THERE are a number of young and exceptionally talented Malaysians who have made their mark in the fields of sports and music.
Yuna, for example, has made her name in the United States, the most developed and competitive music market in the world. Her brand of unique and refreshingly youthful music has also made her popular in Malaysia, where she has topped four categories at the Anugerah Musik Negara.
Malays are also proud of the fact that she wears the tudung, albeit sassily fashionable ones, and it seems many of them are more taken by her attire than her music. I am sure that if she did not cover her hair there would be much less frenzy and adoration for her success among Malays.
She might even be at the receiving end of the kind of criticism that national gymnast Farah Ann Abdul Hadi was showered with recently for wearing costumes that do not cover her aurat.
Farah Ann is an exceptional athletic talent. At the SEA Games in Singapore, which concluded recently, she won a number of medals, including gold in the gymnastics floor exercise. Many Malaysians praised her for winning glory for the country, but there was an equally strong, critical reaction from some Malays over her costumes.
Leotards are the standard outfit for competitive gymnastics. They are tailored not to titillate audiences, but to allow athletes the maximum range of movement so that they can execute their difficult routines.
These routines require years of training and physical conditioning, not to mention thousands of hours of practice. Our national athletes sacrifice time with their friends and family and risk serious injury in their quest to be the best in their fields.
But this was lost on many of those who tuned in to watch Farah Ann’s medal-winning performances: instead of appreciating her technical prowess, physical discipline and grace, all they could see was her outfit and how it “revealed her vagina shape”.
These Malays then turned to social media to vent their criticism. They ridiculed this young woman for not respecting Islam and for failing to comply with what they said were dress codes for Muslim women.
They soured what should have been a day of celebration, choosing instead to hurl their scorn at a young woman who only wished to do well for her country. Does the Quran really prescribe this kind of hateful behaviour?
Fortunately, we have a sensible Youth and Sports Minister. Khairy Jamaluddin rushed to Farah Ann’s defence, telling her critics to mind their own business. In a tweet, he told her detractors that only God the Almighty can judge her.
I have always maintained that these Malays are hypocrites of the highest order. They are always quick to complain and criticise other Muslims for not being Islamic in their dressing or their way of life, as if they were faultless Muslims themselves.
They emulate the Taliban in their intolerance of other Muslims who are not like them. In fact, some of them are useless as human beings because they have achieved nothing compared to the very people they criticise.
This disease springs from our system of religious education, which teaches a brand of faith that is shallow and misinformed.
Many religious preachers are given a free rein to pass judgment on the personal conduct of Muslims, simply because they claim to understand religion better than those who listen to them. The bizarre thing is how freely these preachers pass judgment on other people when they have achieved nothing that the country can be proud of.
They seldom entertain questions during their lectures, and if you ask them any that they cannot answer then they get very angry.
These religious classes or lectures are always one-sided because no discourse or dialogue is permitted. Ardent students then grow up and follow in these preachers’ footsteps, criticising others who come along even though they know little about the world, much less about the religion. And so the cycle continues.
With such a closed attitude to learning and faith, is it any wonder that there are attacks like the one Farah Ann suffered in the last week? This kind of criticism also reflects the deeply sexist bias against women in our society. It is high time we had women muftis in Malaysia to help combat this ingrained misogyny in our culture.
When I was in school in Kota Baru, we had a religious teacher who was an exception to the rule. His tawhid class was one I enjoyed very much. (Tawhid seeks to understand Allah and His attributes.)
Our teacher always reminded us that in the Quran, Allah’s qualities included being compassionate, merciful and all-knowing. He told us that Allah knew everything.
Now that the fasting month is upon us again, it reminds me of the time when the ustaztold us that one of the reasons why Allah wanted us to fast was to test our resolve, discipline and our loyalty to His command.
I countered by saying that this could not be correct; since Allah is all-knowing, He would know the outcome long before the test even took place, rendering it pointless.
Instead of scolding me, our ustaz asked me to explain why I thought we needed to fast. I said that as Muslims, we had to follow God’s teachings and commands – that was all there was to it. We had to have faith, which means we must believe without any justification or reason. We should not second-guess why He has asked something from us.
I could not say if my teacher was happy with my reply, but I will always remember him for allowing me the satisfaction of seeing that religious belief can be grounded by our own thinking, and not by blindly following what others tell us to do.
The ultimate question must always be this: what does Allah want us to do on this earth? He wants Farah Ann to be a gymnast and to win gold medals for her country. Naturally, Farah has to wear a suitable costume that would allow her to optimise her chances.
Farah won because Allah willed it so; otherwise she would not have bagged that gold medal. Allah’s grace was instrumental in her win.
Why did these busybody Muslims take offence at Farah wearing the leotard? Who gave them the right to criticise her winning the gold medal when Allah had willed it so? Why do these same Muslims stay silent when our soccer players wear shorts, which also fail to cover their aurat? Why not pelt them with stones?
They truly are hypocrites of the highest order but we should have pity on them. We are the ones who produced them in large numbers, thanks to the poor quality of religious education we give to young Muslims in this country.
Zaid Ibrahim The STAR Home News Opinion Columnist All Kinds of Everything 19 June 2015