Zurairi AR

Zurairi AR is a humanist and sceptic who believes in doing good for goodness' sake. He tweets for believers and non-believers alike at @zurairi.

JANUARY 3 — If you were not bingeing on a TV show imagining a world where the Nazis had won, like I did, how did you spend your New Year’s Eve?

Did you spend it indoors with your loved ones? Or perhaps you were one of the revellers who danced the night away, pausing only to admire the fireworks?

Or maybe, seeking respite from the drizzle, you were planning to witness the countdown at the historic Dataran Merdeka? Only to bafflingly discover that the place was filled with thousands of men clad in robes and skullcaps chanting in Arabic?

It would be too easy to dismiss and mock critics who highlight the so-called “creeping Islamisation” in Malaysia. Especially those who cite the event — the recurring Malam Cinta Rasul, or Love the Prophet Night — as a pointed example.

After all, the notion of “creeping Islamisation” plays right into the narrative of anti-liberal reactionaries, who often speak of concerted attacks to undermine the position of Islam and the Malay race in this country.

For them, it evokes their favourite caricature of a hysterical Malay-hating Islamophobe strawman who would rant against anything tied to the two topics.

How could Islamisation creep up on you when Islam has been here for centuries? So, the argument could go. 

Or they would conflate being Islamic and Islamised, claiming that many Muslims were happily drinking the night away on New Year’s Eve, among other vices. 

Fact is, institutionalised Islamisation has been around for so many decades that even those who have not been completely indoctrinated, would have normalised the situation and can see nothing wrong.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (middle) with Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Mansor (left) and Cheras Education Foundation chief Datuk Seri Syed Ali  Al-Habshee at Malam Cinta Rasul at Dataran Merdeka, December 31, 2015. — Picture by Yusof Mat IsaDeputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (middle) with Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Mansor (left) and Cheras Education Foundation chief Datuk Seri Syed Ali Al-Habshee at Malam Cinta Rasul at Dataran Merdeka, December 31, 2015. — Picture by Yusof Mat IsaIslamisation has less to do with people becoming more pious or religious, than it is with Islam permeating into institutions and spaces that used to be secular and have no religious value.

To the clueless, let me start the year right by painting a picture of Islamisation by using Malam Cinta Rasul as an example, and another “creeping faith” that haunts the dreams of paranoid clerics: Star Wars.

Malam Cinta Rasul might be optional, it is not mandatory for all Malaysians, let alone Muslims. Nonetheless, it has now been held on a grand scale annually since 2013 — mostly on New Year’s Eve — not counting several other events sharing the same name in other states.

This is only possible with backing from the state, and so it was. The event was organised by the Cheras Education Foundation, a foundation under Cheras Umno, led by influential grassroots chief Syed Ali Alhabshee.

And the foundation can afford to do so, when it is backed by the state itself. Co-partners included the Federal Territories (FT) Ministry, Communications and Multimedia Ministry, the Kuala Lumpur City Hall, and the FT Islamic Council.

Present as guests of honour at the event, complete with comfortable lounge seats, were Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, FT minister Tengku Adnan Mansor, Perak Mentri Besar Dr Zambry Kadir, KL Mayor Amin Nordin Abdul Aziz, and Syed Ali himself.

Essentially, this means Putrajaya has no qualms holding an event that costs hundreds of thousands ringgit (last year’s cost was roughly RM200,000), for something that panders exclusively to Muslims.

Doesn’t sound too ridiculous? Imagine then, Putrajaya co-organising a massive, costly Star Wars convention, and only Star Wars, year in year out.

Not to forget, the event was held in a public space, commonly associated with New Year’s Eve celebrations which was completely accessible to people of all backgrounds. Or at least it was, before 2013. 

Drawing on the same analogy, this is akin to a Malaysian coming every week to his pasar malam spot, only to discover that suddenly the lot is used for a Star Wars screening. For the next month, there has not been any pasar malam on that day of the week. Just Star Wars, week after week.

Unconsciously, the public is made to perceive that such an Islamic-themed events — regardless of its actual religiosity — is a norm, despite its relatively late introduction to Malaysia. 

Not only that, by endorsing such an event, Putrajaya is promoting it as a “preferred” way to usher in the new year. Which spells good news for conservative killjoys who cannot stand others enjoying their non-Shariah-compliant celebrations.

Once secular, the new year has now been co-opted as a day to assert Islam’s dominance, by the many Malays who came in droves, over the rest of the public.

This, insidiously, carries repercussions beyond just ringing in the new year.

This endorsement of a seemingly Islamic way of life as the only “right” way for a Malay to live will result in an ugly divide and demonisation, especially when Malays have no way of shedding the “Muslim” label in the first place.

Left unchallenged, it would solidify the position of Islamic dogma as the basis of the country’s governance.

We see it in Islamic agencies Jakim and Yapeim’s impunity, even in the face of public uproar over its lack of transparency in handling funds.

We see it in the Langkawi homes where the roofs were painted over simply for resembling a cross at a certain angle.

We see it in the clergy wing of Islamist party PAS, suggesting that marrying children off is the best way to prevent sexual crimes.

We see it in Terengganu, which like some other states have banned vaping, but only after the National Fatwa Council deemed it “haram” for Muslims.

We see it in the civil court handing over the power of child custody in cases of forced Muslim conversions, to the Shariah courts. A decision which PAS Youth has proudly claimed as a “victory” against liberals, although it is more likely a trumping win against non-Muslims.

Yes, Malaysians are yet to turn more Islamic. 

But slowly and bit by bit, unnoticed by most, there is a shift on imposing Islamist views on matters where religion previously had no place. That surely qualifies as creeping, and does not sound as funny.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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