Islamic fundamentalism is not a new concept. Those who are hardline devotees to the Qu’ran and hadiths and who interpret it literally exist throughout the Arab world and now, it appears, Asia as well. Although the West is well familiar with examples of Arab-Islamic fundamentalism (read: Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Saudi Wahhabism) several Asian countries that have more recently embraced Islam, notably Malaysia and Indonesia, have taken fundamentalism to a whole other level.
While most Middle Eastern countries are trying to squash fundamentalism and introduce democratic changes, it is ironic to note that fundamentalism in Asia is taking off and yet the West seems not to notice. Politically, after the Arab Spring many Middle Eastern governments are attempting to be open and democratic, even when faced with openly Islamic leaders, such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-elected Mohammed Morsi. Even Saudi Arabia has been edging around political and cultural Wahhabish fundamentalism recently to accord women more rights. Yet in Malaysia and Indonesia, the governments as well as the people are doing everything they can to construct a hardline, strict interpretation of Islam that is also the law, meaning that those who are non-Muslims might be affected.
Wonderful English-language news websites such as Muslims Debate and Muslim Women’s News as of late have reported several instances where personal choice is being usurped by the government and Islamic fundamentalism is being perpetrated by certain groups. Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council recently issued a fatwa (also known as a ban) on practicing yoga, as they believe it “corrupts Muslims” because of it’s roots in Hinduism. According to the article, seen on Muslims Debate, although fatwas aren’t legally binding most Muslims in Malaysia do follow them. Even if one wanted to go all conservative and strictly follow the Qu’ran, there is no mention that practicing a sport will make one a bad Muslim! What do sports have to do with Islam, anyways?
Even more disturbing was Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s announcement that “LGBTs, pluralism, liberalism ― all these ‘isms’ are against Islam” and that “it is compulsory for us [the Malay] to fight these.” This is serious challenge to human rights–something the prime minister obviously doesn’t believe in, despite his contradictory statement that ““We do support human rights, but we must do so within the boundaries set by Islam.” This is taking a very strict and literal translation of the Qu’ran, and this type of mindset efficiently eliminates respect for others–something that the Quran does not express. The Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender community in Malaysia thus, by this statement, is branded the enemy by the very government under which it lives. One could call it a form of racism, really, where the LGBT community is not only ostracized but actualyl fought against. The statement also negates the entire non-Muslim community in Malaysia, which still exists despite the presence of Shariah law in the government.
On the public level, fundamentalism is being spread in Malaysia with the introduction of the Ikhwan Polygamy Club, a group in which members meet and get marriage counseling. While it must be admitted that the actual club is doing some good-women in polygamous marriages are often jealous or unsure of how to feel about their position, especially when a new wife is added-the overall idea that a polygamy club exists is just appalling. While generally frowned upon by most Arab-Muslims, polygamy is really taking off in Malaysia. It appears that since the concept isn’t quite as taboo yet in the country, men are apparently taking advantage of the situation, although the government is taking note: the head of the club is the wife of banned Al-Arqam leader Ashaari Mohamad, who was preaching that he too could forgive Muslims for their sins (even in Islam, apparently, cults exist). Since this is majorly against the teachings of Islam, even the overly-conservative Malaysian state is watching for more warning signs.
What is happening in Asia and certain areas of the Arab world is disconcerting if one knows true Islam. It is also disconcerting because religion is supposed to be personal. When men take on extra wives, they’re usually doing it for selfish reasons and not, as Ikhwahn suggests, to help single mothers or old women. The Qu’ran was meant to show Muslims how to act-key word being show. It is not a command, but a suggestion: God tells what is wrong and what is right, and you should-should– act accordingly. But knowing that everyone sins at some point, God also knows how to forgive.
If you’ve seen Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean, then the title of this article might give you a chuckle. I’m not advocating for Muslims to flagrantly go against their religions, but these literal, strict interpretations of it are making life miserable for those who practice their religion differently, even if that religion is Islam too. So, to again quote Pirates, I say, Hang the code, and hang the rules! As long as man lives with respect for others and for himself, then I believe that Paradise will come to all.
1. http://www.muslimsdebate.com/n.php?nid=6514 “Malaysia’s Prime Minister says LGBTs, liberalism, pluralism are enemies of Islam”
3. http://www.muslimwomennews.com/n.php?nid=5615 Malaysian Polygamy Club Draws Criticism