The following article is written by PROF DR MOHAMAD TAJUDDIN MOHAMAD RASDI, a 23-year veteran academic and teaches architecture at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia. He specialises in mosque and Islamic architecture particularly that which relates to Malaysia using a hadith-based and socio-cultural approach in order to create the total idea of built environment suited for a whole social structure.
The two incidents that have been the talk of the day in the Internet media that have raised concerns on the questionable tolerance and magnanimity of Islam and Muslims are the Alvivi sex blogger couple's alleged disrespecting of Islam and the demands of right-wing groups Perkasa and Jati for the Vatican envoy to leave Malaysia over his remarks on the Allah row.
From the events that had unfolded, it does seem to be that Muslims in general - and Islam in particular - are a people and a religion that are most intolerant and do not know the meaning of forgiveness or magnanimity.
In this short essay, I will present stories and examples of Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam, teacher of all Muslims in the world and for all times, on how he exemplified the true spirit of magnanimity, forgiveness and tolerance.
In other words, I do not know who these people are who have painted Islam in such light - the Attorney-General’s Chambers officers and the judiciary who denied bail to the sex blogger couple and the three Malay-Muslim politicians (Hasan Ali, Ibrahim Ali and Zulkifli Noordin) who boisterously demand that the Vatican envoy leave this country for supporting the use of the word ‘Allah’ in the Malay Bible.
I would like to explain to my Malaysian brothers and sisters who are Muslims and non-Muslims about the true Islam as exhibited by the Prophet himself. What these Malays have shown did not definitely come from the tradition of Muhammad (peace be upon him).
I can cite many events and incidents to show that Prophet Muhammad was perhaps the epitome of tolerance, forgiveness and magnanimity, but I will just point out a few. Do not trust me on these accounts but let history be the judge.
One incident that I am about to relate is one of the most momentous events in the history of early Islam - the opening or freeing of Mecca from the polytheists Quraish, the Prophet's own blood clan.
During the 13 years of persecution in Mecca when the Prophet was not only hurled abusive words, denied economic trade to the point of famine and almost being murdered, he returned home after 10 years as the leader of the largest army the Arabs had ever seen and march into his birthplace to destroy the idols in the Kaaba.
This was a man, from noble lineage, once respected by the polytheist Quraish as Al-Amin (the trustworthy) and who at one time, when he was prostrating to pray, was placed on his back the stomach and entrails of a dead camel. His daughter, Fatimah, had to clean his father whilst crying softly at the vile indignity of the occasion.
In another incident, the Prophet had to restrain his anger at seeing the body of his uncle Hamzah being desecrated by a hired assassin, Wahsyi, who was in the paid service of Hindun, the wife of the Meccan leader Abu Sufyan.
After all these sad and painful events of personal persecution, Allah The Most High granted Muslims the upper hand and the Prophet marched into Mecca without resistance.
Did the Prophet exact retribution?
And what did he do with the sweet taste of victory at the tip of his tongue? With a simple gesture of his staff and hand or a nod from him, heads would have rolled, limbs could be hacked and necks could be broken from a rope on high. Did the Prophet do any of these?
Did he exact retribution? Did he beat Hindun who gorged on the bloodied heart of Hamzah? Did he burn the families who put camel entrails on his back and did he string up Abu Sufyan who caused much pain to his beloved wife, Khadija, and uncle, Abu Talib, by ordering the boycott of his family?
History recorded that there was no massacre. The Prophet forgave all that had done him and his loved one harm if they asked for forgiveness. The Prophet met all the Meccan leaders who had persecuted him and his family with respect and made peace with them.
But there was only one person that the Prophet found extremely difficult to meet. That was Wahsyi, the assassin who killed and tore the heart out of Hamzah, the Prophet's beloved uncle and protector. When Wahsyi finally came to ask forgiveness from the Prophet, the Prophet of Islam turned his face from him but gave no order of retribution.
Wahsyi went back to his own house, his life spared but his heart was in turmoil. He had not realised the deep pain that he had caused the Prophet. On that day, Wahsyi vowed to be a good Muslim and to perform a great deed to atone for his murder of Hamzah. History later recorded that it was Wahsyi who personally killed the False Prophet, Musaillamah, in a great battle.
Now the question was why had the Prophet not exacted retribution on the Meccans? Why not put them all in the bathroom? Why not tell them to get out of Mecca and never come back? Or why not throw them all in prison without bail? He was clearly following the order given by none other than the Supreme Being Himself, Allah The Most High. Allah Himself inspired the following Verses:
When comes the Help of God, and Victory,
And thou dost see the People enter God's Religion in crowds,
Celebrate the Praises of thy Lord, and pray for His Forgiveness,
for He is Oft-Returning (In Grace and Mercy)
(from ‘Surah Nasr’, translation by Abdullah Yusof Ali)
From the tafsir and interpretation by Sayyid Qutb, the Prophet was ordered to praise Allah and ask for forgiveness on the day of his total victory in the war against the Quraish in Mecca.
There are many messages on human behaviour and spiritual heights in this very short Surah. Firstly, anyone who always patted himself or herself on the back over the successful completion of a task will grow arrogant and ultimately will fall into despair when they fail in old age or sickness or economic difficulties.
By attributing success to God's hand, man would humble himself and be at peace whether he is successful or not in any endeavour. Another message is that the ego would inflate so much after success that it would inspire evil intentions like vengeance and retribution. The Prophet was ordered to ask forgiveness from God if he had felt egoistic and harboured evil intentions of vengeance.
The golden rule of most great religions is simple - learn to forgive your fellow man and Allah will see fit to forgive you in turn. The sociological and political ramification from this simple act of forgiveness is incredibly unimaginable. If the Prophet had exacted retribution and wiped out the Meccans with a single wave of his staff, Islam might have never ventured out of the valley of Mecca and into our homes in Malaysia.
But with a single act of magnanimity, forgiveness and tolerance, the word spread out like wildfire that the Prophet was an unusual man of high moral standards, one who represented the flowering of a new humankind.
Two recent events
Fast forward to the present, what would a true Muslim with the spirit of the Prophet Muhammad at the victory of Mecca do concerning the two events that is the talk of the day in Malaysia?
Firstly, regarding the Allah issue by the Vatican envoy, it is indeed very simple to address. Now, there are two camps amongst the Muslims concerning this issue. One group of Muslims feel that it is the Christian's right by virtue of historical precedence to use ‘Allah’ as denoting their version of God but another group of Muslims feel that the word ‘Allah’ is copyrighted only to Muslims.
Now, if I were of the second group (and I am not), I would simply practice tolerance and register my protest in a letter and publish it in the media without calling for the envoy to leave Malaysia. Did the envoy kill anyone? Did he shout abusive words against the Prophet? Did he call Malays stupid, arrogant and 'muka tembok' or ‘tak tau malu’?
Though I myself might entertain the thoughts of calling some Malays those expressive words, I do not recall that the envoy doing any of these. All he did was assert an academic argument based on historical precedence and he did them in a civil manner. We can also reciprocate by being civil and kindly tell him that such effort creates deep distress among Malays in Malaysia. That should have been enough.
Now the second case: the sex bloggers, who seemingly offended Muslims in their Facebook by eating bak kut teh and wishing a happy Ramadan. My first reaction to this incident was to find out who these two young people were. When I saw the sexually explicit images, I made my opinion about the kind of people these two were.
They were exhibitionists; those who were trying to capture people's attention and relish the fame that comes with it. My next action was to call my 'anak angkat', a 35-year-old Chinese man and asked him what bak kut teh was. Does the dish always come with servings of pork meat or could it also come in serving of beef or chicken sometimes?
If it can be established that bak kut teh could be from beef, chicken or pork, I therefore cannot conclude that these two naughty bloggers were being disrespectful of Islam. But according to my ‘anak angkat’, bak kut teh is popularly understood as a pork dish. So now I ventured to think of what motive that these two had in doing the deed.
Were they, (a) having harmless fun so as to become famous or (b) making a strong political statement against some Malay political group that has been verbally attacking Chinese after the GE13?
If it were (a), I would simply ask or leave the matter with responsible Chinese leaders of this country to reprimand the deed and assure the Muslims that the Chinese culture has no place for such action. Done. I would have left it at that. The duo have apologised and that is more than enough for me.
Now, of course, some ultra Malays will accuse me of 'bagi muka', I will simply refer them to the Prophet's story. Please tell the Prophet that he had 'bagi muka' to the Meccans, I dare you! Now, what has happened? The sex bloggers are being quietly hailed as heroes because they have been denied bail, equating what they did to murder and rape seemingly.
Next, what if the bloggers were making a political statement? Now that would open up more than a can of worms where we would have to look at the destruction of our social fabric by certain Malays who threw salvos after salvos, accusing the Chinese of no end of faults just to hide their own private agendas and weaknesses. That would be another essay altogether.
Spirit of Ramadan
Finally, I wish to say that the month of Ramadan is a Great Sale of good deeds. Only in this month that Allah says he will multiply any good deed several hundred times. So, if you donate RM1, it would be recorded as you took out several rolls of hundred ringgit bills. So if you forgive a small deed, you will be rewarded like you have forgiven a great wrongdoing to your person.
But it is strange that many Malays who fast gain more weight in Ramadan by gorging themselves during breaking fast, many more fall sick by over-indulging themselves and many become more ill-mannered and intolerant.
Fasting, in Islam, is not only about controlling the urge to eat. More importantly, it is to control the ego and selfish thinking and replace it with the divine attribute of forgiveness, tolerance and magnanimity.
Our country can go far in harmonious living if Malays were to simply look and take heed of the Prophet's example and not care about such selfish statements by some political personalities.