Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Maulid Rasul - Should we or shouldn't we?

Part of the Prophet's Masjid showing the green dome
 above the final resting place of the Prophet SAAW
Today (14 Jan 2014) is a public holiday in Malaysia in conjunction with Maulidul Rasul or the Birthday of the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wa Ah'lihi Wa Sallam).

Maulid has been celebrated here as far back as I can remember.  When I was younger I used to attend the Maulid recitals (poetry composed in honor of the Prophet SAAW) during the first 12 days of Rabiul Awal at Masjid India Kuala Lumpur.  I even took part in the Maulid procession that was held from Stadium Merdeka to Masjid Negara in those days.

These days there are some who speak against this practice of celebrating Maulid.  They claim that this is a new innovation (bida'ah).  They say that the Prophet SAAW nor his Noble Companions celebrated it, neither did any of the Imams of the Four Schools of Jurisprudence.

They go on to claim that this was started by the Fatimid Caliphs in Egypt who were Shiites.  This is probably true and for the same reasons why Governments today sponsor concerts i.e. to lull the population into a feeling of complacency and/or contentment.

To be fair to these people, no one knows when exactly the Prophet SAAW was born.  Various historians have proposed various dates.  They are not even agreed on the month.  While many give the year as 'the year of the elephant', there are those who place it a few years after or even before that year. I have read one narration claiming the birth occurred 15 years before the year of the elephant.

The only thing certain from authentic traditions (hadith) is the the Prophet SAAW was born on a Monday.  That was why he (SAAW) used to fast on Mondays.

Hey! Wait a minute, doesn't this mean that the Prophet SAAW did celebrate his (SAAW) birthday every week?  The Companions used to follow him (SAAW) as do many of us to this day.  So where does this "The Prophet SAAW and his Companions NEVER celebrated his (SAAW) birthday" come from?  If by "it" they mean that we should not be celebrating the Maulid only annually but on a more frequent interval, then I think we should all agree.

Maybe it is the poetry recital that these people are against.  I do not understand Arabic, so I have to rely on translations.  The poems for the most part trace the life of the Prophet SAAW and his achievements. In one or two places though the praise heaped on the Prophet SAAW is rather excessive.  I don't know if this is what the poet meant or if it's just what was understood by the translator.  Either way, the proper thing would be to correct the mistake rather than 'ban' the poem.

We are living some fourteen hundred over years from the time of the Prophet SAAW and it is always a good idea to re-connect with the Prophet SAAW by reading his SAAW seerah (life history) listening to lectures on it.  The Maulid celebrations provide an opportunity for this to happen.

One thing we are surely missing in our lives is the ADAB (often translated as 'good manners' and/or 'courtesy' but I think it means very much more than these) thought by the Prophet SAAW.  When we do that, all this bickering among ourselves will be a thing of the past.

Coming back to "Should we or shouldn't we?" I respect whatever your choice, but do have the adab to respect the choice of others who may differ from you.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The ALLAH Issue Again!

This time the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) has raided the Bible Society of Malaysia.  Even if there was a need for it, the reported high-handed manner in which it was carried out does not bode well for inter-ethnic, inter-religious relations in the country, and the raid itself could be illegal.

Then there is news that some political groups want to picket in front of churches.  The Police have issued a ‘stern’ warning against this, but considering the parties involved, we need to wait and see what happens and how the Police will respond.

As I have voiced out before the Islamic Authorities, both at Federal and State levels, seem to insult the intelligence of Muslims in the country.  They think that we are some sort of imbeciles who cannot think for ourselves and they have to do the thinking for us.

And just because the Christian God does not have a proper name, the Church should not be adamant in misusing words to insult other faiths, in this case Islam.  (The Arabic alphabet does not have upper and lower case letters, how is ‘allah’ written in the Arabic Bible?)

The only way forward, in my view, is for the Church to work with Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) to produce a Malay version of the Bible.  (If you have a better solution, please feel free to voice it.)

This will not only resolve the issue of the ‘Allah’ word, but all the words that are ‘banned’, not because “Muslims will get confused” as the authorities seem to think, but to maintain the integrity of meaning of those words.

When we want to say ‘The Late so-and-so’ in Malay, it is AlMarhum Tengku Abdul Rahman, Allahyarham Tun Abdul Razak, and Mendiang Tun Tan Siew Sin.  It is not about the person writing, it could be Johan or John, it is about the person referred to, whether Royalty, an ordinary Muslim or a non-Muslim.

Similarly, ‘Firman’ in Malay is exclusively for what Allah says in the Quran.  If it is something that the Prophet said, the word is ‘Sabda’.  The King ‘titah’ and the rest of us ‘kata’. (I hope you get where I'm going.)

If a non-Muslim is Guest of Honor at a breaking of fast ceremony, and in his/her speech, he/she decides to quote from the Quran, he/she should be able to say, “Allah berfirman dalam AlQuran…”  There is no ambiguity is what is said.

There are those who say that language is ever changing and meanings change with the times.  I am well aware of that.  A word, which, in my younger days, would have meant what a happy and jovial character I was, will only raise eyebrows if I described myself as such now.  I don’t think I want to see religious terms reduced to that level.