The main message of my thoughts is simply that Muslim scholars and clerics must be made to understand that they are not experts in everything ...particularly a good many things about other faith like Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism and others.
Muslim clerics like the Ustazah merely receive their education from traditional Islamic Institutions that do not have the subjects of Philosophy, Civilisation and Religious Studies.
All they know and have learnt are only from a single source of Muslim Studies.
As an academic, I will admit and clearly explain what I do know and what I do not know. If I had to respond to a certain question or comment with respect to knowledge that I do not possess much, then I am most humble in answering and never in an absolute or commandeering tone...much lest in a sarcastic or demeaning manner.
It is most unfortunate that in Malaysia, as well as perhaps in other Muslim countries too, Muslims think that it is their 'divine' duty to hate people of other faiths.
This is done to the point that a non-Muslim chief minister is despised despite his excellence in governance but a Muslim minister is supported and protected when allegations of rape, murder or bribery seems apparent.
This is the 'racism' of religion. These Muslims are completely unaware that Islam is here to bring peace of mind and heart and that one should love all of mankind.
The one that Muslims should despise are the wrongdoers...yes even if they are Muslims! When Muslims read the Al-Qur'an and come to the Verses where Allah chastise the wrongdoers, the Malays would automatically assigned in their minds people of other faiths such as Christian, Hindus, Jews and others. Islam, as I come to understand it, do not teach this idea of 'you are either with me or with them' situation.
Yes, Muslims may point to the Surah al-Kafirun but that is meant for a particular situation where Islam is being challenged directly in a crude and vicious manner.
We should not be too hard on the Ustazah for two reasons. Firstly, her racial stance is very clear towards non-Malays and this is simply the product of NGO's like PERKASA and certain political parties stoking the racial flames.
Many Ustaz that I have heard from my collection of CD's would often denigrate other religions in front of Muslims in the mosques and suraus. Many of these statements remain in complete silence as only some Muslims are purview to them.
Siti Nor Bahyah was unfortunate enough to have said it on TV and so it exploded in her face. So we should not be too hard on her as she is just a small tip of the iceberg where there are hundreds of others clerics guilty of the same matter.
We should also take a long hard look at our leaders who allow such NGO's as Perkasa seemingly to champion the fate of one race by denigrating loudly, rudely and dangerously, issues concerning the Malaysian society.
Secondly, we should not be too hard on her because her education at a religious institution is, to me, outdated in its curriculum content and course intentions.
Although, I myself have never attended any religious institution locally or overseas, I would venture an educated guess that these institutions do not offer subjects such as philosophy, civilisational elements of humankind, comparative religions, modern social isssues and psychology.
I judge this from the hundreds of cd's of religious lectures by the most acclaimed ulamak in our country.
It is therefore my own conclusion that Ustaz and Ustazah of these kinds can only teach Muslims in mosques and suraus and should never be invited to speak and comment on national television with respect to issues such as Valentine's Day, Yoga or Christianity.
They simply do not know what they are talking about!
Furthermore, these people have never gone through a Ph.D process where in this training one would have to break down all the knowledge that one knows and research it to it's root and reformulate a new understanding with a clear set of views and assumptions.
In the university, one is not allowed to teach students if one does not have a Ph.D. But in the religious arena such as in Islam, a simple degree or a diploma graduate is let loose among the Muslims to air their limited views about Islam in the modern world. This is a very dangerous situation.
As an architecture academic, I myself have had experience engaging in discourses with ulamak or clerics concerning issues of mosque design and conservation as well as the language of Islamic architecture.
Very few clerics are humble enough to say they do not possess knowledge to make a religious verdict but there are many more who are arrogant enough to show that they and only they know about all things related to Islam because they went to a religious institution, can speak Arabic and that people like me have only gotten knowledge from books and in a 'kafir' institution.
Well, to these people, do they know about environment behavior studies, or architectural anthropology, or relating the values of the sunnah and inventing new architectural language?
Do they even know what is the technology history and meanings of domes in Islam? They certainly DO NOT! But they fall prey to their own deluded sense of importance and knowledge.
What are my suggestions to remedy this educational malady?
Firstly, I recommend that people such as Siti Nor Bahyah, who shows a great talent for speaking, should follow a post graduate course in philosophy or comparative religion.
In fact I would advocate that all graduates of Islamic Studies attend at least a two year Masters course in something outside of Islam such as spending time in a non-Muslim community and reporting their beliefs and concerns and thus evaluating them in relation to Islamic principle of Dakwah.
That would give them a better perspective from the people, and provides the much needed vocabulary to speak with that culture.
A friend of mine from UKM read his Ph.D from the Divinity School in Edinburgh to learn the strategy of Dakwah on television used by the Christians.
This shows that if we, Muslims are humble and admit that all knowledge belong to Allah, then we will respect even knowledge from the 'infidels' or 'non-believers'.
Personally I just like to use the term Non-Muslim because the other two represent a tone of hostility.
My next suggestion is to change the madrasah curriculum to add the subject of comparative religion with a real expert that gives a fair view of the religions or else invite the priests, padres or monks to lecture about their own faiths in the madrasah.
Why not? Is this a sin? This is knowledge. If you want to set up a in a foreign country, you would get all the necessary information about their culture from a local and not from a secondary source!
So if we are to live side by side with non-Muslims we must have knowledge and respect of their religion and culture.
When did Muslims become so arrogant to think that only they are the beloved of Allah and that only they will go to heaven? That sounds exactly what the Jews said to the Prophet Muhammad.
To me it does not mean that Judaism is a 'bad' religion but the arrogance of the individuals who think so. I know so many Muslim individuals like that holding the reign of power in various positions in Muslim countries.
And what of the Valentine's Day issue? Or for that matter why don't we drag celebrating birthdays and wedding anniversaries?
As a man, I do not really prefer to celebrate birthdays or anniversaries. But I am a father of five children and also a husband.
If my children expect some birthday celebration, I would always give them presents a week before their birthday and say that it was a present because they have been good in this way or that.
On the day itself, I would surprise them with a cake or eating out at Pizza Hut or McDonalds. I do the same to my wedding anniversaries and my wife seems to be happy with it.
I do not believe in all those celebrations but because others do and it makes them happy and I can provide it so what is the big deal?
I do not say that the celebration is part of the sunnah and I don't go overboard celebrating them.
If people of different religions send me a birthday card, I would thank them for remembering! I would not feel sad if nobody remembers my birthday but if they do ...well and fine.
Come to think of it, why do Muslims celebrate the Prophet's Birthday? Why celebrate the Isra' Mi'raj or The Ascension? The Hijrah?
I have read many hadiths and stories of Sahabah. None of them celebrate these dates.
Where do we come off denigrating other faiths? We Muslims must remember that Valentine's Day is not responsible for our children's immoral activities.
Look deep into ourselves and ask what we have done to nurture our children in these modern times.
It is a hard thing but every conscious parent has to go through it. How do we teach the values we hold dear.
Certainly NOT by denigrating other people's faith! Let them know it through your actions but you must have knowledge in them.
Lastly, on the matter of saying Christians are bad...well, my children, my wife and I have been treated by the best doctors who are mostly non-Muslims and I thank Allah for their skill and knowledge.
I have been taught more by non-Muslim lecturers and teachers who cared about my future and I thank Allah for their dedication.
Am I a Christian or a Buddhist? No...I am still a Muslim. I read the teachings of the Buddha and the Bible in the spirit that all religion come from the same source and there is much to teach us if we are humble in our search for spiritual peace.
Let us all be humble in learning and much more humble in teaching knowledge.