My father, reality shows and Islam in Malaysia

My father, reality shows and Islam in Malaysia 1

I have always shown a keen interest in Malaysian politics ever since I was ten. As far as I am concerned, someone who is not interested in or has apathy towards the Malaysian political situation is simply being unpatriotic to the highest degree, which is unthinkable to me. Patriotism towards the country, however, is not to be confused with asabiyyah, or tribal inclinations which the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and Islam has abolished. Neither is blind patriotism allowed to gain precedence over the principles of the deen, as this would invariably lead to fundamentalist secularism, something which we have already seen rearing its ugly head in France and Singapore during the uproar on the hijab and its ban in public schools.

It is perhaps this blind “patriotism” which had led my dear father to ask me the question when I will eventually join UMNO ad nauseam. My father is apolitical, this much I can vouch for. He has many times expressed the need for a strong Opposition. Yet I cannot help but notice the bias that is apparent within him. He quietly believes that a person who enters the foray of politics should simply join the ruling Barisan Nasional to succeed in life. Being born in the post-Merdeka period when UMNO was the name of the game, perhaps it is no wonder as to why he adopted this view. Seriously, however, this has come across my mind for years before the 1998 sacking of then-Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. So I joined the Reformasi movement. I deluded myself into thinking, “Oh, I’ll rejoin UMNO once Dr. M leaves the party”. Or so I thought.

Goodbye UMNO

Now looking back fondly upon those years, I realized that I cannot help but renegade on my personal vow to return to UMNO. The party has denigrated so badly in the Mahathir era during the last decade that it is no longer fighting what it claims to fight for. How could I ever thought of returning to a party which promotes a separation of religion and state and calls it “Islam”, or as Pak Lah would put it, “Islam Hadhari”? That UMNO is simply making use of Islam to entice gullible Muslims is obvious when you can see the emphasis the party puts on fard kifayah (collective duty) instead of maintaining a balance between fard ayn (necessary duty) and fard kifayah as it should be.

For a party which claims to fight for Islam to the extent of belittling another party which does, even in spite of the fact that the deen was never part of its raison d’etre, I wonder how it could miscalculated so much when it comes to a discussion about fard ayn and fard kifayah. This was discussed by Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas who says in his book (“Islam and Secularism”, ABIM: 1978) that the current rulers of the Muslim world over-stressed the goal towards fard kifayah and ignored fard ayn completely in their administration. Maybe a de-emphasis on fard kifayah over fard ayn would actually instill some sanity in a party whose leadership is corrupted with money-politics, but I am not holding my breath for it to happen.

Incidentally, Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas is perhaps the only internationally-renown Islamic scholar in contemporary times who is a local boy. Yet this same person is not given credit where it is due. Compare the times you hear his name mentioned to the regular TV appearances which his brother, Professor Syed Hussein al-Attas, enjoys and you will immediately see what I mean. All this was because Syed Naquib al-Attas was critical of the previous Prime Minister’s policies.

But I am digressing. In any case, I no longer feel that I should seek my political destiny in UMNO, no matter how “established” it is and no matter how “Islamic” it purports itself to be. What more so with unruly characters such as Zaid Ibrahim and Zainuddin Maidin (ZAM), one cannot help but ipso facto be repulsed by the sight of such fools entering UMNO (for precisely the same reason my dad is asking me to join it) in droves, ending up with destroying the nation we all love. Perhaps it is precisely because of my patriotism and new-found religious love for my country that I have chosen the Opposition, and not UMNO, as my political wasilah. This decision, I hope my dad would respect.

The reality of reality shows

As a young man, I am not impervious to entertainment. I enjoy watching television, I enjoy good films, but the current excessive slew of entertainment-based reality TV shows flooding the local channels provokes concern in those who are aware of the sad state of affairs in this country. Programmes such as Akademi Fantasia, Malaysian Idol or Audition present scantily clad young men and women who dream of becoming stars and their talents (or sometimes, even the lack of it) are broadcasted nationwide. Individuals such as Jaclyn Victor and Mawi who are born out of such hedonistic programmes are given widespread publicity and the masses are whipped into a fawning frenzy over such individuals. People who are supposed to represent the future of our country are being fed with mindless entertainment! In contrast to this, you can find recent reports of murders, rape and snatch thieves in the mainstream media. How all these could be validly reflected in Pak Lah’s “Islam Hadhari” is mind-boggling, to say the least.

For the matter of record, the writer is not against entertainment per se. It is not wrong or forbidden in Islam to have entertainment within reason and Islam, being the pragmatic religion it is, allows for entertainment, which comes with the times. There is currently an ongoing debate (khilaaf) among the scholars as to whether music is permissible or otherwise, with the majority of the scholars going for the former. This is certainly an unavoidable reality; music is part of our lifestyle and no civilized human being can live without the world of music which appeals to his better fitrah (nature) of being a human. Rejecting music in our lives is as good as rejecting food and sleep in our lives.

Having said this, however, it is clear that pointless or excessive entertainment, which distracts or inhibits one from pursuing his duties as a Muslim is universally condemned. Such condemnation is not totally unfounded. Excessive entertainment in a society has seen the downfall of several civilizations in history. The pagan Arabs of Makkah were known for their lewdness and their engagement into excessive entertainment. So were the Babylonians, Greeks and Romans. All these civilizations mentioned have met their doom. Even the Ottoman Caliphate saw its downfall due to the distraction of the Caliphs in its later days because of the providence of excessive entertainment in dancing, singing and concubinage.

Going back to the earlier points that has been raised, we are left with one fact: Pak Lah has promised the rakyat an “Islam Hadhari”, an Islam which he says pushes for “modernised Islam” to counteract Pas’ DNI (Dokumen Negara Islam). It was this promise, coupled together with his vow to take a tough stance on corruption in the administration as well as a very cooperative Election Commission, which has brought about his victory. However, what has Pak Lah’s “Islam Hadhari” brought since the last general election in March 2004? Has the rakyat seen any significant change in Pak Lah’s administration?

The writer, for one, does not. Cosmetic sacking of small-time ministers or officials for corruption does not really count for much. Apparently Pak Lah is trying to distract the people from seeing the bigger picture. Will his late grandfather approve of such decadence? Pak Lah should ask himself that question. Then again, perhaps this is in accordance with Barisan Nasional’s self-interest to see the whole society drown in the rush to SMS their votes and forget all about their basic rights as citizens of this country.

Until this current sad state of affairs change, we will have to raise the level of awareness in the rakyat and call for measures to restrict the current slew of entertainment reality-TV shows. Once is okay, twice is tolerable, but more than two is a bit too much!

This article was published in Rentakini (now defunct) in May 2006.


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