by Elizabeth Zachariah
The Malaysian Insider
October 24, 2013
Malaysia will be a better place if politicians “stop politicising religion and academic matters” and leave both issues to the relevant parties to decide, says ex-Perlis mufti Datuk Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin.
“People are confused. If they (politicians) had, from the beginning, followed this principle, then Malaysia will not be in this position,” he told The Malaysian Insider, referring to the chorus of criticism the country has been receiving following the Allah decision.
Last week, a three-man Court of Appeal bench unanimously overturned the 2009 Kuala Lumpur High Court ruling that allowed the Catholic Church to use the word “Allah” in its weekly publication, Herald.
Muslim scholars and clerics worldwide have criticised the ban, pointing out that the word predates Islam and was a word that meant God in Arabic.
Asri, a 42-year-old Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) associate professor and known to supporters as the “voice of reason” and to critics as a “promoter of liberalism”, is one of those who had condemned the ban on Allah for non-Muslims.
He had previously said that as long as the word Allah was used to refer to “the Most Supreme Being”, the non-Muslims could use the word.
“So actually it is a non-issue. Muslims believe in one God. So how can we say your God is different from mine?” he had said before.
In an interview with The Malaysian Insider recently, Asri said it is ridiculous if they say the word is exclusive to Muslims.
“Civilisations that practised tolerance prospered and stayed as a society much longer than those that did not.”
Asri, an Islamic studies graduate, heaved a sigh when asked about the country’s religious scenario.
“It is different now compared to 20 years ago,” he noted.
He repeated his earlier observation that politics and religious issues should not be mixed.
For Asri, the Allah controversy is a non-issue. He thinks it is ridiculous to say the word Allah is exclusive to Muslims. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Nazir Sufari, October 24, 2013.For Asri, the Allah controversy is a non-issue. He thinks it is ridiculous to say the word Allah is exclusive to Muslims. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Nazir Sufari, October 24, 2013.”Religious figures follow the knowledge rule while politicians have their own agenda and ideologies.”
The former mufti smiled when asked what he thought of the “moderate voice of Islam” tag attached to his name.
“This is Islam from what I understand from the Quran,” he said.
“I don’t see myself as moderate or progressive. My thoughts and whatever I say are based on what I learnt in my religion and I am independent from all political parties.”
In response to accusations that he was promoting liberalism with his views, the Penangite paused, then retorted, “I don’t like these labels.”
“What is their proof or argument on this?” he challenged.
However, Asri is not free of controversy, having been detained by the Selangor Religious Affairs Department (Jais) in 2009 for preaching without accreditation at a residential property. He was eventually charged, amid objections to his arrest, right from Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to opposition leaders.
The court case, he revealed, is still ongoing.
The Muslim scholar gave a sheepish smile when it was put to him that not much has been written about his life outside the religious circle.
“Yes, that is because I like to keep my life private. My wife warned me several times not to talk about her and the kids.”
It took some persuasion before Asri revealed that he met his wife of 16 years while teaching temporarily at a school in Penang.
“I was home for a holiday while studying in Jordan when I met her. We got married in 1997.”
The couple has three girls and two boys, aged between 2 and 16.
Asri began to take an interest in Islamic studies while he was in primary school, prompting his father to send him to the Al-Irshad religious school in Pokok Sena, Kedah, for his secondary school education.
He then went to the Islamic College in Klang for his Form 4 and 5 and left for the Jordan University in 1995 to study Arabic and Shariah law.
After coming back to Malaysia, Asri taught religious studies at the SMK Raja Tun Uda in Penang before pursuing his Masters in USM.
He went on to obtain his doctorate in Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Heritage (Al-Quran and Sunnah Studies) from the International Islamic University of Malaysia.
“I worked in USM for three years and then was seconded to the Perlis state government as the mufti in 2006 until 2008.”
He had a few overseas stints following that, including a Fellowship with the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies in the UK. – October 24, 2013.