(Article by Ustaz Zhulkeflee Hj Ismail (E.O. Education/Da'wah) published in "The Muslim Reader", quarterly publication of MCAS or The Muslim Converts Association of Singapore.)
On November 4, the Muslim Converts’ Association of Singapore jointly organized a public talk with the Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) and Global Impact. The public talk was held by Bro.Yusuf Islam and was held at the Toa Payoh Stadium. It was open to public. The association has been criticized by some people due to the lack of enforcement to segregate the men and women listening to the talk. The following is a response to the criticism by Ust Zhulkeflee Hj Ismail.
There has been criticism concerning the lack of enforcement to segregate the men and women in the recent public talk by Bro. Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens). Admittedly nobody is perfect and therefore we are thankful for whatever comments and exhortations regarding the flaws (perceived or real) in our deeds. We are grateful to Allah s.w.t. that the spirit of Surah al’ Asr is still evident in our community and we open ourselves to healthy correction whenever it is required. If we may have erred, we turn to Allah in repentance and seek His forgiveness. And for them who showed our error, we wish them:
We are aware of the concern of our brothers and sisters that we should have replicated a standard started in Tampines Stadium by PERGAS (Singapore’s Association of Religious Teachers), where the organizers were able to enforce the segregation at that public talk. They are entitled to admiration and may Allah s.w.t. reward them for it.
We need to explain our position so that accusations, judgemental criticism and name-calling do not occur which may lead to fracturing the Islamic brotherhood (Ukhuwah Islamiyyah). Also, it is in all fairness that our view is heard. If in our explanations we may inadvertently err, in humility we seek guidance and correction from those who are learned.
The talk was meant to be a da’wah effort to invite non-Muslims and the “fringe” Muslims towards Islam, realising the draw a former rock-star can effect. It was a public talk, a public gathering held at a sports stadium and as far as possible we do not wish as yet to be seen as “imposing Islam”. After all, the term “Da’wah’’ means ‘to invite’ or ‘to call’. The choice of the stadium was in line with our objective to go to ‘neutral’ places rather than the traditionally Islamic places, which already have the attending rules and norms. Unlike the mosques, madrasahs and such other Islamic places, the stadium does not have such rules. And it is not yet our intention to 'convert' the stadium. Our objective is to invite the people to Islam and not to impose Islam on them. So the social norm of segregation and dress code was not strictly enforced leaving it to the individual Muslims to abide to it by themselves. This is in line with the Prophetic strategy in da’awah towards the Makkan in the early stage of Islam. Surely norms at times have to be temporarily held in abeyance under certain circumstances for achievement of a more urgent objective.
QUESTIONS OF RULING
We respect those who may hold a different view from us but we are saddened by their approach of condemning the whole talk and labelling it as “haram” just because segregation was not enforced by the organisers. By their act, all who came for our public talk become stigmatised. Unless there is strong evidence that the gathering promotes a “haram” act, there is no direct explicit basis that segregation has to be “enforced” for gatherings in public. But there are those who may differ with this view. Those who think that such public places is “haram”, should then rethink of taking the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) and buses, shopping and marketing, attending schools and universities, eating at public outlets, etc. or even in tawaf, sa’i, and many other rites in Hajj.
The rule to physically segregate arose from the “maslahat” as a pre-emptive step to avoid the possibility of untoward behaviour between male and female. It is the untoward behaviour that is condemned as “haram”, not the lack of a physical barrier. Even in a gathering where segregation is enforced, if Muslims do not comply with the behaviour and dressing etc, these acts themselves will still be wrong. But, is it fair to say the whole gathering itself is haram?
Generally, as a customary rule from past experience, the audience for a religious gathering are well behaved. Alhamdulillah! In spite of our not enforcing physical segregation, it was seen that segregation did occur spontaneously amongst the largest section of Muslims out of their own Islamic awareness. Maa-sha Allah! This is the best behaviour effectively practiced, i.e. when it is done without the presence of a “compelling” factor but out of true realization. It is when we have the examples shown by every Muslim, motivated by their sense of responsibility to correct each other in public places that projects the Islamic norm of modesty effectively. Not just reliance upon the organiser and the enforcement officer. Taufiq and Hidaayah are all from Allah, not from us. Therefore instead of condemning, let us supplicate to Allah. We must at all times emulate our Prophet’s (pbuh) way as mentioned by Allah in Surah Al-Imran: 3: 159,” to deal gently and not be harsh hearted; to overlook faults and to seek Allah's forgiveness for them, rather than condemning.”
Statements of whether “there is barakah” or “it is without barakah” is the concern of Allah. We can only beseech Allah the Most Bounteous for His bestowals not because our deeds are deserving but because of His abundant grace. Let us therefore not judge others by imposing our Wara’ (no matter how noble it may be) upon the general public which may make us become self-conceited (‘ujub). Public gathering (which obviously is without segregation) by itself is not yet “haram’, according to the Fuquha until clear evidence that such gathering promotes or encourages “haram” acts. At our public talk, Muslims were already reminded of their responsibility whilst in a social gathering. It is every Muslim’s responsibility to avoid “haram” behaviour and to check on another.
It is expected of all Muslims to enforce self-discipline regarding behaviour in public, and this is through educating them. We believe that the method of education, especially to adults is not effective through forced regimentation, although the impatient amongst us may disagree. Da’awah (calling or inviting people to Islam) is to be done with “hikmah” (An-Nahl:125). The term “bil-hikmah” ( with wisdom) is surely different from “bil-ahkam” (with or by imposing the law). Let us not forget that it took 13 years of the Makkan era to bring about the Medinan.
Let us supplicate to Allah, Oft- forgiving, and Most Merciful with what He has taught us:
“O our Sustainer! Take us not to task if we forget or unwittingly do wrong! O our Sustainer! Lay not upon us a burden A Thou didst lay upon those who lived before us! O our Sustainer! Make us not bear the burdens which we have no strength to bear! And efface Thou our sins, and grant us forgiveness, and bestow Thy mercy upon us! Thou art our Lord Supreme: help us against people who deny the truth!”
AAMIN - YAA RAB-BAL 'AA-LAMIN