MANY applauded when PAS Member of Parliament (MP) for Shah Alam, Khalid Samad, stepped into the Catholic Church of the Divine Mercy after his 8 March 2008 general election victory.
In this second and final part of an exclusive interview with The Nut Graph, Khalid responds to the recent fatwas banning tomboys and yoga, and examines what an Islamic state means.
TNG: On 22 Nov 2008, the National Fatwa Council announced a ban on yoga practice among Muslims. A few weeks prior to that, it announced a ban on tomboys. Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Zahid Hamidi, the Inspector-General of Police, and even the Jakim director-general have all warned the public, especially non-Muslim Malaysians, not to challenge these fatwas. What are your views on the subject?
Khalid Samad: I think first and foremost we must understand that fatwas are judgments made based on Islamic sources, on what the scholars understand about a particular issue.
As far as yoga is concerned, I think if you really want to understand the fatwa you have to read the full text as to why it is banned. I haven’t had the time to read it through thoroughly, [but] as I understand it, it’s due to the fact that there are some incantations during the meditation, and the philosophy behind some of the positions. And these incantations include references to Hindu deities, right? So, I do believe that there is a difference between the physical aspect of the exercises and these incantations and the philosophy.
However, the fatwa must be clear. It should not give judgment on yoga as a whole but explain which part of it is against Islamic beliefs. I think most Muslims doing yoga or following yoga classes are already aware in most cases where the demarcation is, and most do not extend to the level where they go into this kind of meditation and philosophy.
Secondly, with respect to the tomboys and pengkids, this is something which has never been, how do you say, encouraged by Islam. Having clarified that it is not something acceptable for a Muslim woman or girl [to behave like a tomboy], or for Muslim men to opt to be feminine, the question of course is enforcement.
I mean, even for those things which do not need fatwa, [such as] drinking and all that, there’s no real enforcement. I think what the fatwa council, at this point in time, is more interested in clarifying [is Islam’s stand].
As far as non-Muslims are concerned, it shouldn’t be of any real interest to them. This is like [when] Muslims [say], “Look, my religion says I have to pray five times (a day).” You can argue, why five times, why not once, but it’s not really relevant to them.
[For] the Muslims themselves, or for the non-Muslims who have an understanding of Islamic jurisprudence, and they want to argue on the basis of Islamic teachings that this fatwa contradicts Islamic teachings, they can do so. But for them to say, oh Islam is not fair, Islam is sexist, or Islam is gender biased, all that sort of thing, I don’t think that’s the way to go.
You mentioned enforcement. Do you think that it’s proper that the Syariah Criminal Offences Act turns non-compliance of personal religious obligations, such as prayer, fasting, and consumption of halal food, into actual crimes that are punishable by the state?
I don’t think that’s the intention and I don’t think that’s the direction to go lah. First, just explain to the people because otherwise people, especially the younger generation, will think there’s nothing wrong. They see many people doing it, and what’s wrong with it? If girls get involved in, say lesbianism, or boys [in] homosexual relationships. I mean, the religion has to be clear and the scholars have to clarify what Islam’s stand on all these issues are, so that its adherents can follow.
Whether it should be made into an enactment that can then be enforced and can be made into a criminal act, I think that’s not something which is even being considered. We always opt for persuasion first. There’s no point trying to enforce everything. I mean, even the ones about prayers and all that also we can’t enforce. So, it’s more a question of public education, that sort of thing.
And as you said, the discussion can continue if it’s based on a discussion on methodology.
Without making any, how do you say, vilifying statements, ridiculing statements. Just that this is what Islam teaches, based on which verse or hadith. Argue along those lines, because Islam is not a religion based on what we want or what is the majority’s opinion. It’s based on what is contained in the scriptures, right? So what the Quran says, what the hadith says, we decide based on that.
After your election victory in March, you got very positive responses when you entered the Catholic Church of the Divine Mercy in your constituency, Shah Alam. Can you tell us what motivated you to do this? Especially with the widespread perception in this country that Muslims are not allowed into houses of worship of other religious communities and vice versa.
Well, they were my voters and they did give me support. So when they invited me for a meeting, just to address their congregation, I had no objections. And I think I’ll be very keen to do similar activities with other religious groups as well.
And I think the idea that we are not supposed to meet with other religious communities or to be in other religious places of worship is not substantiated by the practice of the Prophet [Muhammad] himself. Because he himself did go and discuss with the Jews in their schools of learning. And even his companions did go into the church and discuss with the priests and all that sort of thing; there are historical records of that.
I think that in Malaysia, the religious and racial issues has been overemphasised, politicised, and taken advantage of, and this is something we have to learn to handle in a more civilized and educated manner. We shouldn’t allow these kinds of things to prevent us from interacting and meeting and trying to understand each other.
But then there’s the aspect of the justice system as well and recently there has been talk of merging the syariah and civil courts. What is your position on this?
I haven’t heard that, but basically, I mean, if it’s a question of expanding the role of the syariah courts to cover issues which are handled normally in civil courts, that’s one. If it is a question of merging, I don’t see how that’s going to happen.
I think a retired Chief Justice, Tun Abdul Hamid Mohamad, said something to this effect.
But I think Islamic law has always been that it allows for an alternative legal system to coexist — that has always been the Islamic way. So there is no need for us to merge. Especially in the syariah courts, there are issues pertaining to marriage, to property, inheritance, and all that, which are different from that of the civil courts.
So I don’t see how that can be. If it’s just a question of merging the buildings, it’s one thing, but merging the law, of course, is not so easy. I don’t think it’s something we should entertain, because I believe that what we have to do is to upgrade and to improve on our Islamic legal system. And the problem is, it’s still very young, it’s still very raw.
So we should be working towards enhancing and improving the quality of the Islamic legal system. It’s got too many shortcomings currently, more man-made than due to the system itself.
What do you see as some of these shortcomings?
I was told that some of the cases take too long. Some of the cases pertaining to divorce and marriage and inheritance, you know — the conditions are too stringent. Like in cases where the husband doesn’t turn up, then the divorce proceedings cannot proceed. So, in most cases what happens is that some of the victims just continue to be victimised.
In your view, what is the ideal definition of the Islamic state? Is Malaysia an Islamic state or not? Should we be one?
Okay, I think we rephrase that as this: the Islamic state is a state that is run on Islamic principles which are derived from the Quran and hadith. In essence. So I think the question is what exactly does the Quran and the hadith teach us? And that’s the issue.
[A]ctually Islam is more than just Medina — the [Islamic] empire and the civilization that was established that extended up to the 20th century. There are precedents and there are guidelines that can be clearly identified and that can be used as a basis for identifying what the Quran actually teaches in terms of its political system, economic system, social system, emphasis on justice and all this sort of thing.
And we’ve got to see, based on the development of human civilization, there might be areas which [although] developed outside the Islamic civilization, in principle it does not contradict Islamic principles and can be used. So, what we have got to do is to be able to identify the principles, the real principles that Islam insists upon and use this in its modern context. And that is the challenge.
And we’re not alone, I mean the people in Turkey, Indonesia and the Middle East are trying to do that. But it’s not something which is going to happen overnight. And what we have to do in the meantime is just to make sure that we embody as best we can the basic principles that we all understand as that which Islamic politics requires. There must be trustworthiness, credibility, transparency, accountability.
Of course, there were bad items picked up by Muslims from other civilizations. There were also good things like the dewans and assemblies where they had sub-committees to discuss issues. That was picked up from the Persians. But the system of absolute monarchy and all that got picked up from the non-Muslim world. That was a bit, how do you say, unfortunate, but that was what happened. People thought that was the best way of ensuring continuity in the political system and every time the leader dies there’s no war, the son just takes over. They thought that was the best solution but it’s proven otherwise.
A Muslim lawyer once told me that the Scandinavian countries are very Islamic because there’s transparency, there’s accountability, they take care of the welfare of the citizens, it’s democratic.
Yup, yup, so that’s what I’m saying. It’s a question of identifying what exactly are the Islamic principles of government. If you have that and you identify that and you agree to that, then that’s it. So it can take various forms [depending on how] you structure it in a modern society. Checks and balances, all this sort of thing.
For example, even the case of Saidina Ali where he had to go to court, even though he was the caliph, because he was arguing with a Jew about a body armour. [Ali said it] was his, the Jew said it was his. Then Ali had to go to court. He didn’t just say, “Look, I’m the Caliph, you give it to me. And you are non-Muslim, you are a Jew, you go out or whatever.” But he went to court to get it settled. So, it’s a question of the independence of the judiciary. It was not mentioned or presented in that manner at that time, but that’s what the principle is, kan?
When the judge called him by a special name, like “the father of Hassan”, which denotes respect and all that, this was something [to] which Ali then said, “No, you shouldn’t call me like that, you must treat me just like the other person. You shouldn’t show that you have more respect for me, you know. Before you, we are the same.” So he was reprimanding the judge. So these kinds of lessons were in Islamic history but they were unfortunately never identified as the basic principles or the cornerstones of the Islamic system of justice.
So there are principles in Islamic law, but we have not been introduced to it in a systematic manner. It can be said that our heritage has been denied us and taken away from us, and unfortunately we don’t understand (our heritage).
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