By Prof Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi
Many Malaysians of different races and faiths have graced my house in Kajang to ask me about the fate of Malaysia and the rising threat of Islamic extremism and conservatism. Most are elderly gentlemen who were from various careers in business, lawyers or education.
They would throng my house and say the same thing," Prof, how come long time ago we mix and socialize with Muslims friends freely and without fear but now the same friends won't come to my house anymore and we see Islam getting more and more difficult for us to live with." I always feel a twinge of sadness that these elderly sixty, seventy or 80-year-olds had trouble sleeping in their old age after a life time of contribution to their beloved country, Malaysia.
And as always, I would spend two hours or so explaining the different narratives of Islam that occurred in front of my eyes in the last five decades. I would then conclude finally that there is a narrative version that has the spirit of the Prophet' Muhammad's teachings and that there are other narratives that were clearly not from him.
Take the recent two examples of two Malay Muslim leaders in Malaysia. The first is a Police Chief of Petaling Jaya by the name of Nik Ezanee Mohd Faisal who went out of his way to help a poor housewife who was caught shoplifting food and medication for children.
Whenever I read news of this kind I would always feel like rushing to the courthouse and paying whatever fine and help the needy person in which the 'rich' government of the day would not. The Police Chief had the compassion of Islam to read the report and reinterpret the 'crime' in a spiritual manner rather than in the literal legal way.
He had visited the poor family of five and even brought groceries and medicine for the children. His words rang as a Muslim of the highest moral values when he says that though shoplifting is a crime but there is even a bigger crime of ignoring the plight of sick and hungry children in need.
Now contrast this with the notorious Menteri Besar of Kedah who firstly became famous when he ordered the destruction of a Hindu Shrine in that state because it violated the planning regulations. When uproar over his actions came from two Indian leaders in the DAP and MIC, the same Menteri Besar accused Indians as prone to 'mabuk todi' or being drunkards of cheap alcohol.
Not to be outdone, he later threatened Penang with water stoppage from the rivers in Kedah. In a newest blunder, the Chief Minister of Kedah, Mr. Sanussi, declared Thaipusam as no more a public holiday. Why? Because all rituals like kavadi carrying was disallowed.
This chief Minister is not only a Muslim but comes from an 'Islamic' party called PAS. The leaders of his party never found anything wrong with his biadab behavior in any of the cases. Unlike the Police Chief who took time and effort to understand the underlying issues of the shoplifting crime and went out of his way to render his help, the Chief Minister of Kedah couldn't care less about Hindus worshiping the shrine or innocent women and children being out of water.
Now let us contrast and compare the two Muslim leaders with an example of compassionate and true leadership in Islam as shown by the character and values of Amir-al-Mukminun (Commander of the Faithful) the Second Caliph of Islam, Umar-al-Khattab.
In one story I read, a Bedouin arrived in Medinah in the dead of night accompanied by his wife who was in labor pains. As he did not know anybody who can help him find a midwife, he was desperate for help. Suddenly he saw two men walking in the dead of night and went immediately to ask for help. The taller man listened to his request for help and acted fast by asking him to follow him to his house.
When he reached his house the tall man asked his wife to follow the Bedouin to his tent to help deliver a baby. After waiting outside the tent for several hours, the midwife came out smiling to the tall man and said, Ya Amirul-mukminin, congratulate your friend for he has a son!"
The Bedouin was shocked to hear that the tall man was none other than the Caliph Umar-al-Khattab, leader of the vast and powerful Islamic empire. The Caliph just smiled at him and bade him to see him tomorrow at his work place so that he can arrange some help for his stay in Medinah.
I would also like to narrate another story about Umar. As a leader, Umar was never one to sit at his office but prefers to walk incognito at night to gauge the needs of the people himself because he took his responsibility as a leader very seriously.
When he and his assistant came upon a house with children crying loudly he inquired and found a woman stirring a pot containing nothing but stone and water. When he asked why she was cooking stones, the woman answered that there was nothing to eat and it was a ruse to lull the children to sleep in hunger.
The Caliph was so ashamed that he rushed back to the Treasury House or Bait-al-Mal and took several sacks of wheat and flour and placed them all on his back to carry to the hungry family. When the Caliph's assistant begged to let him carry the sacks Umar looked at him and said quietly, "O Brother, will you carry my sins in the hereafter?"
For Umar, as a leader he feared punishment in the Day of Judgment for failing the hungry family. In the end, the Caliph of the Islamic Empire carried the sacks of wheat and flour to the woman and he played with the children until they slept with food in their stomachs and it was only then that he returned home.
Thus, the message here is that there are two kinds of Muslim leadership in this country. One is a leadership of compassion, diplomacy and kindness while the other is a leadership of arrogance, bigotry and pure stupidity.
It is important for Malaysians to recognize the difference for the fate of this country lies with one that would bring harmony, prosperity and enlightenment while the other would bring total and complete destruction of the concept of a rich and peaceful multi-cultural and multi-faith nation.
(Professor Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor at a local university.)