A Letter from A Chinese-Malaysian regarding Islam
Wednesday, 1st June, 2011 § 9 Comments
My review of Ann Wang Seng’s latest book yesterday prompted blogger Min Min to shoot me an email. At first I wanted to reply directly to her but then decided to share it here because she raised some interesting points. Here’s what she wrote:
I’m a Chinese Malaysian. I took a minor in theology during undergrad and studied a bit about Islam. Personally I’m not against the religion. In fact, I enjoy learning about it.
Many Chinese Malaysians are “afraid” of becoming a Muslim because of the law which makes it a no-turning-back religion – once you are converted, you can’t quit. And your children have to be Muslims, even if they don’t want to.
It’s hard for Chinese women to accept the concept of “tutup aurat” – why must women cover themselves from head-to-toe? Why can’t men learn to control their desire? In addition, Malaysia is such a hot and humid country, wearing a tudung is very uncomfortable.
Just recently I read a news about a Chinese mother who has converted to Islam and took her daughter forcefully from the father with the help of the religious body in Malaysia. The little girl wanted to stay with the father but she was forced to stay with the mother and convert to Islam. This kind of news certainly marred the image of the religion.
I always believe that religion must be based on freedom of choice. The government shouldn’t be interfering with our beliefs. When law is imposed on a religion, there is no more freedom of choice. This is really what scares the Chinese away from Islam.
I hope this comment doesn’t offend you. I enjoy reading your blog and have gained lots of insight from your articles.
Thanks for your thoughts and for reading this blog, Min Min and please don’t apologise. I’m a bit of a jerk myself (HAH!) so it takes quite a lot to really offend me.
Islam is not just a religion. It is a way of life. It is not something you claim to be when you want to, for example on religious holidays, and then forget about it when you’re bored it with it. Islam is not a piece of clothing that you wear when it’s in fashion and discard when you’re bored with it. Now, when you wrote that Islam is a “no-turning-back” religion you are implying that a Muslim who decides to leave Islam may face a severe punishment for apostasy. There are many opinions regarding the punishment for apostasy in Islam and I’m just going to link a Wikipedia article on it. Yeah, yeah, I know it’s Wikipedia but for a brief overview on the issue, the article is good enough: Apostasy in Islam. Furthermore, one of the most important principles in Islam is that “there is no compulsion in religion” (Quran 2:256)
As for children following the religion of their parents, in Islam it is the obligation of the Muslim parents to instil a knowledge of Islam and Islamic principles to their children. A Christian parent teaches Christianity to his/her children. Buddhists parents teach Buddhism to their children and the same goes for Hindu parents, so why not Muslim parents? This is in the case of people who are already Muslims and not reverts. As for the mother forcing her daughter to embrace Islam, she may have done it out of a misunderstanding of Islam. I refer to the the Quranic verse above, there is no compulsion in religion. Why is this a big deal in Islam? Because a conversion achieved by force is worthless. The person does not do it willingly and instead of gaining a new Muslim, we may have instead accepted someone who resents Muslims and Islam. I did not know about this case until you wrote about it so I cannot comment much.
As for the aurat, Islam pays great attention on modesty for both men and women. It is true when you write that men should be able to control their desires. Men (and women) are taught in Islam to control their eyes by lowering their gaze when they are amongst people who are not family members. We are not permitted to ogle and stare at other people. At the same time however, both men and women are also not permitted to reveal parts of their bodies to people who are forbidden for them (woman who is not his wife, a man who is not her husband) and that is why both must cover their aurats. For men it is everything between their navels and the knees. As for women, every part of their body is an aurat except their faces and their hands up to the wrists (some opinions say that even the face is forbidden). Well, I’m not a woman so I don’t know how it feels like under the tudung in this humid country so maybe a Muslim woman reading this could write something about it in the comments.
Anyway, that’s my reply to Min Min’s email. It hardly explains everything about Islam and I’m sure it raises more questions but I think it’s a good start. This is the kind of frank discussion that I hoped for in my review of Ann Wan Seng’s book and I would like to thank Min Min for writing.