Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Not Even Mahathir Can Bring Najib Down If He Refuses To Step Down

I have heard since the middle last year (2014) that Malaysia will have the new prime minister before the year end, or the latest, by early 2015.  

That was a year and a half ago.  Today, mid December 2015, Najib appears to be stronger than ever before.  Wrapping up the UMNO Annual General Meeting 2015 on Saturday afternoon a few days ago, he not only appeared confident, but managed to stage a dramatic closing, making many delegates and visitors wet in tears.

The picture was not a meek, uncomfortable man like he was a year ago, while delivering new year message, on the eve of January 1, 2015.  In all likelihood, this upcoming new year message, to be delivered in two weeks time, will be made by the same person, but not the same man.  Of course the person will still be Najib, and the man would also carry the same name.  But it will not be the meek and uncomfortable man bearing similar name a year ago.  It would be a man filled with confident and sure about himself.

Najib's resilience surprised everybody.  The one most surprised is probably his former mentor, now his number one nemesis, Dr Mahathir, former prime minister of Malaysia for 22 years, and the one who picked Najib to be his successor in waiting.  Successor in waiting because Mahathir did not give the seat straight to Najib, but to Abdullah Badawi, with the gentlemanly agreement, it was alleged by Mahathir himself, that Abdullah, affectionately called Pak Lah, would give the seat to Najib after a few years.

The transition from Pak Lah to Najib was not as smooth as Mahathir or Najib had wanted.  All the while under Mahathir's shadow, Pak Lah suddenly became his own man after assuming the prime ministership.  Mahathir was incensed that Pak Lah did not continue with the policy and programs he devised before stepping down.  Instead, he reversed many of these and devised programs and policies of his own. So Mahathir used all his power and influence to bring Pak Lah down.  There was bitter fight, but before long, Pak Lah did step down, leaving the mantle of leadership to Mahathir chosen's successor, Najib.

To begin with, Najib was the one Mahathir intended to be his successor, after his falling out with Anwar, the then prime minister in waiting, but is now residing in jail for his alleged sodomy excursion.  And Mahathir did publicly praise Najib during the first year of his prime ministership for his competence, as opposed to Pak Lah's incompetence.  Yet it was not long before the two fell out with one another.  The reasons had to do with the National Coalition's worst performance in the General Election, held in 2013, along with numerous alleged scandals, especially 1MDB and the RM2.6 billion "donation," plus the first lady alleged wasteful expenses using state money.

Like what he did to Pak Lah, Mahathir did the same to Najib.  He demanded Najib to resign.  When Najib refused, Mahathir publicly attacked Najib.  With the kind of scandals Najib are implicated, and knowing the kind of man Mahathir is, many predicted that Najib won't last before the year end.  That was last year.

Any observer could see that Najib was threading the worst period of his political life.  He appeared extremely uncomfortable giving speeches, no matter how hard he tried to keep his cool.  With his "soft" disposition, many thought that he would fall as easily as his predecessor.

But one and a half year later, it is his attacker, Dr. Mahathir, who appears to be on the losing side.  The story is still being written, but if the current trend continues, then this will be the first time Mahathir fails to bring down the PM of the day.  Already 90 years old, this will be his last as well.

Of course the only apparent PM he brought down was Pak Lah, his successor, but the fall of the first PM of Malaysia, Tunku, had to do, to some extent at least, with his Open Letter and his book the Malay Dilemma, along with his many other speeches and criticisms against the Father of Malaysia.  Mahathir was thrown out of UMNO for his attack on Tunku, but Tunku's political career did not last that long either after that.

Mahathir's predecessor, Hussein, resigned on health reason, but many know that the real reason was due to the "overwhelming presence" of his deputy.  Mahathir did not oust him, of course, but health reason could not have been the only factor.  The only PM that escaped Mahathir's involvement in the termination of his career was Abdul Razak, the father of Najib.  He died prematurely while still in office.  And supposed he lived longer, Mahathir would probably not force him out, for he was the one rescuing Mahathir from his political wilderness.

When he was the PM, Mahathir too was not free from attempts to oust him.  First by the group led by Finance Minister and  ex Deputy PM.  Second by his protege turned enemy, Anwar Ibrahim.  In both occasions he refused to budge and utilized the incumbent advantage, helping himself with the state apparatus to ensure that he continued to be in power.  He ended his prime ministership on his own accord after 22 years in office, in 2003, during the period whereby there was no threat to his throne.

Mahathir and Najib seem worlds apart.  The former is confrontative, the latter is evasive.  The former has no qualm about making enemies, the latter prefers to conciliate and accommodate all and sundry.

But one thing they seem to have in common.  Both know and will not mind using whatever apparatus and means available to them as the men in power in order to remain in power.

Learning from his former mentor and current nemesis, Najib seems to know that no one can force the PM of Malaysia to step down if he does not want to.  Mahathir had proven that during his time.  Najib seems to want to prove the same.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Polygamy: One Golden Umbrella Please

Among the Malay society, it is said that when a wife allows her husband to marry another woman, her abode in Paradise would be guaranteed.  On top of that, she will be given a golden umbrella.

Strangely, not many Malay women are thrilled with the prospect of a guaranteed Paradise.  As one Malay woman (a religious teacher no less) puts it, “I have no problem with polygamy, as long as it is not my husband who practices it.”  

As for the prospect of having a golden umbrella, not many among them are thrilled with it either.  Perhaps the umbrella made of gold would be too heavy to carry.  A tightly woven nylon or polyester, the stuff a normal umbrella is made of, would have been more practical.  Or perhaps it is the thought of having a rival which leaves the idea with a bad taste.  In any case, they would rather choose other route to Paradise.

But the Malay men seem to cherish the idea.  We need not waste out time speculating why it is so.

I was told that these are the sayings of the Prophet, but my search for authentic traditions on these has been fruitless.  Perhaps I have not been thorough in this research.

During my younger days, those who wanted to practice polygamy only justified it on the ground of following the Sunna of the Prophet.  Muhammad the Prophet married multiple women; therefore it is Sunna to do likewise, so they said.  But of course their female counterparts would be quick to retort and question as to why their husbands are so eager to follow this particular Sunna, while at the same time appear to be sluggish on following other Sunnas.

I also heard that it is more meritorious to practice polygamy instead of monogamy; that men with more than one wives would receive more rewards than others who have only one.  Perhaps the headache that comes with having multiple wives, and this headache can often be stronger than an acute migraine, makes them more forbearing, hence more meritorious.

As confessed to me in private, all my close friends who practice polygamy, however, do not seem to think that marrying more than one woman is such a meritorious thing to do.  I was even told by a friend that one particular polygamist would have turned back the time to a period when he was a monogamist, if only he could. 

To put the matter into perspective, the merit of allowing polygamy is not difficult to fathom.  Polygamy can be a practical solution to a practical problem.  After the war, for instance, when many women are widowed and many children are orphaned, polygamy is not only a sensible thing to do, but would appear to be highly recommended.  Or even if there is no war, but when the number of women exceeds the men, it is also a sensible approach to take.  Or when it is feared that the men can fall into adultery for one reason or another, polygamy could provide the answer, because Islam strictly forbid sexual relation outside of marriage.

But when it is entered mostly for the pleasure of having another woman to share one’s bed with, then the cost it entails is generally not commensurate with whatever benefit it may accrue.

Being a practical religion, Islam discourages celibacy.  Even if one is poor, one should still get married.  The Prophet also admonished his overly pious companions who refused to get married, fearing that women, and later on children, would disrupt their devotion to God. 

Men and women are meant for each other, but in most cases, two is already one too many.  What more if three or four.
Leading scholars such as al Qaradawi and Ibnu Taymiyyah, as well as countless others, say that polygamy is not something recommended, but something permissible.  There are certain conditions to be fulfilled for those who want to practice it. 

If truly polygamy is more meritorious than monogamy, then the Prophet would not have stopped his son in law, Ali, to marry another wife, when the idea was strongly objected by Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter and Ali’s wife. 

Arguments are often made that the reason Fatimah objected to the idea was because her prospective rival was the daughter of the Prophet’s archenemy, Abu Jahal.  But the daughter of Abu Jahal, whose name was Khataba, was already a Muslim at that time, and the sin of the father is not inherited to his children in Islam.  The Prophet himself married Umm Habibah, the daughter of Abu Sufyan, another archenemy of the Prophet.  The reason the Prophet cautioned Ali against the idea, therefore, must have been elsewhere.  Regardless of the real reason, the Prophet would not have stopped Ali from taking another wife if truly it is a meritorious thing to do.

Furthermore, if truly polygamy is more meritorious than monogamy in all circumstances, then the prenuptial agreement allowing the prospective bride to stipulate her agreement to marriage proposal on the ground that her would be husband would not take another wife once they are married, would not be valid in Islam.  But such is not the case.  Woman is allowed to stipulate such a clause, although many do not seem to know about it.

Marriage is a Sunna.  There is no doubt about it.  But having multiple wives is only permissible in Islam; it is not a recommended thing, except in exceptional circumstances.  One who wants to enter into polygamy must fulfill the required conditions and must know what it takes.  A polygamist is not more meritorious than a monogamist on account of having more wives.  On the contrary, he is facing higher risk of condemnation both in this world and the next world. 

The idea that polygamy is more meritorious than monogamy seems to come from an incidence between Ibnu Abbas and a group of some overly pious men who did not like the idea of getting married, fearing that marriage would disrupt their devotion to God.  To these people, Ibnu Abbas retorted: “The best man of this nation is the one with the most wives.”

Based on this saying, some conclude that polygamy is better than monogamy.  If one looks at the incidence more carefully, however, one would know that Ibnu Abbas did not suggest that such was the case.  He was admonishing a group of young devotees who had mistakenly believed that celibacy would bring them closer to God.  Ibnu Abbas told them that the best of this Ummah was the Prophet, and he had the most wives, since the restriction of having not more than four wives was not applicable to him.  The Prophet died leaving nine widows who were still alive.  In effect, Ibnu Abbas merely told them to get married, not to practice polygamy.

This matter should be presented as it is, not as one fancies it to be.  Those who suggest that polygamy should be abolished on account that it brings more harms than benefits—such as the disharmony in the married life, etc.—are taking the matter too far.  God would not have allowed polygamy if there is no merit in it.  But when the Quran (4:3) says that if you fear injustice, then marry only one, then one who is honest with himself would know where the matter lies.  Saying that polygamy is “more Sunna” than monogamy is self-serving, especially when one is looking for a young and beautiful maiden rather than a single mother with children to care for.

In any case, a woman who allows her husband to take another wife is truly an honorable woman.  Such woman deserves Paradise, especially if she does it out of goodness of her heart.  But to trick the womenfolk by saying that Paradise and Golden Umbrella are guaranteed for them if they allow their husbands to take another wives is an act of dishonesty. 

Anyone cares for a golden umbrella?

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Friday, July 12, 2013

The Celibate and the Amorous Prophets

Muhammad the Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him, is often depicted as a sex maniac who used his power to enjoy women at will.  Having multiple women as his wives was not enough for him.  On top of that, he had to have a child as his wife as well.

It would be of no use to point out to these people that Muhammad actually married a widow 15 years his senior, Khadija, who had been married twice before; that he did not take any other wife as long as she was alive thereafter, living together with her for 25 years; and that when she died, Muhammad was not looking for a young beautiful maiden to replace her, but an old widow of his age to take care of his household. 

Neither would it be useful to tell them that when Muhammad did marry multiple women thereafter, it was not for lust, but for practical (if not altogether for noble) reasons: that his marriages with Aisha and Hafsa were to cement relationship with his two close companions; with Juwairiya to honor the tribe he conquered; with Umm Habibah to honor the daughter of his archenemy who had been abandoned by her husband; with Zaynab his cousin to nullify the prevailing practice regarding the status of adopted son.  And so on and so forth.

It would be a waste of time because these people would be quick to point out that Muhammad remained a one woman’s man because he had no power when Khadija was alive; that he was grateful to her for uplifting the shackle of poverty from his back.  But as soon as he migrated to Madinah, and assumed the role as the absolute and undisputed leader, he began to accumulate women in his harem one by one.  All those practical reasons are therefore mere excuses.  He did not marry all those women for noble reasons.  He married them because he was an amorous man.

These are typical views that the Christians had about Muhammad's private life in the Middle Age, a period when they had a very strict view on sex and marriage.  One would think that since their perspective on sex and marriage has changed 360 degrees since then, as we have seen in the last episode, one would no longer find those views to be prevalent among the Christians. 

Such, however, is not the case.  Browse the Internet, and you surely will encounter such views.

Among these views, the favorite one is the charge the Muhammad was a pedophile.  Simply put, he preferred a girl instead of a grown up woman for sex.  Because of this attack, some well-meaning Muslims theorize that Aisha was 18 when she was married to the Prophet, not nine as generally believed.   

But the Muslims need not be apologetic about the Prophet having many wives, or that one of them was only “a child.”  Islamic worldview is not similar to other religions’ worldview.  Islam came as a complete package as other religions were not.  Islam came with a written scripture, that is the Quran, and a “living scripture,” namely Muhammad the Prophet himself.  It also came with complete and practical accessories, namely the Companions.  Muslims’ lives are to be molded based on these written scripture, living scripture and practical accessories.

Other religions do not have such luxuries. 

Hinduism does not have practical human examples to be followed.  It has scriptures, but the founder of this religion is not known, much less the examples he left behind.  The founder of Buddhism is known, but the life he left behind was not practical.  One has to be a monk to follow his footstep.

As for Christianity, its founder is considered a God.  Too little about Jesus Christ is known; too few examples left by him to be followed.  We do not know about his married life because he was said to live a celibate life.  We do not know how he ruled the country because he never managed to form a government.  All we know about him is that he was born miraculously without a father, and that towards the end of his life, he lived like a wandering teacher.

The only examples for the Christians to follow would be the Jewish prophets, because they accept Jewish Scripture to be part of their Bible.  But the Old Testament (Jewish Scripture) is replete with stories about men having multiple wives.  King David had 100 wives; Solomon had one thousand (700 wives and 300 concubines). 

Islam came to limit the number of wives one may have, unlike the Old Testament which put no limit to it.  When the verse limiting the number of wives was revealed, a number of companions who had married more than four had divorced some of their wives, to comply with the rules.  But the wives of the Prophet automatically became the Mothers of Believers.  Once married to the Prophet, they were no longer lawful for others to marry them, should the Prophet decide to divorce them.  Special provision was therefore granted to the Prophet, in that the limit was not applicable to him.  

Muhammad the Prophet had led a complete and practical life with more than adequate practical examples to be followed.  There is no example that a Muslim finds missing in him, including the matter regarding sex, marriage and parenthood. 

Had the Prophet led a celibate life, like his counterpart Jesus, he would have left a grim example to be followed. 

Had polygamy was not allowed at all, many widows would be left unprotected during his time and many other times thereafter. 

If he did not marry the young Aisha, then we would not know that women are eligible for marriage once they reach puberty. 

After all, it was from Aisha that we know about his bed manners, not from Khadija.

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Friday, July 5, 2013

The Curious Tale of Egyptian Arab Spring

When my friend posted on his Facebook’s wall, “Seerah of Uthman and Ali being replayed,” I responded saying that I did not know what he was referring to.  A few moments later, my wife told me that President Morsi of Egypt had just been ousted.  By then, I knew what my friend was talking about.  He was talking about the event leading to Morsi’s ouster.

Then my friend asked me to write about it in my blog.

To liken the tale of Egyptian Arab Spring with the Seerah of Uthman and Ali is a little difficult to make.  The differences between these two appear to be more than the similarities.

As for Caliph Uthman, he was ousted through assassination.  President Morsi too was ousted, but his eventual fate is still being written.  Beyond this, there is not much similarity. 

Uthman was elected from the six candidates chosen by Caliph Umar when the latter was stabbed.  Morsi was elected in the first legitimate general election after 60 years, subsequent to the fall of Hosni Mubarak.  Uthman was a member of Consultative Council during Umar; Morsi was an outsider who used to be imprisoned during Mubarak.  Uthman ruled for 12 year; Morsi managed only one year.

As for Caliph Ali, he took over the caliphate after the assassination of Uthman.  Morsi took over the presidency after the fall of Mubarak.  Ali ruled for about four and a half years and found relatively no peace.  So was Morsi, except that his presidency lasted only a year.  But beyond this, there is little similarity.

Ali was not among the rebels who protested against the reign of Uthman.  In fact, he was among Uthman’s supporters.  Although Ali had some disagreements with Uthman, the two maintained cordial relationship and Ali had direct accessed to the troubling caliph.  When the rebels surrounded the house of Uthman, he sent two of his sons to protect the caliph.  He offered his council to the caliph and tried his best to quench the rebellion. 

Morsi and the organization he represented, however, were among the protesters against Mubarak, although they played a background role.  Morsi was the beneficiary of the Egyptian Arab Spring because he supported it; the same cannot be said about Ali because he was against it. 

In spite of the differences, one may wonder, therefore, as to why my friend said that the Seerah of Uthman and Ali is being replayed?  The answer lies in his person.  He is a devoted Muslim who yearns for Islam to be established in Egypt.  Like many devoted Muslims, it breaks his heart to see Morsi fell in that way.  It breaks my heart too.

Uthman, Ali and Morsi are three good Muslim leaders who fall prey to the circumstances.  Their similarity lies here, except that the first two must be given priority since they are the leading companions directly trained by the Prophet himself.

Of the three, only Ali is the true victim of the circumstances, because to some extent, the fall of Uthman and Morsi was partly attributed to their own doing. 

Uthman was a great man but was not a great leader.  He was too gentle and too congenial, both to his kinsmen and to his enemies.   He forgave when punishment may have been a better action.  He refused to shed blood among Muslims.  If any blood were to be spilt, he wanted it to be his blood.  This is the characteristic of a great man, but a leader sometimes needs to spill some blood to avoid greater danger.  Uthman did nothing wrong as a man and as a Muslim, but his leadership in this aspect is somewhat wanting (may Allah forgive me for saying such a thing to a man loved by Allah and the Prophet).

As for Morsi, he miscalculated a little.  The Arab Spring that toppled the iron ruled of Hosni Mubarak was led mostly by the liberals and the secularists.  It was not led by any particular organization or political party.  It was led predominantly by the urban youths who wanted Egypt to be freed from the authoritarian rule. 

Morsi belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).  Although MB took part in the Arab Spring only in the background, it has an added advantage when the election time came.  MB is well organized with supporters all over the country, the majority of whom did not participate in the Arab Spring.  As general election is not participated only by the participants in the Arab Spring, but by every voter throughout the country, many of whom are MB supporters, it was not surprising therefore that the party backed by MB won the election.

But MB in general and Morsi in particular had misread the Arab Spring.  By winning the election, they must have thought that they were given the mandate to rule the country as they saw fit.  They moved quickly to establish Islamic Law because this is what they had been fighting for since MB was established in 1928.  They saw the opportunity and they seized it quickly, forgetting that the uprising known as the Arab Spring was actually initiated by different types of peoples and for different purpose.  In the process, they alienated the very people who gave them the opportunity. 

As Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel-Prize winning diplomat put it in a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine: “The uprising was not about changing people, but changing our mind-set. What we see right now, however, is just a change of faces, with the same mode of thinking as in Mubarak’s era — only now with a religious icing on the cake.” (1)

MB also forgot that it is viewed as a threat worldwide.  While founded in Egypt, it has networks worldwide.  For that reason, it also has enemies worldwide.  Israel is especially threatened by its rise.  The Western countries definitely do not feel comfortable with MB regardless of what their leader say in the public.  The Arab monarchies are also not amused with the development.  Alienated internally and feeling threatened externally, in retrospection, it is not surprising that the revolt which gave it the opportunity also revolted to oust it.

The hardliners among the Islamists are already saying that Islam and democracy are not compatible, and that Islam cannot be established through democracy.   They cite the case of Algeria in 1991, and the Palestinian territories in 2006.  Perhaps they are right.  It could well be that whatever Morsi did, he would be ousted nevertheless.

But history also shows that the force of military power may not be the answer as well, as we have seen in the case of Taliban Afghanistan. 

In any case, we have to admit that while Islam remains the same, the world in the seventh century is not the same as the twenty first century.  The quick rise and the quick fall of MB and Morsi in Egypt should serve as the lesson to all Islamic movements worldwide, especially to the new governments in Tunisia and Libya, which also benefited from their Arab Springs. 

In spite of what is currently happening, and regardless of what people say, I believe that all is not lost.  MB should view what has happened in the cool headed manner.  It has to remember that when Islam first came to the scene, it eventually won and dominated the world because it had won the hearts and minds of the people.  Even though it has missed the opportunity, the organization is stronger now than during the Mubarak and his predecessors’ times.  Perhaps MB will be given a second chance, albeit in a lesser mode.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Marriage is Made in Heaven, But...

Marriage in Christianity is made in Heaven.  In contrast, marriage in Islam is made on earth.

In Christianity, when the couple gets married, they are said to enter into a holy matrimony.  In Islam, they simply get married.

Though the two differ in terms of perspectives (it is a sacrament in Christianity while it is not so in Islam), both consider marriage to be sacred.  Nowhere does Islam consider marriage to be profane, although it views marriage largely from practical perspective.

Since marriage is made in Heaven, divorce is not allowed in Christianity, that is, until Protestantism came into the picture.  When Henry VIII, the King of England, wanted to divorce his wife, Queen Catherine, for the latter could not give him a son to inherit his throne, he appealed to the Pope, but was rejected.  Bent of getting what he wanted, Henry divorced Catherine nevertheless, and was excommunicated because of that move.  The Church of England, therefore, was separated from the Catholic Church.

Marriage in Christianity is viewed largely as a necessary evil, for without it human race cannot be perpetuated, or at least cannot be perpetuated in a proper way.  Thus marriage is allowed largely for procreation, not for pleasure.  Celibacy is considered a virtue.  A man or woman of God is not allowed to marry.  Thus the priest and the nun must remain single throughout their lives.  This view is probably patterned from their belief the Jesus the Christ did not get married throughout his life on earth.  One can sense this view from the writing of St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, the man who gave Christianity its name.

Islam, on the other hand, considers marriage from practical view.  Man and woman are created with intense desire to be with each other, both in bed or otherwise.  Man is only half done, and so is the woman.  To be whole, they must unite together.  But this union must be regulated.  This union, or to be more direct, to have sex, must be entered properly.  The proper way is through marriage.

Since Islam approaches marriage from practical point of view, and that it is made on earth, which is imperfect, and not made in Heaven, which is supposed to be perfect, divorce, through frown upon, is therefore allowed.  Marriage is supposed to bring bliss and happiness.  If the married couple is living in hell through their marriage, then they are allowed to separate amicably.  While only man is granted with the right to divorce his wife, the woman is also given the provision for recourse, should she decide to end the marriage.  All these are specified in details, in the large body of laws and rules to regulate the marriage and divorce.

Since Islam regards the union between man and woman to be something natural, but must be regulated, while Christianity regards it more like a necessary evil, in the good olden days, therefore, the Christians tended to view the Muslims as very sensual and permissive.  The Christians crusaders who came to liberate Jerusalem from the “Mahometan infidels,” as the Muslims were generally called back then, were shocked to find out that the Muslims took marriage and sex to be rather liberally, as if these were something natural.  The Muslim men not only can have more than one wives, but they can also divorce them with relative ease, and marry again.  On top of that, the elites among Muslims often have huge number of women in their harems.  Marriage was not holy to the Muslims, but profane.

As times went by, however, the Christians were to discover that the profane urge was greater than the holy inclination.  Subsequently, they began to view that the union between man and woman, though still made in Heaven, should not be tied up till the end of their lives, if they were leading the life in hell. 

Protestant movement came to liberate them of this shackle.  Not only that the married couple was allowed to get divorce, their men and women of religion were also allowed to get married.  Thus, while the Catholic priest and nun cannot get married, the protestant reverend can.  Since Protestantism was a religious movement, to protest against the excesses or deficiencies of Catholicism, the religious virtue of disallowing sexual relation out of wedlock was still upheld.  Hence, while divorce was allowed, sex outside of marriage was not.

Along with Protestantism came Renaissance.  As renaissance is nothing but a big word for enlightenment, suddenly it dawned upon the Christian nations of the West that it was religion who threw them into backwardness.  Their progress, first made through the Greeks and later through the Romans, was stalled as soon as they embraced Christianity.  Thus they ditched religion from their daily lives and confined it only to ceremonial rituals, and the State was separated from the Church. 

As religion was separated from their daily lives, they embraced science with a possessed-like rigor, resulting in Industrial Revolution.  With the advent of Industrial Revolution, the way of life among the Christians changed considerably.  Hitherto, men used to be the bread winners.  With Industrial Revolution, women too can chart their own destiny, independent of men.  With the new found freedom and the ability to live independently of men, soon came Sexual Revolution.

Sex was no longer a necessary evil, but a thing to enjoy between the consenting adults.  As long as it is consensual, sexual intercourse is allowed, even outside of wedlock.  I used to ask my Christian classmate during my student days in the United States, as to what rationale sex is not considered wrong outside of marriage.  “It is economy, my friend,” she said, “as women are no longer tied to their men for their livelihood, so is sex no longer tied within the wedlock, for now women can live independently of men.”  As I was not in the mode to debate, but only to know, I just nodded my head.

Be as it may, as the time changes, the Christians change their outlook on sexual relation.  In the Middle Age, they considered the Muslims to be sensual and promiscuous.  But since the Christians have changed their outlook on sex, from a necessary evil to something to be enjoyed, they no longer consider the Muslims to be sensual and promiscuous where sex is concerned, but outdated and rigid.  Since Islam still frowns upon sex outside of marriage, the Muslims now belong to the ancient past, where women covered their body and face.  Furthermore, Muslims women are now considered the oppressed lots, who are not allowed to enjoy their body but remained subservient to men. 

Christianity still regards marriage to be made in Heaven, but since people are living on earth, the divorce lawyers are among the busiest men on earth.  Many consequently draw a prenuptial agreement which makes a mockery of their marriage vows; to love and to cherish until death do us part.

As for the Muslims, since they have been playing second fiddle to the Christians for a couple of centuries already, many of them forget the true teaching of Islam on marriage.  Their response has been reactionary.  Those who worship the West follow the Christians’ promiscuous footsteps, while those who are against the West sink further from what Islam allows. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Ordeal of Marriage Ceremony

Wedding ceremony in Malaysia used to be crammed during the school holidays.  Nowadays, it is held on weekends. 

In the Malay society, wedding reception is generally held separately from the marriage vows ceremony (akad nikah).  The Americans tend to do it concurrently.  I used to attend wedding ceremonies of some Christian friends when I was in the United States.  The marriage vows and the reception were held concurrently.

In Malaysia, I have attended many marriage vows ceremonies since the last decade or so.  Most of these went without any drama.  This was not always the case, though.

When I was a boy, the marriage vows ceremony was something dreaded by the groom.  The vow itself is simple enough, but many grooms somehow could not recite it properly.  For the vow to be valid, the two appointed witnesses must declare that it is valid.  This is not something that the Malays, being Muslims, take it lightly.  Invalid vow would invalidate the marriage.  If marriage is not valid, then the couple cannot live as husband and wife lawfully.

Technically, it would take nothing more than a fraction of a minute to take the vow, for it entails only a simple declaration of accepting the bride in marriage with the stipulated dowry.  But the problem in those days was that some qadis (the officials who perform the ceremony) and the witnesses insisted on the vow being recited exactly the way they wanted it, and all within one breadth.  If the groom stuttered, then the vow was not considered valid.  Even if they did not stutter, but could not complete it within one breath, it was still considered invalid.  Then there were some semantic issues which complicate the matter further.

Worse, before taking the vow, the already very nervous groom would be tested about his knowledge on a few basic Islamic rituals.  Furthermore, they would generally be asked to recite a few basic recitations, especially those recited during the prayers.  By the time the grooms went through this little ordeal, their mind went blank.  Thus, what should have taken a fraction of a minute often went into hours.  I heard of cases whereby the ceremony had to be temporarily postponed, to allow the groom to regain his lost mind after taking a short break.  One ceremony in my village had to be postponed to the next day, because the groom never recovered his senses.

Partly to address this issue that marriage course before the matrimony was introduced in the 80’s, and is continued till these days.   The purpose of the course is not only to prepare the couple about what to expect after marriage, but also to educate the groom about the marriage vows.  Since then I never heard of a groom “shitting in his pant” during the marriage vows ceremony.  In most marriage vow ceremonies I attended these days, the groom managed to get his vow validated with only one recitation.

The Americans, and I suppose other Western countries, do not seem to have this problem.  During the marriage vows ceremony, all the groom and the bride need to say is: “I do.”  Their ceremony appears to be real marriage vows ceremony, for the bride and the groom must take their vows to love and support each other through thick or thin.  In the Muslim marriage vows, or more properly the aqad nikah, it is more like an offer and an acceptance.  The groom will be offered the bride in marriage for a stipulated dowry, and the groom must declare his acceptance.  The bride, meanwhile, does not need to do anything. 

Technically, it should have been quite simple and straightforward.  And as far as I can ascertain, it is simple and straightforward during the time of the Prophet.  In those days, the aqad nikah would consist of the father (or the guardian) of the bride offering the groom his daughter in marriage with a stipulated dowry, and the groom should declare his acceptance.  The ceremony was not generally performed by the appointed official (qadi), but by the father or the bride’s guardian.

Among the Malays, the matter is institutionalized to make it more complicated and poses quite an ordeal to the groom.   It seems that to perform the marriage vows ceremony, one has to be of a certain virtue.  In most cases, being a father and a guardian is not good enough. 

During the time of the Prophet, however, the issue about the guardian (wali in Arabic, the one with the right to give bride in marriage) appears to be rather simple.  According to Muhammad Qutb in his book, Women Around The Messenger, when Umm Sulaym, the mother of Anas, wanted to get married to Abu Talhah, she asked her son, Anas, who was not yet reaching puberty at that time, to marry her.  And the young boy Anas married her mother to Abu Talhah.  No doubt Anas was a man of virtue, and was considered among the leading companions, but when he married her mother off, he was only a boy.

This is probably an extreme example of simplicity, and probably an isolated event rather than the rule, but generally speaking, the acceptance of marriage offer was rather simple then.  The groom only needed to declare that he accepted the marriage of so and so with the stipulated dowry.

In any case, the strict requirement on taking the marriage vows appears to be largely a Malaysian phenomenon.  Years back, when I was in the U.S., I also attended marriage vows ceremonies among Malay students who got married there.  The taking of vows over there somehow appeared to be very simple. 

When one of my housemates got married, his ceremony was conducted by a Sudanese clergy, who conducted the ceremony in Arabic.  My housemate who was taking the vow did not know Arabic, and the Sudanese clergy did not know Malay.  When the clergy pronounced one word, he stopped so that my housemate can utter that word.  Next he moved to the next word, and my housemate uttered that word, so on and so forth until the whole sentence was completed.  It took a minute or two to get the whole thing completed, but somehow the marriage was deemed valid, although the whole recitation within one breadth thing was not adhered to.

My housemate who did not know what he was uttering when taking the marriage vows in Arabic, requested that the vow be done again in English, and it was done.  No one raised eyebrow.  It was simple in the U.S., even for the Malays.

Still, the marriage vows ceremony for the Malays in Malaysia are relatively easy.  They do not have to go through the difficult rites of passage like some tribes in Africa and other less developed societies, if what we watch on the television is true.

And more importantly, they do not have to go through what Prophet Jacob went through, suppose the Biblical story is accurate.   As we are told in the Bible (Genesis 29), Jacob served his uncle Laban for seven years in order to marry her cousin Rachel, the younger sister of Leah.  When he completed his time, he asked his uncle to give Rachel to him in marriage, as had been agreed.  To his dismay, he discovered that it was Leah who was in bed with him during the wedding night.

Furious, he confronted his uncle for cheating on their agreement.  The stipulated condition to marry Rachel was already rather onerous.  Jacob had to spend seven years shepherding his uncle’s sheep in order to marry his beautiful cousin, only to discover after the wedding night that it was his homely cousin who was in bed with him. 

His uncle Laban merely replied that it was not the custom of the people in that country to give the younger daughter when the older one was still unmarried, and if Jacob wanted Rachel, he had to serve another seven years.   Since it was Rachel whom Jacob desired, not Leah, the wily uncle managed to get another seven years of free service from his nephew.

At least the Malay men do not have to go through such an ordeal.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Arab Spring of Malaysia

The ruling coalition of Malaysia, the National Front, suffered a crushing defeat in the 12th General Election (GE-12) held on March 8, 2008.  The coalition still managed to form the Government of Malaysia though.  By crushing defeat, they lost their two-thirds majority, which they generally enjoyed after every election since Independence.

The National Front was returned to power again after the GE-13 held recently, on May 5, 2013.  But they suffered another defeat.  Not only that their seats were further reduced, they lost popular vote as well.  They garnered about 47 percent popular votes, against the 50 percent garnered by the opposition coalition.  But since the winning party is decided by the number of seats won, not by how many actually voted for them, the National Front still won the election, even though the opposition pact beat them with popular vote by 3 percent. 

The real value in the election is winning the seat, regardless of the vote.  Thus, while one opposition candidate had won by more than 51,000 majority votes whereas one ruling party candidate had won only by less than 200 votes, their value is the same: one seat each.

As usual, there have been claims of inconsistencies in the election process.  It was also claimed that this was the dirtiest election ever.  But there is nothing unusual about these claims.  Malaysians have heard of these before.

The opposition leader goes to the street challenging the election result, claiming that the results of between 30 to 40 parliamentary seats were doubtful.  He also alleged that the National Front has lost the moral ground to rule the country, since this ruling coalition lost the popular vote.

Normally the result of the election is to be challenged in court.  But the court process can be very lengthy.  The opposition pact, furthermore, need at least 23 seats in order to form the Government with simple majority (The ruling coalition had won 133 seats while the opposition pact won 89.  The total parliamentary seats are 222.  At least 112 seats must be won to form a government).  If it is just a matter of two or three seats, there is probably a fighting chance.  But 23 seats are big.  This is probably the reason why the opposition leader decided to go to the street rather than to the court.  Besides, it is generally alleged that the court tends to favor the ruling coalition. 

Going to the street is neither democratic nor undemocratic.  It depends on the purpose.  If the purpose is to air some grievance, or to demonstrate one’s feeling over something, the democratic setting allows it.  If it is to topple the Government, this sounds more like the Arab Spring rather than democratic process. 

In democratic setting, the Government is changed through election process.  The problem arises, however, when one does not trust the election process.  This is probably the main reason why the opposition leader went to the street (and still makes his round in major cities in Malaysia).  He believed, and still believes, that the opposition pact had won the election, but was denied because of unfair practices in the election process.

Even before the GE-13 was held, there have been talks about Arab Spring in Malaysia.  In simple terms, Arab Spring refers to the uprising of the people against their Government.  In recent times, three Arab governments fell through this process.  Two of them were relatively bloodless (Tunisia and Egypt) but the other one (Libya) was bloodied.  Another Arab Spring has gone into Summer, Fall and Winter, and is still mired with civil war (Syria).  Arab Spring in Yemen meanwhile brought some measure of success, while the one in Bahrain did not seem to bring much change.

If the current trend of the opposition leader going to the street gains momentum, Malaysia could as well experience the so-called Arab Spring Malaysian Style.  Whether this is good or bad for Malaysia is a matter of perspective.  The changing of Government through revolution, which is what the Arab Spring is all about, does not always bring positive result.  At the same time, no government can sustain itself if it continually ignores the wish of the people.  The question to be asked is this: Does the Malaysian Government continually ignore the wish of the population?

The answer would depend on whom you are asking.  If you ask me, I can provide the following simple scenario.  Kelantan, one of the states in Malaysia, has been under the opposition rule since 1990, and was returned to the same party in the recently concluded General Election.  The Federal Government tried to wrest the state, but the population of Kelantan refused to budge. 

Penang and Selangor, other two states in Malaysia, went to the opposition pact in the GE-12 in 2008.  The opposition pact won these states again in GE-13.  This time, they won by larger seats. 

Kedah, another state that went to the opposition pact in GE-12, was returned to the ruling coalition in GE-13.  There was no indication that the election in Kedah was severely rigged in GE-13, if any.  It was simply that the people in Kedah chose to come back to the ruling coalition.

This suggests that, flawed as it is, the ruling coalition are not as bad as some people make it out to be.  Considering that the National Front has been ruling Malaysia since her Independence, this suggests that it is the party of choice to the majority of Malaysians.  Of course, being the ruling party, it has unfair advantage not available to the opposition pact.  Any government for that matter, once in power, will do everything to stay there.    Still, if vast majority of the population had rejected it, the National Front would have been confined to the opposition role long time ago.

GE-13, however, seems to signal a new trend.  For the first time in the history of Malaysian politics, the ruling coalition lost popular vote.  More people voted for the opposition pact, but the ruling coalition managed to win the election only because they had won more seats. 

This victory due to winning more seats but losing popular vote may not seem fair, but that is how it works in Malaysia.  Going to the street would probably not change this fact.  If the opposition leader feels that he can create Arab Spring in Malaysia due to the groundswell, as indicated by massive turnout in the opposition rallies prior to the GE-13, he should also ask himself whether the Arab Spring is a good thing for Malaysia.  The Arab Spring may have been good for the Arabs, but it is not necessarily good for the Malaysians.  

The opposition leader may have felt that it is his obligation to rally the people to right the wrong, believing that the opposition pact had won the election, but was snatched by the Election Commissions in the last minute, and handed the victory to the ruling pact.  If the Election Commissions had truly switched the result, then he should probably go to the international tribunal for the recourse, not to the street.

What is certain is that the groundswell, both as illustrated by huge turnouts in the opposition rallies before the General Election, as well as measured through popular vote, is a clear warning to the ruling coalition.   During the campaigning period of GE-13, the opposition pact shouted the mantra: Ini kalilah (This will be the time), meaning, this time the Government will change. To that, the ruling coalition interjected with a jibe: Lain kalilah (Other time perhaps).

This jibe intended as a pun by the ruling coalition could well be a self-fulfilling prophecy, if the ruling coalition do not make systematic move to win back the lost grounds.  “Other time perhaps” could well be the next general election. 

But five years is a long time.  Anything can happen, even the Arab Spring Malaysian Style.