SUBANG JAYA: An academic has warned of an extremist strand of Islam that may have an adverse effect on religious harmony in the country, saying it was a byproduct of local teachers who were subjected to a “salafist” interpretation of Islam as promoted in Saudi Arabia.
Professor Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, a political scientist from Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang, said during the mid-90s, such an understanding of Islam had led to an agressive Islamisation process that also transformed national schools in the country.
“What happens to a student who is moulded in a particular mindset that was in our curriculum since the 1990s?
“There are devastating consequences to national schools which is then devastating to society,” Ahmad Fauzi told a discourse about “The Many Shades of Islamism and Islamists in Malaysia”, at the Sunway University here today.
He said the recent controversy involving a school in Cheras which segregated cups for its Muslim and non-Muslim students was an example of the “extremist Islamisation”.
He said Malaysia’s judiciary was also affected by the rise of Salafist Islam, as higher learning institutions with such leanings produce graduates from such a background.
Salafism, or sometimes referred to as Wahhabism, is based on an interpretation of Islamic texts which has inspired several controversial rulings, such as Saudi Arabia’s ban on women from driving.
“There are also judges who grew up with this Salafi-based discourse in universities such as the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM), which explains some of the verdicts that have been passed,” added Ahmad Fauzi.
Ahmad Fauzi said another threat to Malaysia is the rise of an “Arabised” version of Islam, adding the consequences of embracing such an understanding of Islam would be difficult to reverse, citing Nigeria and Sudan as examples.
He said there was no denying the Arab influence on Islam, but said there was a difference between the Arabs who first came to the Malay lands who were tolerant of local cultures.
“Most of the Arab traders who came into the Malay world were sufis,” he said, referring to Islamic mysticism.
“There is also a lot of evidence that they compromised on a lot of things that were part of the culture of these lands,” he said.
He said as Prophet Muhammad was an Arab, there was bound to be Arab practices among other Muslims, such as the practice of breaking the Ramadan fast by eating dates,
The problem, said Ahmad Fauzi, arises when something is imposed on others.
He said Malay Muslims should find ways to embrace their own culture wherever possible.
“It is sunnah (supererogatory), for example, to cover one’s head. But there’s nothing wrong with wearing the songkok instead of a turban,” said Ahmad Fauzi.