25 Oct 1998
In my six decades on this earth I have met many non-practising Muslims, non-practising
Christians, Buddhists, Jews and Hindus. It does not mean that they are bad Muslims
or Christians. On the contrary, many of them are good people.
I know Malays who do not practice their religion scrupulously as injuncted but make
no mistake, they will bloody your nose if you called them kafir - infidels. Good
Muslims do not go around outraging the sensibilities of other peoples' belief. It
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was a moderate and tolerant leader in his treatment
of both Muslims and non-Muslims because in Surah Al-Kafirun of the Koran (chapter
on non-believers) the non-believers were told: "To your religion and to me my
Islam commands its followers to live in harmony with their neighbours who practice
their own faith. Allah loves those who are just, kind and loving. The Constitution
of Medina encourages cooperation and solidarity with Jews, Christians and others.
It guarantees the freedom of worship.
A Muslim remains a Muslim as long as he continues to uphold the article of faith
(Alsahadah), that there is no Allah but one God and that Muhammad is His prophet.
If he practices all the Five Pillars of Islam and leads a good life he is a better
Muslim, of course. Then, why all this misperception and vilification of Islam? Because
some people have exploited Islam to meet their own agenda, vested interest, wanting
to justify what they have done or plan to do.
I lived in England for a good number of years and elsewhere. I never felt my religion
was a hindrance. Indeed now living in New York, I do not feel disadvantaged unless
I want to magnify beyond measure my existence in a non-Muslim majority city. My neighbours
are drawn from all nationalities and religions, a couple are agnostic and one or
two atheists. There are adequate Islamic facilities to cater for practicing Muslims.
If at all I am feeling a bit of a pinch it is the economic austerity. Malaysian diplomats
here can no longer afford to live in the style of yester years. Traditionally many
Malaysians go to Britain, Europe, Australia and New Zealand for their holidays. Now,
more of them go on cheaper trips to neighbouring Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand
and other economical destinations.
Many Malays, despite the economic meltdown, still go to Mecca and Medina for the
umrah, the minor pilgrimage since such a journey is still relatively inexpensive.
Malaysians have always been good and helpful neighbours. We do not unnecessarily
make comments about our neighbours even though we can with justification and probably
agreed to by the international community - make certain observations, for instance
about one or two judiciary systems where one can be sure, as Prime Minister Datuk
Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad said, "they will decide for the government. They will
make sure that whoever attacked the government will be punished to the point of no
return. In both countries (Indonesia and the Philippines) we see mobs making decisions."
This, notwithstanding Malays, I suppose, prefer to holiday in Java, Sumatra and Southern
Thailand's four Muslim-dominated provinces since the cost of living in these places
is low, very low in some areas. Many from the northern states of Kedah, Perlis Penang
and Perak and the eastern states of Kelantan Trengganu and Pahang go to Southern
Thailand by car thus they save a lot of money