The life of an idea is never dull. At least the life of those ideas that survive. Many die a natural death. Some linger and transform our lives, often after a charismatic public figure adopts and propagates the philosophy. Like Marx or Mao.
And if you want to spread the word quickly, arrest the person who is preaching the gospel. A fine idea will surely mushroom when forcibly repressed.
That is exactly what happened to the former Mufti of Malaysia's Perlis state. Earlier this month, Dr. Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin was arrested by the Selangor Islamic Department for preaching without authorisation.
The Straits Times headline read 'Maverick cleric arrested for preaching.' Headlines are bait for any reader and I am a sucker for 'maverick Islamic clerics!'
An unorthodox Islamic cleric has got to be good news for modern Islam. When orthodoxy means whipping a woman for drinking beer then any 'maverick Islamic cleric' fascinates me.
The cleric's arrest appears to be a political ploy to pressure him in one direction.
Dr. Asri is wanted on both sides of the political aisle in Malaysia, the ruling party and the opposition. The reason for Dr. Asri's popularity is clear. His Islamic pronouncements combine modern realities with the spirit of the religion.
His popularity with me increases the more I read about him.
After all, Dr. Asri is a credible Islamic scholar who lends support to at least one view which is dear to me. That being Muslim does not equate with being Malay – a belief fairly common in Singapore.
Dr. Asri believes a decoupling of being Malay and Muslim is necessary. According to Dr. Asri, Malays have not been 'Islamized' but instead they have been "meMelayukan (to influence with Malay) Islam." While speaking about Malay rights (in Malaysia) he stated, "Do not in your efforts to defend Malay rights relate it to Islam. Islam was not sent down by God to protect Malays but all of humanity."
The statement unambiguously advises against using the terms Malay and Muslims either synonymously or even together, i.e. Malay-Muslims. Of course, one can be a Malay-Muslim but to categorize all Singaporean Muslims as such is incorrect.
Any non-Malay who happens to be Muslim occupies a no-man's land. In my case, is my mandatory contribution to the Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA) or to the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS)? By law SINDA gets my money. But maybe I have more in common with MUIS than I do with Singapore's Tamil community?
It is time to drop the racial prefixes and suffixes which are all too common in Singapore. I am simply a Singaporean Muslim (who sometimes has views not shared by MUIS).
The reality is that if I really wish to understand Dr. Asri's Islamic philosophy I must learn Malay – he is a Malay-Muslim!