Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Turban in Islam Redux

From my discussions with a few readers and responses that I have received (in this forum and elsewhere), it is apparent to me that many of you fail to get the bigger picture of what I try to convey in my previous article. Perhaps I should have not beat around the bush and just cut to the chase.

Like I have specifically mentioned in the first installment, there is no denying that wearing turban is part of the Sunnah. What is called into question is its significance in comparison to other more important aspects of Islam that are often neglected. The collection of Sahih Ahadith does contain a number of accounts describing how Muhammad (P.B.U.H) did wear turban regularly, but that is about it.

Unfortunately, we often forget that Islam also promotes many other things, things that are much bigger than turbans, beard, robes and endless tahlils.

Islam teaches us to treat our neighbors well, help the poor and needy and befriend people of all races and religions. It teaches us to be good drivers and give way to pedestrians, not to drive like maniacs beating traffic lights and cutting queues. It preaches about the importance of being a perpetual student constantly on the look out for a plethora of knowledge in science, philosophy, psychology, mathematics and politics. It encourages us to study Allah's real miracles, miracles that are found in the sublime "design" of nature, not in a piece of wood with Allah's name "magically" carved in it. It also reminds all Muslims, Shiites or Sunnis, turban-wearing or jeans-donning alike, to always be united against all odds, not to be divisive and argue over petty issues and small differences.

Despite all this, what most of us tend to focus on is the externals, the mere appearance of Islam, the one eye of Dajjal. The underlying substance is disregarded, cast aside as if it is shallow and unimportant.

We often tell our children to recite the Quran, but we seldom ask them to study what it means. We always tell our kids to perform daily prayers, but we never expect them to know their significance. We never forget to make sure that our children never miss a single day of fasting in Ramadhan, but we seldom invite them to ponder about the science and rationale behind fasting. We talk to our children about good and evil, but we never remind them that ghosts and goblins are pure superstitions. We tell our children the do's and dont's in Islam, but we never entice them to study why Allah has put them in place. We teach a lot of things about Islam to our children, but we always forget to make them thought provoking and interesting enough so that they will be enticed into learning more about it.

In essence, we teach our children to follow and listen, not to think and question.

Some of you may think that I am not qualified enough to talk about Islam, considering the fact that I do not have a college degree in Islamic Studies and the like. But I do know one thing, and that is I do not even need a PhD to figure out that the Muslim world is in a very deep and serious crisis. From Malaysia to Lebanon, Palestine and the Americas, Muslims all over the world are being slaughtered and massacred by rocket launchers and Apaches, while the more fortunate ones harassed and assaulted on the streets. Islamic values are being trampled and morality nullified. Islamic countries are among the poorest in the world, with their people starving to death and struggling with a multitude of diseases like AIDS and ebola. Muslim economies are at the mercy of the Western economic powerhouses, where a tiny increase in the oil prices or currencies will trigger monumental effects on our foreign reserves and consumer price index.

All these are beleaguring us and yet we are absolutely powerless and helpless to do anything. The most that we can do is convene an emergency OIC meeting to pass a resolution to condemn Israel's continuing atrocities in Lebanon and beyond.

All these are beleaguring us and yet we still argue about petty things that only serve to divide us further into deterioration. Instead, we should start asking ourselves what is actually wrong with Muslims nowadays?

Take for example the Lina Joy apostasy case. In a show of solidarity and unity, tens of thousands of Muslims gathered in Masjid Wilayah to urge the judiciary and government to rule against Lina Joy with the future of Islam and the Syariah Court at stake. Instead of crying foul and citing countless international conspiracies, why not ask ourselves why Lina Joy and 100,000 other Muslims are leaving Islam in droves? What exactly is the root cause of this worrying trend? Is it the education system or the negative image portrayed by Muslims in general? Have we gotten our Islamic fundamentals all wrong? If the Federal Court rules against Lina Joy, what are the real implications? Sure, such ruling will defend the sanctity and relevance of Islamic law in our country, but it will do very little to convince Lina Joy and her 100,000 compatriots to return to Islam and recover their faith in the religion.

We should begin taking a more proactive approach to such problem instead of being reactive when it is all too little too late. We should also start to recognize the humongous elephant sitting in front of our eyes, instead of zooming in on a microscopic ant across the Pacific.

These are the questions of utmost importance that we Muslims should ask ourselves, not whether Nordiana is dating someone else in the aftermath of her break up with Mawi, or how frustrated our boss is upon hearing that Siti Nurhaliza is getting married to a datuk.

I have said it before, and I will say it again. Islam is a religion of reason that encourages science and technology. There are hundreds of verses in the Quran that invite us to think and reason, not about wearing turbans and robes. With all due respect to Muhammad (P.B.U.H) and the rest of the turban-wearing Muslims, all the turbans in the world will not help us defend against Israel and its allies when they finally take over the world and lead us into oblivion. Only in a solid understanding in original Islam, a wealth of knowledge and wisdom and an army of quality Muslims will we find solace in the current disarray. We are at war, so let us start anew.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Turban in Islam

Please refer to the following news article:

Islam is not about turban and beard

From my research, discussions and debates with people of various backgrounds, I agree with many of you in that the real issue in this controversial case is whether the right of individuals to wear headgear is at stake. On top of that, the question of whether this type of lawsuit falls under the jurisdiction of the Federal Court is also one of the major talking points.

However, I am not really interested in the aforementioned issues nor the political or legal ramifications surrounding them, which in my opinion only serve as a moot point. What I am more interested in is whether wearing turban is an Islamic practice in the first place.

Before I begin, it is important to note that my intention is not to question or lambaste the age-old Islamic practices and belief. Rather I am honestly trying to engage ourselves in a healthy intellectual discourse that has nothing to do with politics. That said, I invite you to make corrections on any erroneous or inaccurate claims that I am about to make. I am here to learn, and I strongly believe that many of you readers are wise men who possess a wealth of invaluable knowledge to offer.

If we study the "science" and history behind turban beyond what most of us already know, it seems obvious that wearing turban is far from being exclusively Islamic, let alone Arab. People of diverse cultures, particularly in the Middle East, Africa, Central and South Asia all regard turbans as part of their custom. Conventional wisdom suggests that the reasons for wearing turban vary greatly. Many Africans wear it to keep desert sand out of their faces and the more nomadic members of African tribes use turbans to disguise themselves from their enemies. Indian gentlemen wear turbans as a symbol of their wealth, caste and profession, while Turks also don them for similar reasons. If Sikh men wear turbans for purely religious purposes, Arab, Afghan and Persian gentlemen use them for a mixture of religious, cultural and geographical reasons.

If historical, sociological and anthropological knowledge were any indication, wearing turban can safely be ruled out as an Islamic practice. However, we have so far overlooked the Quran and Hadith in determining whether it is indeed Islamic. While the Quran makes absolutely no mention about turbans, the authentic Ahadith (Sahih Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud and Malik) hardly indicate any significance that turban has in Islam beyond the fact that Muslims are not allowed to wear it while in the state of Ihram. Unfortunately, what we often hear and choose to believe is a collection of weak Ahadith glorifying turbans and quoted as if they were authentic.

While there is no question about whether wearing turban is part of the Sunnah, the real issue remains whether it holds special significance in Islam. Even though it is true that some parts of the Sunnah are more significant than others, wearing turban does not appear to me as being one of them. Some of you may hate me for saying this, but I personally agree with the judge for commenting that not everything that Muhammad did has to be followed. The Prophet did countless things during the course of his life, and it is simply impossible for us to emulate each and every one of them, especially since we live in a totally different era that renders many of his deeds impractical.

In my humble opinion, excessive obsession with and blindly emulating Muhammad border on idolatry, which is a grave sin in Islam. I see Muhammad as my reference, not an idol. The sole object of my devotion is Allah, while Muhammad was merely one of His many messengers. Muslims often forget that Muhammad did not establish Islam, he merely completed it. Therefore it is no surprise that many Muslims all over the world were united in blind rage when the infamous caricatures of Muhammad were made public recently, while writings and other forms of mockery on Abraham, David, Solomon and Jesus were utterly disregarded.

What appeared initially as a mere question of religious attire leads to a bigger and more important question: have we been looking at the mere appearance of Islam while neglecting its underlying form? Many modern Muslims scholars believe that Dajjal or the Antichrist is an allegory (not a creature or some scary monster as Muslims widely believe) which is essentially an embodiment of evil and ignorance prevalent during the End of Days. In many versions of the Ahadith, the Antichrist is described as being one-eyed, which is a metaphor for mankind's obsession with physical appearances (materialism) while neglecting the underlying form (substance).

There is plenty of evidence to support the above prophecy, and we really do not need to look that far and deep in order to verify it. Mankind in general makes the pursuit of materialism its ultimate goal above morality and kindness. More and more Muslims are placing greater importance on physical appearance and false religious rituals above Aqidah, Tawhid and Akhlaq. We perform all obligatory religious rituals that are expected of us without understanding what they entail. As if we have not learned from the fallacy that confuses the Arab culture with Islam, Malays equate conversion to Islam with being Malay or "masuk Melayu". On each Friday (which is Islam's holiest day, not Malay's), male and female Muslims don baju melayu and baju kurung thinking that they have something to do with Islam. When we need to perform daily prayers, the elders tell us to put on kain pelikat as if wearing a clean and sterile pair of Dockers long pants does not quite cut it. And when we do not wear songkok to prayers, some imams call us fasiq.

To make matters worse, when a group of enlightened and educated Muslims (Salafis, Qutbi and Wahhabis) attempt to abolish many false practices (bid'a) that have become synonymous with Islam, we call them deviant and kafir just because they are trying to purify and restore original Islam.

Perhaps it would be fitting for me to sum up my whole point with a personal tale. I personally know a few Muslim fellows (Americans, Malaysians, Sudanese, etc) who are considered "pious" and never fail to don their favorite headgear. One of them used to tell me once, "Every time before I go drinking and nightclubbing, I will never miss reciting surah Al-Yasin after Isha' prayers."