Mohamad Asri is an icon for progressive Muslim voices. — Picture by Jeremiah MahadevanBy Shannon Teoh
LAMPETER (Wales), May 2 — Regardless of the state of the monarchy in Malaysia, a society that wants to move forward should shed medieval and feudal traditions, said former Perlis mufti Mohamad Asri Zainul Abidin.
"Citizens should have the right to criticise the Rulers. In Islam, there is no such thing as any person who is above criticism," he told The Malaysian Insider when asked about the issue of derhaka, or betrayal, that has become a point of contention amongst Muslims in the country.
The issue of derhaka came into prominence in February after Sultan Azlan Shah refused to dissolve the Perak assembly upon the request of the then Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin.
The Sultan of Perak later appointed Datuk Seri Zambry Abdul Kadir as mentri besar after installing Barisan Nasional as the state government. Certain quarters, especially BN, have tried to convince the public, especially the Malays, that criticising or disputing the decisions of the Rulers was tantamount to treason.
DAP chairman Karpal Singh, having stated that the Sultan could be sued along with the new BN state government, is now facing a sedition trial.
The maverick Islamic scholar, who has a strong following among young Muslims in Malaysia, said that the idea of being Malay and Muslim should be decoupled and addressed separately.
Speaking at his home in Lampeter, he disagreed with the conventional understanding that Malays have been Islamised but instead that they have "meMelayukan (to influence with Malay) Islam."
Asri, who was mufti for two years before quitting the position to move to Wales last December to research on Islam, was no stranger to controversial statements in his time as mufti. He became an icon for progressive Muslim voices for his stand against the propensity of religious authorities to conduct raids on Muslim couples engaged in khalwat, or close proximity, and has stated that non-Muslims had a right to use the word "Allah".
Asri said that Malays had to stop equating Islam with the Malays.
"If Malays want to defend their rights, go ahead based on Bumiputera rights or whatever. But you cannot say Islam does not defend you because you are Chinese or Indian. Islam was not given just to the Malays.
"Do not in your efforts to defend Malay rights relate it to Islam. Islam was not sent down by God to protect Malays but all of humanity," he explained, saying that such moves in the past had caused non-Malays to be fearful of the religion as it appeared to be intent on removing their culture.
During the interview, Asri expressed his consternation over ideas that have taken root in Malaysia under the guise of Islamic principles.
"Sometimes there are terms which we cannot understand. Daulat (sovereignty) for example. What is the meaning of daulat? Does this mean that if you criticise a Ruler, then you will be cursed by God? This is not in Islam," he said.