June 28, 2017

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by Kok Wei Liang

I AM breathless with anticipation over my upcoming lunch with Dr Fatris Bakaram, the Mufti of Singapore. This is the first time I am interviewing a religious leader for the hate-reading pleasure of an entire nation, so naturally, I am a little nervous.

Today’s interview takes place in the shadow of the Sultan Mosque, which is a place where Muslims go. We are meeting at the Landmark, a restaurant which serves halal food – food that Muslims eat.

It is just past 1pm and I’m suddenly aware of a change in the sound. Ah, I realize, this is the azan, the call to prayer, a sound that Muslims make.

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Dr Fatris arrives. He is wearing clothes that Muslims wear. Accompanying him today is Mr Zainul Abidin Ibrahim, the director of strategic engagement at Muis (Singapore’s Islamic Religious Council).

Mr Zainul does not say a single word during the entire interview. At first, I think his silence is strategic engagement, but after a while I suspect he is purely here because word got around that the Sunday Times is paying for lunches.

I decide not to tell either of them that Ong Ye Kung blew $114.17, or that Michael Kors splurged more on beverages than what we’ll be spending on lunch today. After all, Lunch with Sumiko is still Lunch with Sumiko, even if it’s under $100.

As Mufti of Singapore, Dr Fatris has many duties, but the one I’m most interested in is how he chairs the committee that issues fatwas.

“Fatwas are Islamic legal rulings, yes?”

“Yes.”

“And they can be rendered against enemies of Islam?”

“Fatwas are not, by definition, a pronouncement of death or a declaration of war.”

“Enemies, like, say… Kok Wei Liang?”

“I don’t know who that is, Ms Tan.”

“He’s a pig. You should fatwa him.”

After a round of delicious appetizers declined by Dr Fatris due to his gout but silently inhaled by Mr Zainul, the waiter brings us a spread from the buffet: delectable sambal chicken, mouth-watering fish in curry, toothsome prawn masala, and seductive chilli crab, served with fragrant rice, and naan that I would happily sell my journalistic cred for.

I ask Dr Fatris if he has any thoughts about Singapore’s upcoming Presidential elections being restricted only to Malay candidates.

“That’s a very loaded question,” he observes.

“Oh, don’t worry, I’m also the Executive Editor of the Sunday Times,” I reply. “I’ll just edit your answer out.”

“In fact, I’ll even edit my question out of the interview! No one will ever know about the time I asked one of my subjects a thought-provoking question which required an answer one couldn’t already find on the Internet. Canned responses are what our readers really want! Shall we talk about the terror group, Islamic State?”

“I condemn them.”

“I would never have guessed!”

It is time to shoot our video, and Dr Fatris decides to talk about how his father, who died in 1995, was a major influence in his life.

“So your father was also a religious teacher, like yourself?”

“Yes.”

I motion to the camera guy to focus on me, and speak directly to the viewer. “You hear that, Mothership? New Nation? Rice Media? Mr. Brown?! You gonna make fun of a religious leader remembering his dead father, who was also a religious teacher, huh? You wanna come for me this time, assholes?! Cash me ousside, howbow dah!”

Our lunch has now taken us to 3pm. We decline dessert, but get tea. Talk turns to how he writes poetry in his spare time, to relax. One particular poem is about his hopes and dreams for his four children.

“I’m not going to read that,” I demur, “and I think you should stick to your day job of being the Mufti, but would you care to tell our readers what this poem is about?”

“Well,” he pauses. “It’s about how I hope that one day, one of them might grow up to be President.”

And as long as he has no plans for them to be Prime Minister, I am sure the silent majority of Singaporeans will support him.

 

Kok Wei Liang does not want you to know anything about him, because he likes anonymity when he does standup and slam poetry.

Read his other pieces from the #SumiKok series:

  1. The bee hoon be $25
  2. $28 club sandwiches? Of Kors!
  3. The pass code is 4826
  4. Eat drink woman $30
  5. May Schooling be ever in your favour!
  6. Fifty shades of fine art appreciation

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

by Suhaile Md

YOU’D think that with all the anti-Islam prejudice us Muslims chafe against, we would be better at recognising and weeding out the bigotry in our own backyard. Apparently not.

Last Monday’s (May 1) Yahoo article on the minority Ahmadiyyah community in Singapore drew a flurry of Facebook comments. This particular one bothered me:

Yes, Ahmadis consider themselves Muslim even though mainstream Muslims don’t, given the fundamental differences in some beliefs. Even so, neither threats nor anger are justified responses. I was hoping this blatant bigotry was a one-off incident but sadly that doesn’t seem to be the case.

The Muslim community is not a homogenous one. Just like how Christianity has a multitude of denominations, Muslims are diverse, with many sects and groups approaching the faith in different ways. Broadly speaking, there are two mainstream Muslim sects: Shi’ism and Sunnism.

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Earlier this year, Minister for Muslim Affairs Dr Yaacob Ibrahim spoke about the need for Muslims to embrace diversity in an interview with Malay-language newspaper Berita Minggu (BM). He specified the need for the majority Sunnis to respect the minority Shias (also known as Shi’ites), reported ST which had referred to the BM interview.

Said Dr Yaacob: “They pay MBMF (Mosque Building and Mendaki Fund). They come to our mosques. They pray together with us. They celebrate the same Hari Raya. So why are we not treating them as fellow Muslims but different?”

So why are we not treating them as fellow Muslims but different?

There are no firm numbers in Singapore, but a 2009 Pew report estimated less than 1 per cent of Muslims here are Shia. Over 457,000 Muslims reside here according to the G’s 2010 population census. Globally, up to 13 per cent are Shia.

There was no Shia-Sunni divide during Prophet Muhammad’s time. The split happened a few decades after his death over competing views on who should lead the Muslims. The political struggle evolved into a religious split as different interpretations emerged from different sources of authority, resulting in some differences in practices and theological views on certain issues.

There are many sub-sects within Sunnism and Sh’ism. A minority of Shias in Singapore are from the Dawoodi Bohra sub-sect. They tend to be Indian Muslims and they pray at Masjid Al-Burhani in City Hall, the only Shia mosque in Singapore. The majority Malay Muslim Shias tend to be from the Twelver branch.

Like Dr Yaacob said in the interview, Islam is “very diverse”. Nonetheless both Shias and Sunnis share the same fundamental tenets of the faith. In 1988, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) issued a fatwa (ruling) that Shias are Muslim. A MUIS spokesman said that the fatwa remains valid to this day.

Still, “there are some within the [Malay Muslim] community… they hate Shia,” said Mr Yusuf Roslan. The 32-year old radiographer, who became Shia about 10 years ago, once overheard a Madrasah teacher praise the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for killing Shia Muslims. Another time Mr Yusuf’s friend was chased out of a mosque near little India when his turbah was spotted. Unlike Sunnis, some Shias rest their forehead on a clay tablet, or turbah, when prostrating during prayers.

there are some within the [Malay Muslim] community… they hate Shia

Mr Habib Albaity has been involved in various Shia organising committees through the years. The 61-year old taxi driver said that there were times when the application to use mosque facilities for Shia events were unsuccessful. He is sure it had to do with them being Shia Muslims. While they have their own space on the second floor of a shophouse at Guillemard Road, it’s inadequate for larger events. They opened their new, larger, Shia centre yesterday (May 11).

When TMG emailed MUIS to ask if Shia Muslims can hold events at mosques, whether said events can be publicised on mosque property, and the possible reasons why they might be denied the use of mosque facilities, a spokesman only had this to say: “A mosque is an open, shared space for all Muslims regardless of orientation, to use for worship, learning and service. All Muslims are free to attend congregational worship together.”

It’s a curious response. Surely, a simple yes you can hold Shia events at mosques but like everyone else successful applications depend on availability, would have sufficed? There was no response to the question on publicity.

But the challenges are not from the Islamic authorities, said Mr Habib. It’s from the ground. People don’t understand Shi’ism and “give bad remarks as if we are not Muslims but very bad people”.

Since her school days, for example, 28-year old Ms Sakinah Abdul Aziz said she has heard offensive comments like “Shia are Kafirs (disbelievers)… oh they are orang sesat (deviant)”.

These are not benign stereotypes.

These are not benign stereotypes. In October 2015, a video of Shia Muslims singing and slapping their chest – a well-known practise – was uploaded on Youtube. There was public backlash significant enough that the owners of the private space near Bedok North, which they had rented, advised them not to apply the following year, said Mr Muhammad Al-Baqir. The 32-year old who was part of the organising committee added that the owners “have nothing against us… it was just the situation at that time”.

So it’s not too much of a stretch to think that mosque managers would prefer to avoid rocking the boat by disallowing Shia Muslim events to be held.

This discomfort with Shi’ism has taken a nasty turn up north. Shia Muslims face legal persecution by the authorities in Malaysia, said Associate Professor Syed Farid Alatas. But it wasn’t always the case, added the National University of Singapore (NUS) academic who specialises in sociology of religion.

A 1984 fatwa by the Malaysian Islamic authority, JAKIM, made it clear that Shi’ism was acceptable. This was reversed in 1996. Anti-Shia fatwas were issued in various states in subsequent years. This is contrary to the views of leading Islamic scholars, like the Shaykh Al-Azhar and Shaykh Qaradawi, from around the world. Now, Shia Muslims are detained and harassed by Malaysian authorities, their places of worship raided. Hate speech is also allowed to circulate.

“The thing is, Singapore is being influenced by this,” said Dr Farid. And it’s to a “very great” extent, he claimed.

The thing is, Singapore is being influenced by this

I went online to see for myself. A quick search led me to posts and comments on social media and Youtube which demonised Shia Muslims as monkeys, satanic, kafir, sesat, and so on. There’s also a public Facebook group called Melayu Singapura Tolak Syiah (Singapore Malays reject Shi’ism) with over 1,800 members.

It’s not just online. A trip to some Muslim bookstores along North Bridge Road and Geylang Serai revealed some questionable material on Shi’ism – mostly from Malaysia – like this book for example:

Self-flagellation as shown on the cover was outlawed decades back by the highest Shia Muslim religious authorities, said Mr Habib. The blurb describes the book’s contents as a “clear” outline of the “ideological background, and threats posed by Shi’ism against the true Islam… a warning against falling prey to the calls of the Shi’ites.”

There are legitimate doctrinal differences to discuss but “usually these anti-Shia books present a caricature and attack that caricature… it’s substandard scholarship,” said Dr Farid. Traditionally in the Malay- Muslim world, he said, the majority “Sunnis are not anti-Shia” to the extent it is now. There are many reasons for this shift.

One reason is “the rise of more extremist Ulama (religious scholars) influenced by Salafism” which in turn is “partly related to the greater influence of Saudi Arabia in Malaysian affairs”, he said. Salafist anti-Shia propaganda from Saudi Arabia spread in response to the Iranian revolution in 1979 which saw a secular government replaced by a Shi’ite-oriented leadership.

While there is extremism in many branches of Islam, including Shi’ism, Dr Farid believes “Salafism is the most dominant form of extremism in the Muslim world today”. He stressed however that “the vast majority of Salafis do not condone physical violence and are in fact against terrorism”. He meant extremist “in the sense that” it is too “exclusivist” and “legalistic” to the extent that even Sunni branches of Islam like Sufism are also considered deviant and dangerous. That said, Salafists are Muslims and he is “not a fan of banning” them.

Exclusivism, or the idea that there is only one narrow interpretation of Islam, is at the heart of the discomfort with Shias. This poster from 2015 for example advertised a seminar on the creed of the Sunnis and the “dangers of Shi’ism”:

Seminar on the creed of the Sunnis and the dangers of Shi’ism to be held on the Deepavali holiday.

It’s not clear if the seminar went ahead or whether anyone had complained to the authorities.

It’s more difficult to hold such seminars now. Since Jan 1 this year, all religious teachers must register under the Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS) to ensure what is taught takes Singapore’s context into account.

According to the Code of Ethics which must be followed, an Islamic teacher “must recognise that there are diverse opinions and schools of thought in Islam and may choose to adopt and teach any of these” so long as it does not cause public disorder. Also teachers cannot claim any practice of Islam is “deviant or unacceptable” unless the “Fatwa Committee has pronounced it to be so in a ruling”.

This is good methinks but more can be done. Given what is found in some bookstores, on social media, and the personal accounts by Shia Muslim Singaporeans, it’s clear that anti-Shia sentiments in Singapore are not insignificant. While such sentiments cannot be banned out of existence, stereotypes that fuel bigotry need to be engaged directly by religious and community leaders of all stripes together along with the community.

MUIS’ azatizah code of ethics recognises that there are “diverse opinions and schools of thought” in Islam. Maybe MUIS can consider having exhibitions and seminars presenting the diversity of Islamic thought at the various mosques – a grassroots education programme. Intra-faith dialogues at mosques would also be a good start.

Recognise that there are diverse opinions and schools of thought in Islam

There is a view that addressing differences in plain view – even if not sensationalised like the Imam video case – will blow the issue out of proportion riling people up unnecessarily. I think this misses the heart of the problem.

The point of the ARS is to ensure Islamic teaching is contextualised to our own society. But foreign celebrity preachers have the largest social media presence. Who vets them? Some like Zakir Naik are controversial and are banned from speaking here.

Yet through videos and social media posts, the ideas flow unchallenged, freely, online, publicly. Closed door engagement will never come close to the reach of viral videos. We risk having only one narrow interpretation of Islam dominating, that too a foreign one. Islam’s diversity in Singapore should be actively defended.

So public engagement should supplement closed door sessions. No doubt some will see engagement as a direct challenge and get upset. But it’s cowardly and wrong to stand by quietly while bigotry festers. Let’s take a stand, please.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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Image by Suhaile Md.

by Suhaile Md

“MUSLIM-owned”.

I had seen the signs outside some eateries before, but never really gave much thought to it. Not until a friend asked me in passing if it was the same thing as halal. My first instinct was to say yes, but I stopped myself: If it was the same, then why not display halal instead of Muslim-owned?

Simply put, halal refers to the permissible. The converse is haram, or what’s not allowed. So halal and haram apply to more than just food restrictions. For Muslims, it’s haram to cheat and be wasteful while it’s halal to earn an honest living and spend prudently. That’s not much different to the code of conduct that most people – regardless of religion – subscribe to, is it?

But of course, differences stick out and dietary requirements are the most visible part of how Muslims live by what’s halal and haram. In general though, except for meat and alcohol, most naturally produced food and drink are halal. Vegetables, fruits, seafood, eggs, milk are all halal, regardless of who prepares it. Assuming of course, that hygiene is not in question.

Meat can only be halal, if the animal it comes from has been slaughtered in the name of Allah (God). Throughout their life until slaughter, the animals in question should not be treated with undue stress. They are to be kept in a clean environment and torturous living conditions are out of the question. Pork and its derivatives are forbidden for Muslims.

It gets a little complicated with processed food. Cakes and jelly for example may contain gelatine, a substance derived from animals. If the gelatine is not from a halal source, it renders the cake or jelly haram.

Again, the default status is usually halal unless there’s reason to believe it’s not. Getting my morning coffee from the Hindu uncle at the coffeeshop? No problem. Vegetables and fish from the Buddhist aunty at the market? Sure. The non-Muslim operated bakery near my place has grade “A” hygiene standards according to the National Environment Agency. The bakers also claim “no pork, no lard” derivatives in its products. Do I trust them? I don’t have a reason not to. I’ve been eating there for years. Well, minus the chicken ham sandwich. I’ve never bothered to ask if their meat was halal as I’m not particularly fond of ham.

Not all Muslims would be comfortable with eating at my local bakery though. A friend of mine for instance argues that a Muslim baker, presumably Allah-fearing, would take more care to ensure there is really no haram derivative in all ingredients and food chemicals used. Would a non-Muslim feel the same sense of obligation? So if the non-Muslim baker really wants to cater to Muslims, he should get the halal certification by Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis).

But I think this argument could be extended to the Muslim baker too. A Muslim baker catering to Muslims, if truly Allah-fearing, will strive for the highest recognised standards of the land – a halal certificate from MUIS. No? Judging intentions and gauging conviction is always a slippery affair.

Added cost of certification

When asked if Halal certification is compulsory, a Muis spokesman said that it’s voluntary for all businesses. “The Muis Halal Certification provides an assurance that the food has been prepared according to a prescribed set of standards,” said the spokesman. She added that if Muslim owners choose not to apply for certification, “they may wish to exercise religious responsibility in ensuring the food and drinks served are halal”. Ultimately, “in the absence of such certification, the consumer will have to judge for himself whether he is confident the owner of the business has prepared it such that it is halal”, the spokesman said.

The cost of halal certification (valid for a year) for food establishments, including training staff on halal requirements, range from $950 to over $1,600 depending on the size and type (hawker, bakery or restaurant) of eatery. This certifies that the ingredients they source, the preparation methods and kitchen are all halal. The halal scheme and rules of certification change for caterers and central kitchens though, you can see the overview here. And the certificate is only applicable to one outlet. That is, if you wish to open another outlet, you need to get another certificate.

For businesses, cost is always a factor, said Ms Nur Diannah owner of bakery Delish Treats, located at East Village mall. The 27-year old Muslim said that with her small profit margins, every dollar counts. To “fork out more money” needs to be carefully considered, she added. She said she will definitely consider the Muis certificate if business goes well and more outlets are added. For now though, she uses the cheaper 100% Muslim Owned Establishment (MOE) tag issued by the Singapore Malay Chamber Of Commerce & Industry (SMCCI) to inspire confidence in her customers that while not halal certified, the owner is Muslim and hence more likely to adhere to halal standards.

 

 

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Image by Suhaile Md.

The SMCCI initiative was introduced in 2013 and was updated late last year, said a spokesman. It costs $300 including a mandatory three hour workshop that covers basic concepts of halal food preparation and how to source for halal ingredients. To qualify for this scheme, owners have to be Muslim and no alcohol can be served. Valid for a year, subsequent renewals cost $90. There are currently over 60 establishments on the scheme.

Religious differentiation gone too far?

It seems a little off to me though: Imagine if the other religious groups started posting 100% Christian owned or 100% Hindu owned establishment stickers? Would that increase tensions, entrenching division?

Maybe I am over-thinking. This initiative after all is commercially driven, not a result of cultural tribalism. An SMCCI spokesperson said that this scheme would allow businesses “who would like to cater Halal-friendly food to their Muslim consumers” to give their customers some form of assurance.

Halal-friendly, but not a halal certificate per se? The Administration of Muslim Laws Act states that halal certification must be approved by Muis. Quite a fine balance for SMCCI, it seems to me. But it provides a cheaper alternative to the Muis certificate for cash-strapped businesses. 

Delish Treats was not the only muslim-owned outlet at East Village mall that used the SMCCI tag though. Other eateries like Watsub and Fineline Bistro, had its own “100% Muslim-Owned” poster. Mr Muhammad Hiran, owner of Fineline Bistro, is in the process of getting a halal certificate. In the meantime, he says customers have more confidence when they see “Muslim-owned”. He used to sell satay at a hawker centre in Bukit Panjang but did not need such signs back then. He reckons it’s because now on top of satay, he sells western dishes, which traditionally is not associated with Muslim cuisine here. When asked why not just write “halal” instead of Muslim-owned? “Halal is deemed fake [by customers] or misleading if not from Muis,” he said.

Image by Suhaile Md.Image by Suhaile Md.

Somehow the words “Muslim-owned” is more authentic than the word “halal”? Or could it be that we are too used to seeing the official halal stamp and hence skeptical when it doesn’t look official?

Yes, this is anecdotal. Yet this is not the only business that deemed it necessary – or at least helpful- for a business to state it’s Muslim-owned. The SMCCI scheme did not just come out of thin air.

It’s too early to tell if it’s a trend. But I wonder if this indicates a lack of self confidence in religious knowledge. If you know the requirements of halal, sans certificate, the difference between “halal” and “Muslim-owned” should not matter. In fact, if a Muslim owner says his shop is halal, I would have more confidence in him – saying Muslim-owned just sounds like hedging to me.

This insecurity may lead to an over-reliance on authority. Up north, there have been cases where people ask for halal… toilet bowls. In a Straits Times report in June this year, a director at Malaysia’s Islamic Development Department (Jakim), Mr Sirajuddin Suhaimee said: “People ask for a halal toilet bowl because it comes into contact with humans. Same for plastic bags and packaging that have contact with food.” Should it not be common sense that faecal stained toilet bowls are equally unclean (hence haram) whether it plops from a pious imam or otherwise? Why is there a need to ask the authorities for halal toilet bowls?

Thankfully, Singapore is far from that stage. But it does give me pause and makes me wonder if progressively over relying on Muis certification would end up with Muslims surrendering their common sense and religious discretion to authority in the long run. And extremism, by the way, flourishes by preying on such ignorance.

That is not to say the certification processes have no place – of course they do. Technical expertise is required, interpreting and applying the Islamic laws on permissibility require specialists. It’s not the job of the lay Muslim to know the supply chain and the minutiae of ingredients that go into processed foods like jelly. Basically, there has to be a balance between the use of personal discretion and reliance on authority.

So Muslim-owned and halal, are they the same? What do you think?

 

Featured image and images by Suhaile Md. 

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Mufti Menk

by Suhaile Md

ALL 5,000 seats for the Amazed by the Quran conference at the Star Performing Arts Centre were sold out a month in advance but audience received a disappointing email the night before the event on Nov 28. Popular Muslim cleric Mufti Ismail Menk, one of four speakers, will miss the event due to “unforeseen circumstances”, said organiser Pristine ILM. The news itself was non-controversial until claims surfaced online that Mufti Menk was banned from speaking in Singapore.

Turns out Mufti Menk, head of the fatwa department of The Council of Islamic Scholars of Zimbabwe, is not banned from speaking in Singapore. “We’d like to clarify that Mufti Menk was never banned from Singapore. People are getting excited based on dirty comments made online by individuals who claim to have been the reason why Mufti Menk was supposedly banned from public speaking,” said the non-profit organisation in a statement posted online.

Rather, he could not speak at that particular conference as his miscellaneous work pass was not approved. The miscellaneous work pass is required for any speaker who intends to talk about matters such as religion, race and politics.

It is not clear why Mufti Menk’s pass, submitted by the organisers, did not get approval. Last night, all the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) would say when contacted was this:

“A foreigner who wishes to address a seminar in Singapore that is related to religion, race or politics, is required to obtain a Miscellaneous Work Pass (MWP). MOM consults relevant agencies in its assessments of MWP applications, such as MHA, and in instances of Muslim speakers, Muis. Each application is considered based on its own merits. The granting of a work pass is a privilege accorded to a foreigner, and not an entitlement.”

Which is rather puzzling since he had been visiting Singapore to give talks since 2012, including at events held by Muis, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore. Was it a case of his “papers” not being in order or the organiser, a non-profit organisation, slipping up on an administrative detail? Or was it the result of lobbying by some Muslims, as claimed on the Facebook page, A Muslim convert once more? The complaints, made to G agencies, revolved around Mufti Menk’s supposed adherence to a specific strain of Islamic ideology believed to be linked to extremist groups like ISIS: Wahhabism. As this surfaced barely two days after Mufti Menk was a no-show, it gained traction within the Muslim community online.

While not extremist per se, Wahhabism has been prone to radicalisation. The original treatise written by Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab in 18th century Arabia had a puritanical view that rejected other forms of Islam. It gained political legitimacy under the patronage of one of the Arab chieftains, Muhammad Ibn Saud. While Ibn Wahhab was careful about takfir, the practice of declaring a fellow Muslim to be an unbeliever (kafir), the descendants of Ibn Saud were more liberal about its use. As the power and territory of the House of Saud grew, Wahhabism spread further. The members of the House of Saud now number in the thousands and they are currently the ruling family of modern Saudi Arabia. Wahhabism is their ideology of choice.

Globally, Wahhabism took off during the Cold War. Closely allied with the United States, Wahhabism was used as a cultural tool to counter the influence of other middle-eastern powers like Iran. Combined with the petro-dollar boom, charities and madrasahs set up in poor parts of the Muslim world extended its reach. The relative success of Al-Qaeda (itself a Saudi – American creation) in countering Russia, a super power, in Afghanistan further cemented its status. Eventually in 2013, the European Parliament identified Wahhabism as a main source of international extremism. You can read the report here. A rundown of Wahhabi origin and development can be read here 

Mufti Menk is a controversial figure. His strong views on homosexuality led to universities in the UK cancelling his speaking tours there. But his views are overwhelmingly non-political and social media postings comprised mainly snippets of inspirational advice and quotes.

Mufti Menk’s followers from Singapore expressed their support for him on his Facebook page. For instance, Mr Khaleél Qúraysh said that “Mufti Menk is an inspiration to humanity… he spices up my spirituality with his awesome speeches and reminders.” Another Singaporean, Ms Nurrul Arfan, recalled a talk by the cleric at An-Nur mosque in 2013: “You [Mufti Menk] told us about how we must all love one another for the sake of Allah.”

It’s not clear how many people wrote in to the G but TMG spoke to one of them, a Muslim male, who asked that his name not be made public. He had written to the Home Affairs ministry, among others, to ask that the Public Entertainment Licence be denied to organisers because he did not want ordinary Muslims to think that Mufti Menk’s Islamic views were “mainstream, legitimate and orthodox”.

“What we are trying to do here is to emphasis that these ideas, particularly pertaining to issues of ‘aqa’id [Islamic creed], have no legitimacy. People can listen to whatever they want, but it must be impressed upon them that they have a credibility deficit,” he said.

“By having these people here, the ordinary Muslims have the mistaken idea that what they say is mainstream, legitimate and orthodox. No one is denying that Menk has said some good things. But within all that is the 5 per cent where subscription would be considered kufr [disbelief].”

Asked why he did not engage Muis, he said he felt it lacked the “real authority” to do anything.

As for the torrent of online reaction, he said they proved his point that “the body of the Muslims cannot be trusted to address their issues by themselves”.

Perhaps, the G – or Muis – should be clearer about why he was not allowed to speak. Silence lends credence to those who cheer the speaking ban as a victory for their own theological views – and condemnation from those who think it is restricting their right to hear different theological viewpoints. The G, after all, isn’t an arbiter on theology.

Then again, it might just be an administrative snafu on someone’s part – and nothing to do with religion at all.

 

Featured image taken from Mufti Ismail Menk’s Facebook page.

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