“It was by the mercy of Allah that thou wast lenient with them (O Muhammad), for if thou hadst been stern and fierce of heart they would have dispersed from round about thee. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult with them upon the conduct of affairs. And when thou art resolved, then put thy trust in Allah. Lo! Allah loveth those who put their trust (in Him).” (Quran 3:159) (Pickthall translation).
This verse from the Quran should be the guiding light for us Muslims in our day-to-day interactions with both fellow Muslims and non-Muslims. In short, we must stop being nasty to each other and others. We need to follow our Prophet’s personal culture and make his personal culture ours—to practise empathy, love, care and forgiveness.
I met Syed Azmi on numerous occasions this year. He was quick to volunteer and happy to help when we shared with him a campaign idea to do charity. I found out soon that doing charity, helping the poor is very close to his heart. One may say that he has made it his calling. He organises “free market activities”, facilitating a platform where individuals and organizations can give away food, clothes, household items and other things to the poor. While many other young Muslims spend their weekends lepaking and having fun, here we have an exemplary young Muslim who works for the poor, answering the Quran’s call on believers to do charity.
I hope the religious authorities, especially JAKIM, can see that Syed Azmi had good intentions in organising the “I Want to Touch a Dog” event. From his point of view he did all that is needed to do, getting approval through MAIS and making sure a religious teacher was present to give guidelines, although perhaps his religious expert was not JAKIM approved. It is “stern and fierce of heart” to accuse him of wanting to challenge the ulama or intending to insult Islam or to abuse him by saying, for instance, that he has “worms in his head” instead of trying to understand him.
The Quran tells us to avoid excessive misgivings or suspicions about another. Indeed, such excess can become a sin (Quran 49:12). There are even those who threaten to take his life and call him an apostate. I hope JAKIM will advise these overzealous Muslims accordingly. How I wish Syed Azmi had worked with JAKIM on this campaign from the very beginning. I will unpack this idea at the end of the article.
I also oppose those who express their disagreement with JAKIM by hurling insults at the religious body and their leaders. Insulting the religious authorities by name calling and mocking them does not make one’s argument any deeper or more Islamic. How we Muslims treat each other, especially how our opinion leaders handle disagreements with others, will play a big role in ensuring respect for Islam or otherwise. Religious leaders throwing insults and rough words at each other can be far more insulting to Islam than Syed Azmi’s dog patting campaign. There are already enough Muslims killing Muslims in Muslim countries. We in Malaysia can do better.
Where do we go from here?
I plead with JAKIM and all our religious authorities not to treat or see Syed Azmi and those like him as criminals. I truly hope that JAKIM and our religious authorities can work with and through lay Muslim leaders like Syed Azmi in making Islam relevant to modern society. Mentor and coach them; don't chastise or turn them away. Take the dog patting campaign. Not all that Syed Azmi said was wrong. He is right about the hatred many Muslims have towards dogs and from this lack of understanding many do cruel things to a creature of God. This is against Islamic teachings.
Righting the wrong
If Syed Azmi can work with JAKIM we can right the wrong and work well within the Shafie traditions. It will be great if JAKIM can help Syed Azmi and those like him by spreading the Prophet's teachings about kindness. In the case of dogs, the Prophet, referring to a prostitute who gave water to a thirsty dog, said Allah had forgiven her for her act of kindness. On another occasion, when the Muslim army came across a female dog and her puppies while on a march, the Prophet posted a soldier near her with the order that the mother and puppies must not be disturbed. These demonstrations of kindness towards dogs by the Prophet would not only help Muslims be kinder towards them but also feel closer to Islam.
Furthermore, with modern communications and globalisation facilitating contact between Muslims from different parts of the world, there is an urgent need to help young Muslims make sense of why the Maliki school says dogs are clean while other schools say they are najis mughallazah (impure to the extent that physical contact requires ritual cleansing). Young Muslims may question if this is a disagreement between schools of jurisprudence or between radically different interpretations of Islam itself. Please do not sweep these inquiries under the carpet. Please deal with them. JAKIM has the expertise.
As it is, JAKIM has many knowledgeable officers well trained in the various areas and I know a few personally who are well rounded, caring, and deep in knowledge. I am confident that JAKIM can practice the Quranic bidding that I quoted at the beginning of this article: Be “lenient” towards them and and avoid being “stern and fierce of heart” so that the young will not “disperse” and shy away from Islam. I pray to Allah that JAKIM will “pardon” Syed Azmi and “ask forgiveness” for him and “consult” with him and those like him “upon the conduct of affairs”.
I end this article with another quote from the Quran as a reminder to all, including my humble self.
“And if two parties of believers fall to fighting, then make peace between them. And if one party of them doeth wrong to the other, fight ye that which doeth wrong till it return unto the ordinance of Allah; then, if it return, make peace between them justly, and act equitably. Lo! Allah loveth the equitable.
“O ye who believe! Let not a folk deride a folk who may be better than they (are), nor let women (deride) women who may be better than they are; neither defame one another, nor insult one another by nicknames. Bad is the name of lewdness after faith. And whoso turneth not in repentance, such are evil-doers.
“O ye who believe! Shun much suspicion; for lo! some suspicion is a crime. And spy not, neither backbite one another. Would one of you love to eat the flesh of his dead brother ? Ye abhor that (so abhor the other)! And keep your duty (to Allah). Lo! Allah is Relenting, Merciful.” (Quran, 49: 9–12)