|Source: Matahari Books|
Take the issue of zakah money as an example. Every year we hear about how much zakah money has been collected in this or that state, usually in millions of Ringgit. The Selangor Zakat Board collect RM336.8 million last year, according to their website. While this is undeniable a good thing, the bigger question that every Muslim should be asking is how are we spending the money and are money going to the deserving recipients. RM336.8 million is a lot of money. Shouldn't the zakah board release annual statements on how the money is distributed, since it is money of the Muslims? Where is the assurance that this money would not be mismanaged or wasted?
I still have faith in the honest people works in the zakah boards. At the same time, I believe it is time we become more professional in handling the affairs of the Muslims, and that includes becoming more accountable. We cannot simply operate on the basis of trust alone. After all, syaitan never discriminates.
And this is among the many arguments brought forth by Ustaz Dr. Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin (Dr. MAZA) in his book, Islam in Malaysia: Perceptions and Facts.The book is a compilation of Dr. MAZA's writting in his Mingguan Malaysia column, Bicara Mufti, published between 2006 and 2008. I admit it has been years since I last read Mingguan Malaysia, and I had no idea who he was other than how he was often portrayed by the media as the firebrand young mufti from Perlis with a supposedly Wahabbi leaning. At least that's how I perceived him.
That perception caused some reservations on my part when I first picked up this book. There are a lot differing opinions in interpreting the practices of Islam. At best, these 'disagreements' provide flexibility and room for discourse. At worst, we would be seeing rifts and bloodsheds, sometimes over trivial matters.
According to Dr. MAZA, at the root of many of these issues is the Muslims' blind adherence (taklid) to religious teachers and authorities. Many Muslims simply accept everything that they hear from Ustazs even if the thing sound far-fetched or even ludicrous. One example he gave was about how some Ustaz like to repeat the story about some pious walis who prayed 1,000 rakaah of tahajjud a night. Dr. MAZA deconstructed the story by pointing that assuming a rakaah takes about a minute (which is a very short rakaah) and there is only about 600 minutes in a night from 8 PM to 6 AM; going for 1,000 rakaat in night is neither mathematically nor logically (nor even humanly) possible. On the other hand, a hadith narrated by Ummul Mukminin A'isyah RA reported that Rasulullah SAW use to pray not more than 11 rakaah in one night.
Islam actually encourages the use of individual intellect and common sense. Muslims should be encouraged to ask questions by looking at evidences and reasoning, and a religious figure, even someone at the level of a mufti, should not be exempted from scrutiny. This is sadly absent from the Muslim ummah of today. Making things worse are narrow-mindedness and rigidity, qualities that are opposite to the lines of thinking exemplified by our noble scholars in Islam. Imam Al Muzani, a student of Imam Syafie, told that his teacher warned against accepting any of his teachings that contradicts evidence, reasoning or thought.
There so many of hard-hitting points raised by Dr. MAZA that I am just astounded at how his column managed stay in a mainstream (read: pro-government) newspaper for two years or so. His writing was originally collected in Mengemudi Bahtera Perubahan Minda and this book is the English translation of it. The translator, U-En Ng, does a good job in preserving Dr. MAZA's voice along with his wit. I found some words were translated rather literally than technically like zakah (which is not exactly the same as 'alms', as viewed by a few non-Muslim English speakers including my SPM tuition teacher), dakwah (also, not quite the same meaning as 'preaching') and muhasabah. But for most parts I see that Ng made the effort to get Islamic terms defined as accurate as possible. Kudos to both Ng and Matahari Books. I hope is the first of many Islamic books coming from the publisher.
Whether you are a Muslim or not, this book will give you a lot to think about. And especially for Muslims, a lot of work to be done.