Monday, 11th October, 2010 § 1 Comment
While still in his 30s, Dr. Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, former Mufti of Perlis, earned a reputation as a popular, and sometimes controversial, public intellectual on the subject of Islam in Malaysia. This collection of his articles seeks to identify and celebrate the true Islamic essence of simplicity, rationality and justice; and to separate it from superstition, prejudice and taklid (blind adherence) to self- serving ‘religious’ leaders.
Told in a forthright style, but spiced with wit and humour, it takes many examples from the Quran and the hadith to show that it is up to Muslims to rescue their faith from being dominated merely by reactionary and conservative forces.
Among the subjects in this book:
* Are music and entertainment allowed in Islam?
* Why must long-distance bus drivers be discouraged from fasting?
* Are non-Muslims allowed to enter mosques?
* Did the Prophet Nuh pass to us a recipe for porridge?
* Why are some P. Ramlee lyrics more Islamic than contemporary nasyid songs?
The product description above is from Amazon.com (which lists the book as available from December, 2010) while the cover photo is from Amir’s blog. He hasn’t given any details yet except that it will be available in November.
Thursday, 23rd September, 2010 § 42 Comments
I first knew about Muhammad Alexander (real name Wisno Sasongko) when I read his first book, Yakjuj & Makjuj: Bencana Dari Sebalik Gunung (Gog & Magog: Disaster From Beyond the Mountains). It was an interesting piece of speculative history. In Islam, Gog & Magog are the a race of people who will come near the end of time to create havoc and disaster. In fact, their appearance is one of the signs of the end of days, according to Islamic tradition.
Also according to Islamic tradition, a legendary warrior-king named Zulkarnain trapped Gog & Magog behind a dam of iron and bronze. Many have theorised who Zulkarnain really was in history (Zulkarnain wasn’t his name but his title which means, “The Two-Horned Man) . The most famous theory is that he was Alexander the Great or Alexander of Macedonia. I for one have no idea myself but Muhammad Alexander is convinced that Alexander of Macedon was Zulkarnain mentioned in the Quran. Which is why he wrote the book Alexander Adalah Zulkarnain (Alexander Was Zulkarnain). I was excited to read this book. I’ve read another book written by a Malaysian who speculated that Zulkarnain could have been Cyrus the Great. I wanted to see if Muhammad Alexander could refute this claim and convince me of his own theories.
Boy, was I disappointed.
Instead of writing an entire thesis of why I didn’t like the book, I’ll give it in point forms instead. Quick and to the point which was what Muhammad Alexander should have done:
It isn’t objective – When you call your book Alexander Was Zulkarnain, it’s pretty clear where you stand on the issue. It is difficult, then, for the reader to be presented with other contrary opinions because the author has decided that only his opinion is the correct one and everyone else’s is swept away or simply ignored.
Hearsay evidence is presented as fact and a less than professional way of presenting his arguments – Muhammad Alexander tends to ignore other previous authors on the subject whom he does not agree with simply by stating, “This author was wrong…” or “that author was confused…”
Square pegs are forced into round slots just to legitimise his argument that Alexander was Zulkarnain. For example, Muhammad suggests that Socrates the ancient Greek philosopher was actually Luqman Al-Hakim! To those who don’t know (and I’m guessing a lot of you don’t), Luqman Al-Hakim was a wise man who has an entire chapter in the Quran named after him. It has been agreed by Islamic scholars that Luqman was not a Prophet but a holy man who was rewarded with wisdom by God.
Now, Muhammad Alexander suggests in his book that Socrates was Luqman based on the fact that Socrates died by swallowing poison.
Yeah, I know. I rolled my eyes as well.
His line of argument was that no wise man or great teacher in history has ever been ordered to die by poison except Socrates. What has this got to do with Luqman? Well, Muhammad argues that in Arabic, laqman means ‘to swallow’. Therefore, a wise man whose name in Arabic means ‘to swallow’ could be (because Muhammad himself isn’t sure, he admits) Socrates the Greek philosopher because he died by swallowing poison. What’s the connection with Alexander? Well, Socrates taught Plato who taught Aristotle who taught the young Alexander. Since Muhammad is convinced Alexander the Great was Zulkarnain who believed in One God and not an idol worshiper, it would not be proper for Alexander to be taught by scholars who were idol worshipers themselves. His teacher and the teachers who taught his teacher had to believe in One God as well. Ergo, Socrates must have been the wise Luqman Al-Hakim in the Quran.
See what I mean about pushing square pegs into round slots?
I don’t know whether or not Socrates was a Muslim (anyone who believes in the unity of God is by definition of the word, a Muslim) and really, I don’t care but Muhammad’s clunky way and damn-all attitude in presenting his argument in order to fit his view that Alexander the Great was Zulkarnain in the Quran just turns me off.
Another example is when he refutes the common perception among Western historians that Alexander the Great was a homosexual. Muhammad simply sweeps all that away by stating that Alexander the Great had children and that proves he was not gay. And that was it! It is not whether Alexander was gay or not that I have a problem with but the way Muhammad challenges that allegation. He merely states that the man had children and then he (Muhammad) moved onto other things.
As someone mentioned to me recently, if I do not believe Alexander the Great was Zulkarnain of the Quran does that mean I believe that Alexander was a homosexual? Of course not! I’m just not prepared to accept Muhammad’s line of argument because his line of argument is weak and less than convincing. How can anyone be convinced when the argument is, “He was not homosexual because he had children. There, see? That proves everything.” Erm, no. No, it doesn’t.
Using the Christian Bible to strengthen his argument – Throughout his book, Muhammad uses excerpts from the Bible, usually the New Testament, to show the contradictions and mistakes in the Bible itself. As a Muslim myself I have no problems in agreeing with Muhammad in this matter. We believe that the Gospels revealed to Christ are not the Gospels that are around today. The original is gone, subverted through the ages. The Gospels today are no longer the ‘real’ ones and therefore cannot be regarded as the Word of God. Fine, no problems there.
The problem arises when Muhammad uses the same Bible to prove his case (page 19, PTS edition). Now wait a minute. If you have decided and argued that a particular source of information is unreliable, how then can you use the same source to help strengthen your case when it suits you? If you say a witness is a liar, can you then use the testimony of that same witness?
The blatant hypocrisy astounds me.
Dry prose – This book started as an academic thesis and anything academic has to be dryly written, right? It’s like a rule or something. Plus, I was reading the translated version. It was originally written in Indonesian. If something was written as dry as the Gobi desert and coupled with unconvincing arguments, the chances of me siding with the author is between slim to none.
I still don’t know who Zulkarnaian really was but you know what? Who cares? Not knowing who he was in history will not affect a Muslim’s faith either way. If I believe Alexander was Zulkarnain, fine. If I don’t, that’s fine too. If I believe Zulkarnain was someone who was not notable in known history, well, guess what? THAT’S FINE AS WELL!
But if you want to convince me of your views then please, please, please write an interesting book with very good arguments and not filled with sweeping statements and presenting flimsy evidence as fact, mmmkay?
Alexander Adalah Zulkarnain. Do not buy.
Tuesday, 21st September, 2010 § 2 Comments
I once told an acquaintance that these two books by Ustaz Ismail Kamus should been included into the syllabus of Malaysian schools. The first book, Indahnya Hidup Bersyariat (How To Live Your Life, The Muslim Way…it sounds clunky in English, I know) covers just about every aspect of life from birth to death and everything in between. In this day and age when most Muslims in Malaysia are Muslims in name only and not in practise, it is handy to have a comprehensive book that can guide the wayward Muslim to the right way. Chapters include stuff you might expect to see in a Islamic book, how to make ablution the correct way, how to pray, how to dress, but it also includes other topics that are as important but not usually covered in detail such as how to prepare a dead body for burial. The (Malay) language used is simple and there are photos practically on every page. Visual aids always help.
The other book, Indahnya Amalan Doa (The Beauty of Supplications) makes a good companion to the first book. As the title suggests, it is chock full of supplications a Muslim is encouraged to make and in Islam there is literally a doa or supplication for everything. I mean everything. Entering your home, leaving your home, entering the toilet, leaving the toilet, before you eat and after you’ve had your meal, before leaving for a journey, upon hearing the call to prayer, supplications by a child for his/her parents and vice versa, for toothache, for a fever, before sexual intercourse…this book has them all. Muslims are encouraged to make doa to Allah for everything because being a Muslim is literally “to submit” to the will of Allah. Supplications also teach us to remember Allah always and also to teach us humility. Allah is not only there when we want to pass our exams or when the doctor says we have cancer but is also there with us when we receive that promotion or that raise we wanted. So why remember Allah only when we are in need of help and not when things are good?
The only problem with this book is that there are two pages of corrections pasted on the inside front cover. Apparently there were several mistakes either during writing or printing and it was not caught out after the book was printed. Fortunately they saw it before it was published and managed to include the correct supplications. I say this is a problem because I expected a better editing work from the publishers, Telaga Biru. The correct supplications, which are preferred to be given in Arabic, are essential and seeing as how most Malaysian Muslims aren’t fluent in Arabic it would have been more professional of Telaga Biru if the book was mistake-free. One would not tolerate typos in a work of fiction, why would one tolerate it in a book advising on how to better practise one’s faith? Oh well, as long as the reader remembers to flip to the inside front cover for the corrections, it should be okay.
Sunday, 19th September, 2010 § 26 Comments
No, I did not forget I have a blog. It’s just that with the end of Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitri falling right smack dab in the middle of the school holidays means I’ve been lazy to even switch on my computer. The last two weeks were probably my longest vacation this year so you can bet I was gonna exploit it by not doing anything constructive with my life. That’s just who I am, people!
I was supposed to read Indonesian scholar Muhammad Alexander’s new-ish book, Alexander Adalah Zulkarnain for Goodreads-Malaysia’s September Reading Book Club (yeah, I’m in a book-club. Shut up!) over the holidays, and since I was the one who ‘campaigned’ for that book to be chosen, the least I could do was to sit down and crack it open. My God, it is a snooze-fest! Only 80 pages in (out of 400+) and I began to lose interest. That’s bad news because I usually like this kind of topic: speculative theories on historical characters, Islam, ancient history, people riding on horses scaring the hell out of the natives…what’s not to like? And yet Muhammad Alexander’s attempts to convince me that Alexander the Great a.k.a Alexander of Macedonia, arguably the greatest conqueror who ever lived was the same Zulkarnain mentioned in the Quran in Surah Al-Kahfi (Chapter The Cave), has fallen flat. When you read a book with the title, Alexander WAS Zulkarnain, it’s pretty clear the author is convinced of his stand and he wants you to agree with him. But so far I can’t. Okay, I’m only 80 pages in but he has yet to convince me.
There are a few factors that are probably preventing me from agreeing. One, I grew up pretty much convinced that Zulkarnain and Alexander of Macedonia were two different people. I reached this conclusion by convincing myself that no way a man honoured in the Quran would worship idols as historians claim Alexander did. Muhammad Alexander argues in his book that this is a later fabrication and ol’ Alex worshipped God. One God. The One God.
Two, the author has no objectivity at all. His argument is, “Alexander is Zulkarnain. Accept it.” It is a well researched book from what I’ve read so far but the topic is still speculative since no one knows for sure if the two people were actually the same person and the author’s determination to shove his arguments down our throats based on the flimsiest of evidence and speculation repulses me.
Three, I don’t see what the big deal is from a Muslim point of view. Not knowing who Iskandar Zulkarnain really was in history will not affect a Muslim’s faith either way.
Muhammad Alexander also wrote an earlier book about Ya’juj & Ma’juj (Gog & Magog) which is connected to the Zulkarnain mystery because according to Islamic tradition, Zulkarnain enclosed Gog & Magog, a tribe of people capable of nothing but destruction, behind a dam. Muhammad Alexander is convinced that that dam is in Central Asia and Gog & Magog were the Scythians and their descendants are white Europeans and Americans.
I knew it!! Damn those white Europeans and Americans. Polluting the air and taking our women. We should just nuke them from orbit, just to be sure.
(By the way, a Malaysian wrote a book last year where he argued that Alexander the Great was not Zulkarnain mentioned in the Quran. I don’t remember who he determined Zulkarnain was, I don’t have the book with me, but I think he argued it was one of the Persian kings. So there’s that.)
Anyway, I dropped Alex Adalah Zul for the time being and picked up Reza Aslan’s No God but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam which is a much better book. The author begins with a brief history of the early days of Islam up until the era of the Rightly Guided Caliphs who helped steer the Muslim community after the Prophet’s death (hint to those who don’t know: it was not smooth sailing as some Muslims would like you to think. There was intrigue, petty jealousies, civil wars between Muslims and three assasinations; two of which were carried out by Muslims against their Muslim leaders. It wasn’t all sunshine and birds chirping and people going Salam Alaykum. No. There was blood spilt. Lots of blood).
Then he goes on to discuss the history of the collected revelations which form the Quran and the problems interpreting it. The schism between the Sunni and the Shias is also touched upon with a chapter on the Sufis as well, those mystics of the Islamic world. That’s where I stopped last. Can’t wait to continue it later today.
I love it more than the Alexander book, can you tell?
Monday, 26th July, 2010 § 1 Comment
Bought this book yesterday after being inspired by Welma’s blog entry and also because the holiest of months in the Muslim calendar is approaching in less than two weeks (probably on the 11th of August), so might as well prepare myself for it. Only God knows if I will see another Ramadan next year (heck, I don’t even know if I’ll see this year’s Ramadan; it’s still two weeks away).
The book is what you would expect from reading the title; it’s a checklists of deeds you should be doing from the month of Rejab to the first week of Syawal. You check those you have done (preferably all of them) like performing the obligatory prayers at the mosque, the dhuha prayer, giving alms, performing the non-obligatory fasts, remembering God through dzikr and so on. It’s an excellent book as both a checklist and a reminder for the Muslims of today who remember worldly affairs more than the spiritual ones. The checklists are interspersed with sayings of the Prophet (p.b.u.h) to make it more interesting.
Like a lot of locally published Islamic books today, this book has Nik Abdul Aziz’s name above the actual author. Nik Abdul Aziz only wrote the foreword.
Publishers tend to do that for obvious marketing purposes but really guys, you think no one would buy your book if the name of the most popular living scholar of Islam in Malaysia isn’t on the cover?
Anyway, it’s still a handy ‘diary’ to have. Get a copy now.
Monday, 10th May, 2010 § 2 Comments
Bought these from Dakwah Corner Bookstore, Section 14, Petaling Jaya. I need these as a teaching guide for my children, especially my daughter who will be 7 this year insyaallah.
Already have the Abdullah Yusuf Ali translation (which is my personal favourite) but it is not practical for use as teaching guide for a child. Why do I need a translation? Because we don’t speak Arabic and I want her to understand what it is she’s reading.
The complete Quranic recitation by my favourite qari, Sheikh Mishary Rashid Al-Afasy. 28 cds. I bought the same CD set online from a site in Canada last year because I couldn’t find a Mishary Rashid CD for love or money in Malaysia. And wouldn’t you know it, the moment my order arrived from Canada, Dakwah Corner Bookstore started selling the same CD set. Head, meet wall. Wall, head. However, I had to ask the guy minding the shop about it because they keep it in the back room and not displayed on the shelves. Don’t know why.
Why do I need another one when I already have my own set? I keep mine in the car.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “The comparison of the one who remembers Allah to the one who does not remember Allah is like that of the living and the dead.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Tuesday, 27th April, 2010 § 7 Comments
“Hey, what are you doing?“
“Trying to memorise this surah.”
“Oh wow. You wanna memorise the entire Quran?”
“No…although it would be great if I could. But right now, I’ll be happy with the few surahs I can remember. Surah Qiyamah, Insan, Al-Mursalat, Naba’, Takwir, Abasa and the rest in Juz Amma’. You know, the short chapters. And of course, the famous surahs like Al-Muluk, Waqiah, Yaasin, Ar-Rahmaan.“
“Yeah, I’d love to do that but I don’t know Arabic.“
“Neither do I. That’s why I have the Quran and the translation with me. That way I know what is it that I’m reading.“
“Hmm, yeah. We have to read it properly though. I don’t know if I can manage that.“
“Get a teacher, duh! Me, I learn by listening to my favourite qari, Mishary Rashid Al-Afasy. Listen, repeat, listen, repeat.“
“That’s gonna take time.“
“Of course! Look, remember a few months back you asked me to read to you that song lyrics you copied from the ‘net? Why? Because you wanted to know if you copied it correctly, right? Why?“
“Because I’m not fluent in English.“
“OK. So you were willing to scour the internet for a song written in English that you wanted to memorise. You were willing to seek help from someone who knows English to help you learn the song properly. You were willing to do all that but you won’t do the same thing for the Quran? Seriously? Look where your priorities lie. In a silly song. Seriously?“
“Oh gee. Look at the time…“
And that, people, is why I don’t have many friends.
To all the Muslims reading this (and yes, I know you are. I can see your footprints), let’s focus on what’s important, huh? Mawi, Lady Gaga or whoever is top in the charts right now won’t be able to help us when the time comes. The Quran can. Doesn’t matter if you can sing that Indonesian “Ingat Mati” song. It’s still a damn song. It won’t be able to help you when you’re six feet under. And don’t procrastinate, thinking you’re still young. That Malay singer whatsisname who died two weeks ago…he was 27 when his car overturned and burst into flames with him still inside.
Yeah, I’m preachy today.
Friday, 9th April, 2010 Comments Off
‘Amalan Surah-Surah Pilihan: Doaku Harapanku’ by Khatijah Yusof is a collection of several important surahs or chapters from the Quran especially those pertaining to the Hereafter. It is a very good learning tool for the average Malaysian Muslim who, let’s face it, is probably not fluent in Arabic. Every single verse is accompanied by its translation in Malay. In fact, this book is more of a translation of (part of) the Quran than it is about doa or supplication. As a translation aid, it is well nigh perfect. Unlike most translations of the Quran, this book uses font sizes that do not require the reader to use a magnifying glass. Both the Quranic verses and their translations in Malay are clear and easily read even by the most myopic.
What I find slightly strange is the second part of the book’s title, Doaku Harapanku (My Supplications, My Hope). Some doas are included at the back pages of the book but it looked more as an afterthought than anything else. It’s as if Khatijah Yusof realised that the book has ‘Doa’ in the title so she included some. The supplications are important for a Muslim to know, admittedly, but this book would have been good enough with just the Quranic chapters and their translations. They make up most of the book anyway.
Whatever. I highly recommend this book to the Muslim who wants to start memorising the longer chapters and wants to understand what exactly he/she is trying to memorise. After all, there is no point keeping all these verses in your heart if you don’t know what they mean. That is not what Islam is all about.
By the way, you may be wondering why I’m reviewing in English a book that was written primarily in Malay. That’s just how I roll, people.
Wednesday, 10th March, 2010 § 7 Comments
I had the opportunity to hear Shah Kirit speak at my local mosque in February. He was a Hindu who reverted to Islam because, he said, “I wanted to marry a Malay Muslim girl. That was the actual reason I started to learn about Islam“. However, the more he studied the more convinced he was of Islam until he told the religious teacher who was instructing him that even if his marriage to the Malay girl was not to be, he would still embrace Islam.
He was very eloquent and knew what he was talking about and his specialty subject was comparative religion. In other words, Shah Kirit is Malaysia’s own Ahmed Deedat.
This book is a compilation of his “Ask Brother Shah” articles in the now defunct Criteria weekly newspaper. It is defunct because no one bought it. The Criteria was an English language newspaper primarily focusing on Islamic issues and his “Ask Brother Shah” articles tackle questions that may be frequently asked by Muslims and non-Muslims alike (but since no one read the paper, no one knew of the articles).
There are twenty topics compiled here ranging from the philosophical “The Concept of God in Islam” and “The Unity of God” to the more practical “What is Polygamy?’ and “Tudung – Oppressive or Liberating?” Shah Kirit writes simply and to the point.
Ask Brother Shah is a good book that should be read by all Malaysians regardless of faith (or lack thereof). In these end times, when our leaders are more hypocritical than ever, when society is more insular than ever, when religion is abandoned for secular beliefs, it is important that publications such as these are made more available to the public. This book is important for the Muslim who seeks to understand his or her faith and it is doubly important for the non-Muslim who doesn’t know a thing about Islam but is too afraid to ask.
It is not a book that will answer all your questions about Islam but it is able, hopefully, to shine some light on it. The only unfortunate aspect about this book is that is quite slim (just 85 pages) but the price is RM25.00. I say unfortunate because the typical Malaysian will probably balk at the idea of spending RM25 for a slim book on Islam. Malaysia Boleh, my foot!
The topics covered in the book:
- Between Islam and Muslim
- Worship in Islam
- The Concept of God in Islam
- The Unity of God
- God’s Attributes
- Why does God Punish?
- Is Religion Difficult?
- Is God Really Loving and Just?
- Blind Faith?
- Do We Need Religion?
- Why Polygamy?
- The Islamic Law of Inheritance – Justice Ensured
- Is Polygamy Outdated?
- Why Islam Prohibits Polyandry
- No Gender Bias in Matters of Spirituality in Islam
- Tudung – Oppressive or Liberating
- Is God to be Blamed for the Tsunami?
- Prophet Muhammad: Pray As You See Me Pray?
- The Wisdom of Fasting
- Blessed Ramadan & ‘Idul-fitr in Malaysia
I bought this book from Saba Islamic Media, 1st Floor, Plaza PKNS, Shah Alam but I’ve also seen it at Kinokuniya@SuriaKLCC.