Himpunan Sejuta Umat and apostasy in Malaysia

Himpunan Sejuta Umat and apostasy in Malaysia 1

The war drums are beating again. Several purportedly “Islamic” NGOs have banded together and decided to do something about apostasy in the country. The organisers are holding a “Himpunan Sejuta Umat” (“Gathering of a Million Faithful”) or simply known as HIMPUN, at Stadium Shah Alam this weekend as a “show of strength” to openly oppose non-Muslim proselytisation towards the Muslim community and apostasy in general. The gathering will later produce a declaration calling for the enactment of a law to punish individuals guilty of proselytisation.

It is important that we explain why apostasy is such a huge concern among Muslims, not just in Malaysia but all over the Muslim world in general. Apostasy is defined as “the public abandoning of a religious faith for another ideology or religion”. The technical Arabic terms in Islam are Irtidad and Ridda, and an apostate is referred to as a murtadd (“one who turns back [on the religion]”).

As for the punishment of apostasy in Islam, the famous hadith recorded by Bukhari: “man baddala deenahu faqthuluhu” (“Whoever leaves his religion, kill him”) is so well-known that it requires no further apologetics for the statement. Suffice it to say that the shari’ah is very clear on the Islamic position regarding the murtadd and the hadith cited has been the legal basis of all four of the major Sunni madhaab which exists today. There is no compromise regarding this and even the claims of apostasy being a “human right” can be easily disproved when we look into the Western legal system and see that the punishment for treason is death, and that Islam equates apostasy with treason of the highest order.

Once the issue of apostasy in the Islamic legal system is understood, then one will realise that asking questions such as “do we really think the way to show our religion is great is by using law to force people to stay in our religion?” is silly and borders on the ridiculous for the believer. How can one be given the “choice” to leave Islam when the right was never theirs to make in the first place according to the shari’ah? And who gives the right to non-Muslims to interfere in what is clearly an Islamic affair and display their pompous arrogance and ignorance on the matter by being insensitive to this Islamic legality from the shari’ah? Such is the influence of Western materialism and decadence that it has, sadly, coerced people into believing that only “human rights” (or what is perceived to be as “human rights”) reign supreme, but they forgot about God’s Rights and their rights and obligations to the One Who Created All!

Some liberal Muslims will also claim that there is an “apparent contradiction” between Qur’an, 2:256 which mentioned “no compulsion in religion” and the shari’ah injunction against apostasy. The answer to this age-old polemic is that the contexts are totally different, and that it refers to people who are already not Muslims in the first place and not bound by the shari’ah injunction regarding apostates! Ibn Kathir explains this in his tafsir of the verse in question as follows:

Allah said, {There is no compulsion in religion}, meaning, โ€œDo not force anyone to become Muslim, for Islam is plain and clear. and its proofs and evidence are plain and clear. Therefore, there is no need to force anyone to embrace Islam. Rather, whoever Allah directs to Islam, opens his heart for it and enlightens his mind, will embrace Islam with certainty. Whoever Allah blinds his heart and seals his hearing and sight, then he will not benefit from being forced to embrace Islam.

Thus it is plain for all to see that Qur’an, 2:256 has nothing whatsoever to do with the issue of apostasy, and this is simply an attempt by those who try to dilute Islam by ignoring other statements of the Qur’an which clearly does not allow for apostasy at all.

Now that the Islamic position regarding apostasy has been made clear, let me say what I think about the proposed “Himpunan Sejuta Umat” this weekend against proselytisation and apostasy. While on principle I do support the purpose and aim of this community movement to issue an open statement calling for the legal enforcement of barring proselytisation, I do believe that this gathering is moving in the wrong direction and that it will do little to impact the situation on the ground, if this is the only thing that they will proclaim during the gathering. While the Federal Constitution of Malaysia‘s Article 11(4) is very clear on the issue of proselytisation among Muslims and states: “State law and in respect of the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Labuan, federal law may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam”, there has been literally no enforcement at all in this regard. Of all the religions in Malaysia, none has been more active in proselytisation as those of the Christian faith. I am personally and painfully aware of Christian missionary activities and their proselytisation material are freely available and distributed with impunity. A planned “Christian convention centre” to be build at Bukit Jalil is yet another glaring display of how daring those of other faiths are in their zealousness to propagate the worship of a half-naked, Roman criminal who was left crucified on a cross.

Yet, nothing concrete has been done by the authorities concerned to put a stop to such activities. The threat to Islam in Malaysia are not from the Christians alone. As of late, the rise of a certain brand of “militant atheism” is rearing its ugly head in Malaysia and it has influenced a lot of people to apostatise from Islam. It is a worrying trend, particularly since militant atheism also advocates a certain type of proselytisation where its “adherents” (if that is an apt description of these disbelievers) actively promote their own ideology while at the same time insult and debase Islam in the most heinous of descriptions.

Perhaps the solution to this dilemma of proselytisation towards Muslims and apostasy in Malaysia is not just to make gatherings and declarations which are not heeded to by the authorities and the government of the day, but a total revamp from ground up regarding religious education and total empowerment of the law and religious officials. What I propose is that a separate subject (or at least, a component of Islamic Studies) be taught in schools for Muslim students called “Comparative Religion Studies”. A syllabus can be drawn up where Muslim students are exposed to the various religions in Malaysia, study specific chapters of each religion’s holy scriptures and the Islamic view regarding each religion’s doctrines and Weltanschaaung. This, I feel, will equip the student with the proper tools to counter the arguments made from the adherents of other religions who try to proselytise their religion to Muslims.

Apart from this, a more solid legislation regarding apostasy and a uniform, legal enforcement of Article 11(4) to be shouldered by not only the understaffed religious authorities in the various states, but also the relevant government apparatus such as the police and civil authorities involving the auxillary police and RELA. This is something which unfortunately I do not foresee happening at the moment, unless and until a new government with PAS as a major component of the coalition takes over Putrajaya.

Apostasy in Malaysia has been a long-drawn battle between the Muslims and the disbelievers. I hope that HIMPUN would at the very least get the ball rolling towards the final objective of banning all forms of proselytisation towards Muslims and arrest the alarming rise of apostasy cases in the country, despite my skepticism that it will meet its intended objectives.


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