion, and this coming from an atheist politician, then published in a widely marketed book, only serves to amplify daftness, and the subsequent fair (although fiery) responses.

Many more points can be used to rebut against the statement, but that is not the intention here. Instead, let’s focus on the reactions.

Division and Reaction

Online, news spread like wildfire, and the retorts and rejoinders have been critical. The swearing around closed circles is even more damning. These are all understandable; malediction towards religion by anyone is not tolerated, moreover a senior citizen with in statesman’s cloak, which at the very least attracts similar imprecations.

The level of impunity shown by LKY at the efforts of playing down ethnic rhetoric in local politics is not only undermined, but he had it effectively tied down and gagged, with bigots standing around and laughing at the abuse. While Straits Times itself has been very reserved, giving only a glimpse of what the online citizens really think of LKY, although just because something is hardly reported doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The social undercurrent is just boiling with frustration at the old guy, and to some extent the writers who allowed such statements to be recklessly publicized in the first place.

So what are we to do, as Muslims? Hit out at him? Shout at the top of our voices? Fill up Facebook walls with wails of disappointment and chagrin?

That seems to be the case with most people. While I do not deny that there must be a clear signal of our disagreement with the statement above, I also find it hard to accept that such a statement was included in the book, given its very candid nature (see video above) which to me resembles purely of coffeeshop talk.

Yet most unfortunate, to me, is how some Muslims blame to other Muslims for not reacting. Reaction – to me – is required in the first place to show displeasure; we are not a spineless ummah. But reaction which blames other Muslims for not reacting is more counter-productive and divisive. To the extent that some pointed fingers at individual religious leaders. For sure, I know some wouldn’t respond as they see it as something that doesn’t merit a reply. Others say the candid nature of the interview means that some remarks should be taken with fistfuls of salt and some hefty sieving, registering some blame to editors instead.

Let’s get this clear, Muslims can either disregard the comment as irrelevant, or react. And if we choose react, we should react in the right way. So I find it very difficult to even fathom those who race to justify and support what LKY said, without even analyzing the context in the first place. Seriously, what were they thinking? (And don’t get me started on the citation of Faisal Abdul Rauf and Akhil Hayy.)

To sum up, we should act moderately, not one extreme of tafriT (تفريط), yes-manning everything PAP leaders says, and neither the other extreme of ifraT (إفراط) and condemning everyone who doesn’t.

Based on the reactions (and non-reactions) so far, three points can be singled out:

1. The “effective” institutionalization of religion

Not surprisingly, Islamic religious institutions remain quiet. On one had, they wouldn’t want to worsen the circumstances. On the other hand, religious institutions, once constitutionalized and institutionalized, operates mostly at the behest of the government orders which it ironically seeks to circumvent in first place (by ensuring continued existence though AMLA). But once it is part of the system, Singapore’s bureaucratic hierarchy places such institutions (religious or otherwise) in a pecking order in line other government-related entities. Also, cultural norms of kowtowing to leaders (likely an extension of colonial practices) exacerbates the reactions for Muslims, especially in defending against top-down policies and directives which are deemed offensive.

That’s why – to me – the independent Pergas is the still relatively the “loudest,” although to rope Pergas leaders into government-supported institutions/entities may be seen as a conscious attempt to temper some of the more vociferous opinions.

2. The “sensibility” of mainstream, pro-government media…

…With colossal qualifications, that is. I’m particularly referring to the lack of exposure in the local media, as the people responsible must be aware of what kind of reaction if the mass public sees this in the news. Bits of it which were reported had been sanitized, though I think it’s a futile attempt to show that they’re really not that 154th in the world (we all know they are). For instance, Straits Times (26-27 Jan 2010) reported on the reactions of Malaysians on the issue, focusing on LKY’s phrase of Muslim Singaporeans being “distinct and separate” instead of “less strict.” And nothing on what the local Singaporean think. Furthermore in the local Malay paper Berita Harian (owned by SPH, which also owns ST), a media blackout is apparently enforced on the topic.

So they seem to know what is sensitive in local news. Ironically, the book was written by them (newspaper journalists/editors) and published by the same newspaper company in the first place.

Edit: AMP has taken the lead in this by issuing a strong statement (hooray!). And MUIS too, though expectedly a very dissappointing weak one. And surprise surprise, both statements were reported in the Malay paper today (Berita Harian, 28 Jan 2011). Interesting developments here, as (a) maybe the media people suddenly realized that this won’t blow over that easily; ST has already published similar news days earlier, with online discussions impossible to curb, and (b) more likely, this is a calculated attempt to stem the boiling anger of the Muslim community; by playing things out in the public mainstream media sphere, the government at least has a better chance of directly handling the furore through press statements (aka whitewashing) rather than leaving it “uncontrolled” on the wild wild net.

3. The opinion that is an anomaly

The lack of support for the statement also shows that LKY is simply way off-course among local politicians, and I see that as a good sign. Seems that no one wants to even touch on the subject, and let it be LKY’s problem. Or maybe his son’s at worst, or they’ll say that his role is just advisory and it doesn’t reflect PAP’s official view. This won’t happen of course, instead worse comes to worst they’ll just sugar-coat it like they did in justifying his “educated parents vs. gardener” remarks (see ST, 26 Jan 2011, pg A3). But I’m sure deep inside, many would like to blame it on his “seniority.”

And I imagine many intelligence officers are cursing for having to keep more tabs on the responses on the internet. Analysts who are given more last-minute workload before the long Chinese New Year break must be extremely delighted at Singapore’s so-called founding father now!

Post-Reaction Action

Aside from the necessary reaction to show disagreement, the best way is still to ensure that we have a long-term action plan to counter not only LKY’s, but similar perverted ideas that religion should be made to fit secularism.

And the best way is to make him eat his own words. I secretly wish we can do that literally, but that’s another issue.

Muslims should trounce remarks like LKY’s by emphasizing on the principles which we do not negotiate with. Like prayers five times a day, aurat/aurah, halal food, refraining from alcohol, etc. Emphasize this in all the inter-faith/religion integration meetings, and more so within our own young brethren, making sure that everyone understands its position and reverence in Islam, that these issues should be considered when organizing events which foster “integration.”

Our principles are never bargaining chips in the first place. We can cooperate and integrate in many other forums with our principles intact and untouched. In the long run, it is not hard to prove that religious principles are not an impediment between neighbors helping each other out, or friends playing badminton, or colleagues collaborating at work.

Because the biggest impediment to integration was never principles which each of us hold, but prejudice and intolerance to others’ beliefs.

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Updated CPF nomination fatwa: (Re)state-ing Shariah?

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I had a discussion with a non-Muslim colleague recently. I find it pleasantly surprising that non-Muslims sometimes understand Islam more than I assume they do. While we have our disagreements, I was glad that the discussion was able to be expanded into the concept of tadarruj (graduality) in applying Shariah. Though I cannot answer all of his questions (I’m no jurist), the keenness of non-Muslims towards Shariah just shows how Islam’s publicity has given Muslims the opportunity to explain the religion to others more easily.

As a Muslim, I cannot say how important Shariah is to Islam, and a Muslim’s way of life. For a Muslim, the Shariah law outlines the dos and don’ts  of the religion, ranging from smiling as a courtesy to praying five times a day to the Islamic penal code. Sherman Jackson said it well:

…Shariah is not just “rules.” While the common translation, “Islamic law,” is not entirely wrong, it is under-inclusive, for shariah includes scores of moral and ethical principles, from honoring one’s parents to helping the poor to being good to one’s neighbor. Moreover, most of the “rules” of shariah carry no prescribed earthly sanctions at all. The prescriptions covering ablution or eating pork or how to dress are just as much a part of shariah as are those governing sale, divorce or jihad.

Such opportunities to explain and elaborate of religious issues shouldn’t be taken lightly.

The “updated” CPF nomination fatwa

Recently Shariah made news again, when the country’s government religious body made an update to a 1971 fatwa related to CPF nomation.

Unlike the commonly understood concept of writing a will to the inheritors – which by the way is also a part of Shariah called wasiyyah – the default status of a property left behind by a Muslim after his death is distributed under the faraidh system, where the inheritors are given a fixed percentage of the property according to Shariah.

This was also the crux of the argument under the previous CPF nomination fatwa in 1971, which stated that basically when a Muslim dies and he has a nominee for his CPF monies, that nominee is considered as a trustee. And as a trustee, the money left behind must be distributed according to the faraidh, instead of it being given solely to the nominee aka trustee.

I managed to catch local Malay channel Suria’s news coverage on the subject and they interviewed some guy in his office (I didn’t get his name). He said that the new fatwa is useful with the current times, and gave an example of a nominee who is also the deceased’s creditor; the creditor will get his loan back as he is the CPF nominee. Unfortunately this expert(?) overlooked the fact that any debt must be fulfilled to the debtor before faraidh can be exercised. Even if the deceased didn’t perform the hajj prior his death, and also has a debt to some guy, the debt to “some guy” takes priority over the deceased’s hajj expenses. And if there’s no money left for his hajj expenses after paying the debt, then so be it.

Debt always takes precedence before the distribution of wealth can take place. (See how sloppiness and lack of preparedness confuse real Islamic understanding?)

Was the “update” necessary?

Nonetheless it was understandable that problems arose when – for instance – greedy family members who were allocated shares of the monies under the faraidh, chose to abstain from compassion.  Example: Abdul the sole breadwinner of a family died and left his wife Minah as the CPF nominee. They also have a school-going daughter. Under the faraidh, the wife would get one-quarter, the daughter one-third, and the rest goes to the Abdul’s brothers. But what is the wife has to take of her sick, elderly parents alone? Or she herself is unwell that she can’t find other avenues of income? Or comes under unique circumstances where she really needs all the money – every single cent of it – left behind by her husband?

Such instances, although may be a rarity, denote the requirement for this specialized, tweaked fatwa. So this – at least in my deduction – partly led to MUIS revising their fatwa and coming up with the fatwa that a CPF nominee is no longer a trustee, but Minah (as in the example above) gets to keep more (if not all) of the money too, and spend it accordingly to her required needs.

A messy workaround

To recapitulate, with the new fatwa MUIS has outlined two clear choices for Muslims on what to do with their CPF money: (1) leave it without any nomination, and it will be distributed through faraidh, or (2) nominate it to someone, and he/she will get the whole lot under hibah, but only when specific fair needs arise.

Obviously here’s where it gets messy. One can always exploit the system when presented with choices. The faraidh system which was before this clean and clear becomes convoluted with decisions that is made based on assumptions. And negative ones at that; a person who chooses to leave a nominee will have to assume whether his relatives will look after his dependents.

I do not deny that there are sometimes complications when dealing with a lot of money, but I personally think that giving Muslims the option to bypass the faraidh is hardly the right way to go.

Faraidh is still faraidh, as the way to distribute money based on the Quran and sunnah. I see it as the fairest inheritance system revealed by Allah. The reason a man may get more than a woman, for instance, is because the man must support his dependents, while for the woman, her share is hers alone.

Fix only what is broken

The way I see it, the problem here was never about faraidh, but how the inheritors spend their money after distribution. So any kind of action or fatwa that is issued should not affect the the original distribution method (faraidh), but should instead focus what happens after the initial distribution, as therein lies the problem. Perhaps to implement rules which ensure the recipients to support the dependents accordingly, one which forces them to pay out money to the deserving dependents, such as a specific law for the deceased children’s maintenance.

In Islam, while there are disagreements between jurists on whether it is wajib (compulsory) to give nafqah (maintenance) to needy relatives, the fact that the fatwa is possibly preventing an uncle from getting his share already means that an uncle is effectively “giving” nafqah to his nephew, reflecting the Hanafi-Hanbali point of view in the matter (which I have no objection to).

The problem is that in Singapore, the maintenance law only covers a very limited scope, perhaps closer to the Shafi’i-Maliki view on nafqah, that it is compulsory only when the immediate parents or offspring are involved. I can see the intention to implement the Shariah (from whatever qualified madhhab it may be) that is indeed commendable and deserves the fullest support, but the confusing workaround that does is not backed by solid religious argument only over-complicates the whole process.

To be fair, the fatwa did state that it is a “moral guidance,” i.e. a disclaimer for it being being (a) non-binding, and (b) should used as the exception instead of the rule. That it why of a person leaves no nominee for his CPF monies, the default fatwa should still apply; it should be distributed according to the faraidh law.

Alternative motive?

It is also hard to dismiss that the updated fatwa serves to accommodate faraidh to existing intestacy laws as this was clearly one of the two options put on the Muslim’s table. Yet another thing that comes to mind is whether the fatwa issuance was a signal of any kind of pressure, specifically one caused by the difference in Islamic and secular law.

[By the way, there’s a recent CPF ruling that allows for automatic transfer of the CPF money to the nominee. This was highlighted to me after reading a report in The Sunday Times article a couple of weeks ago (“All-out effort to pay CPF monies,” 12 September 2010). Meaning once it is automatically and “conveniently” transferred, your nominee can’t take it out. So be careful if you intend to leave some money to buy food and clothe your dependents. Make extra care not to leave everything too automated. We all know once anything goes into the CPF account, it will hardly see the light of day.]

I thought I was out a bit of line to assume the existence of government pressure behind the fatwa, until today’s newspaper reported some ministerial support, especially when it managed to find the “common ground” between Islamic and secular law.

The Straits Times, 27 September 2010

This was also reported in the Malay daily, which after singing days praises for the “updated” fatwa, reported the same minister saying that “it is a positive solution which helps the reconcile the differences between Islamic law and national (secular) law.”

I didn’t realise they were being so straightforward in pointing out the real motive behind the new fatwa.

It doesn’t sit well with me when religious decisions are reached to accommodate systemic deficiencies of man-made law. The roots of Shariah and secular law – some similarities qualified – are still vastly different, and the objectives literally a world apart. So why even attempt to reconcile between the two? To “control” religion?

Don’t get me wrong. I am not dismissing all state-sanctioned fatwas, nor am I against all “new” fatwas. And I fully understand the need for the occasional fatwas based on recent medical findings or latest scientific discoveries. And neither do I question the good intent of the qualified ulama who painstakingly formulate the fatwa.

But what I view with deep skepticism are the factors which led to the call for “fatwa reviews”. I am rational enough to comprehend that certain times the are real needs for a fatwa review, like the Human Organ Transplant Act (HOTA) fatwa. Other times, such as this, while the fatwa itself is perhaps arguable, the part where the trend is indicating a conformation to secular interests is where I draw the line.

I concede that the vast Shariah of Allah is being constricted perform only according to the Singapore’s existing secular legal framework, and so it has been for many years. That was touchy back back then, and it is still touchy now. The ignorant ones should be reminded that delicate existence of the two parallel systems should not be disfigured, just like a hornet’s nest should not be stirred. Disguised “updates” or “improvements” can be easily seen right through, especially when it constrict the Shariah further and further to in order to make it work (i.e. make it fit into Singapore’s system), leaving Muslims here with confusing and frustrating “solutions”.

It really does bring up the question of religion vis-a-vis the state. Maybe the state is actually hoping that issues like these will go unnoticed, such that we the good Muslims of Singapore will support any officially-issued religious edicts without thinking of its consequences. I pray that this fatwa is not a sign of things to come, where the Muslim is cornered and forced to nod to every secular (mis)interpretation of the Shariah. That will be tantamount to religious oppression.

Allaahumma n-Sur-naa yaa Jabbaar.

؏

Further Reading:

General law will prevail over fatwa

General law will prevail over fatwa (Pt II): Nuzriah not as a substitute?

Fawaaid.sg

Text of updated CPF fatwa

“Fatwa tidak bermaksud perkecil hukum faraid,” Berita Harian