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Saturday, April 26, 2008


Article written by Ustaz Zhulkeflee Bin Haji Ismail and published in "Risalah", magazine of PERGAS (Association of Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers, Singapore)



“JANGAN LAH MELATAH!” ……. is common expression in Malay which basically mean “Don’t [allow your reflex to] react! (i.e. without thought)”. The closest equivalent for the Malay word "melatah” is the English expression of “knee-jerk reaction” or the negative term of “being reactionary”. This is a sound advice against over-reaction of the emotional kind without relying upon any wisdom or deep thoughts. This applies generally to all people but especially so for those who are looked upon as the leaders or regarded as an authority, whose response to any situation will inevitably signal a stand that would be picked up and supported by the masses.

This was my initial thought that ran through my head when a questioner who enquired “what is PERGAS or the Asatizah’ community’s view regarding the WTC tragedy which unfolded and dramatically highlighted by the mass media?” The questioner sounds adamant and there was a glint of ‘jeering’ for what seemed to him to be ‘silence’ from PERGAS. But the questioner should already realize that we have at most times been quite reserve in making public our stand and comments. Not that we were indifferent but we incline towards being rather cautious.

why no statement?

The demand for a response of a public kind from the Asatizah community, especially to condemn the act and the ‘suspected perpetrators’, become more acute when emotive words were used to garner support of all nations to fight ‘terrorism’- internationally. But before this WTC attack why were there no such inquiries made for comments from PERGAS or the Asatizah’s community regarding other human tragedies similar to this or even worse. That is in the same earnestness and persistence as the attack upon the WTC? And if we do respond, can we now be allowed to respond to include our views regarding all other forms of terrorism (i.e. not just the WTC attack)? If ever our collective view (as an organization) is important, we must appeal that in all fairness it must be our condemnation universally towards every evil and injustices.

When previously our views are not known, and to suddenly now comment publicly, and to only one specific incident would surely be misinterpreted by some as being ‘reactive’. Or worst it can be misconstrued as being indifferent to the plight of others who suffered (and are suffering) similar tragedies else where; or worst the perceived partiality can even be mistaken as taking sides (as ever sides may be guilty of terrorism. But to include the mention of victims of other tragedies elsewhere apart from those in the WTC attack would be deemed by some as an insincere expression of sympathy and condolence.

We did face a dilemma: “how do we react without being trapped into being a reactionary or further misunderstood? “

Whatever it was, ironically PERGAS not issuing a public statement is still regarded by some as itself a ‘statement’!!!

sufferings and lost of human lives grieves us Muslims

As Muslims, any form of human tragedy horrifies us and we have to use all just means to eradicate and avoid its repetition happening again to anyone irrespective of race or religion. Yet, mankind has not been totally rehabilitated. Abuse of power and greed still abounds which inevitably affects the course of human lives causing untold horrors and tragedies to people, be they innocent or otherwise; and it is further aggravated by warmongers and irresponsible leaders on every sides. Of all the people, Muslims in fact are the ones who are currently amongst the most oppressed community who should know better how it must feel to be terrorized, as we are made to suffer gross atrocities of human tragedies and affliction. We should know better how terrible and horrific terror could inflict upon innocent lives. Lest the world forgets, amongst the majority voice calling for a stop to cruelty and terror this century have been the Muslims. It is unfortunate that amongst these Muslim victims of terror, because of the delay by the international community to heed their cries for compassion, in exasperation, their plea has somewhat been allowed to fester into fomenting rage and anger. It is most unfortunate that sheer frustrations (of their own plight and helplessness) have led some of them to be emotional in responding to the WTC attack as though they are indifferent to the victims of this attack. Their emotional reaction, were taken out of context and misunderstood. But what they are venting out is their incredulity to the neglect of the world for their own plight as victims of other terrors. To suggest that we Muslims are indifferent to what is happening in the WTC attack because of the perceived ‘silence’ surely is unfair.

false charge – from being Indifferent to being the perpetrator

It is further aggravated by presumptions and unverified assumptions advocated vehemently by the media that the perpetrators are Muslims and giving the impression that the horrendous action is somewhat linked to Islam and its teachings. We, the Muslims (nay the international community), were offered a ‘loaded proposition’ or a ‘double bind’ which (if I may summarize) goes like this:

“Do you condemn the Muslim attackers (i.e. Osama’s al-Qaedah) attack upon the WTC?”
“Yes!” or “No!”
U.S. President Bush even made it categorical when he said: “Either you are with us or with them!”

How do we respond to this?!!!

We are reminded by Allah s.w.t.:

“O You believers! If an iniquitous person comes to you with a [slanderous] tale, use your discernment[2], lest you hurt people unwittingly and afterwards be filled with remorse for what you have done.”

(Qur’an: al-Hujurat: 49: 6)

Surely everyone must condemn the atrocities itself as we hold every human life to be precious, but when such condemnation ‘must’ include agreeing to a charge (without conclusive evidence) against some one else surely is unreasonable. If we have to react or comment, we have to do it justly. Our sense of justice simply cannot allow us to be manipulated into making too simplistic a judgement, which can implicate any one without ‘due process’. What is the evidence (if any)? If not yet known, can we reserve our judgement in the name of justice?

Yet, the issue of seeking conclusive evidence to prove who the wrongdoers were, and how they are guilty, seems unimportant. Nobody seems to realize that it is precisely because we have all been asked to condone the wishes of a vigilante passing judgement ‘in absentia’ upon another people, that many fair-minded people hesitated (not just Muslims). Perhaps it is as if we are invited to participate or endorse ‘a kangaroo court’ of an international sort
. Have we forgotten the UN? Do we have to ignore the existence of an International Court of Justice? Do we discard the rule of law and human rights? Have the world already rejected the Latin maxim ‘audi alterem partem’ (let the other party be heard)? Is not the action undertaken without giving a fair response to the accuser against the norm of a rule of law described in another Latin maxim ‘nemo judex in sua causa’ (He who judges his own case)?

Some may argue that in ‘dealing with (so-called) terrorist, we do not have to stick to our own rules but beat them in their own game!’ Or “Don’t talk to me about due process! Were the victims of WTC given any due process?!” This is a lame excuse usually coming from exasperated victims who are motivated by vengeance devoid of any sense of justice. As Muslims, we cannot agree as we are told to act justly. There is a maxim: “al-ghayaa laa tubar-ri al-wasilah” (the ends do not justify the means).

diverted discussion

There have been furious discussions regarding the incident and other secondary matters were inevitably thrown into the gamut diverting (shifting) the emphasis of discussion from one of trying to seek out evidence of who the perpetrators were, on to accepting that the perpetrators were Muslims. This shift led to some Muslims becoming apologetic.

There are those who preoccupies themselves either in trying to deny the possibility of it being perpetrated by a Muslim (whether misguided or justified). Or on the other extreme there are those who, in conceding that perhaps Muslims may have done it (i.e. when they conveniently supposed it to be so), but then they try to argue that it is not in any way linked to the teachings of Islam. That there can never exist any mitigating circumstances such that an action can ever be justified. Yet, inviting the world to condone retaliation by carpet bombing Afghanistan seems plausible and justified! Of course there are those who disagree and would form many other groups of dissenters.

In my opinion, almost all these views are superfluous and hasty as it still remains in the realm of discussing hypothetical assumptions that Muslim did it!! If we need to discuss, it should remain only in the realm of intellectual exercise amongst academicians, not meant for public consumption. It is pertinent to ask, ”Is the evidence conclusive to warrant us to bring the public discussion to this level?” Have the world been shown real evidence at all? Lest we forget, currently the real valid premise is still that ‘We do not as yet know! It may or it may not be the Muslims who did it!’

deviated discussion

Unfortunately, when the subject involve issues close to our hearts, mind and emotions, it has somewhat caused some of us to deviate into petty squabbles amongst ourselves, most relying on mere conjectures and unverified assumptions. ‘Petty’ since we are still unclear as to who the perpetrators were.

Still some may argue: “But, can we not discuss the various scenarios (possibilities) and then seek out the Islamic stand regarding them? “

Discussions of a hypothetical nature are not meant to be done publicly, as it requires that those who participate must always remember that certain assumptions are still not verified. Islamic scholars would rarely entertain hypothetical questions, or are known to even refuse giving a verdict (fatwa) or opinions to such issues. Yet, presently we lack such wisdom and humility. We argue as though conjectures are facts. Due to this, we Muslims became easily distracted into discussions that may even cause us to be divided. Each vehemently trying to prove or disprove the validity or invalidity of theirs or the others view point to such an extent that we forgot this discussion is still in the realm of hypothesis which cannot be regarded as conclusive. We should sincerely ask ourselves “who really is interested to know the Islamic stand?” “Muslims or others?” and “why?” and “what would be the implication of our responding?” We must learn to evaluate these questions. And we have to note that not all questions are asked by people sincerely, but can also be a means by which to manipulate or extract a certain reaction. Unless we consider and realize these, we would still remain parochial and would easily be used, as mere pawns, by those with a hidden agenda. So we have to be careful, especially to qualify always whatever that is ambiguous and not leave whatever is vague in our public statement to be distorted or misrepresented. Even some academician can be carried away emotionally and forgot that whatever is being offered is merely a hypothetical assertion and not as yet to be accepted as the truth.

deceptive discussion

From the happenings after WTC attack and with the international awareness drummed up especially by the media, we can’t help but to note that the ‘culprit’ singled out by the U.S. is Osamah ibn Ladin and his ‘al-Qa’edah’ network. It is obvious that the enmity between him and the U.S. goes back a long way and somehow we are expected to believe that he was the guilty party (even though the evidence are not shown to us). It is an appeal for us to take sides in this enmity. But we are told:

“Wa-laa ta-’aa-wanuu ‘alal ithmi wal-‘udwaan”
“… do not assist one another in sins and enmity …”
(Qur’an: al-Ma’-idah: 5: 2)

This is revealing when the U.S. used the garnering of international sympathizers and supporters to undertake launching the attack upon Afghanistan – even though the full investigation as to Sept 11 attack has not been conclusive. Emotions of shock and grieve were turned into call for retaliation. The possibility that the WTC attack could be the work of other anti-American groups was totally ignored. Have we not learnt that the U.S. authority had in the past identified wrongfully the culprit in the Oklahoma bombing? Surely our being cautious in not taking sides should be appreciated. But, the ultimatum “Either you are with us or we deem you to be Osamah’s supporters!” haunts many into submissively going along with the U.S. agenda. Whether they will unwittingly stains themselves with the blood of innocent victims is somewhat shrugged aside. Convenient deception of labeling of human lives lost as ‘collateral damages’ (the civilian casualties were lump into this phrase) deflected any adverse reactions of those with conscience and detail reports of innocent casualties purposely avoided by the media.

The slogan ‘fight against terrorism” is appealing. Some may say that we ought to support, in the name of justice, the fight to stamp out terrorism. On the face of it all mankind share this common responsibility, we agree. But have we agreed to what the definition of ‘terrorism’ really is? Or do we simply turn a blind eye to all other forms of terrorism and only accept what one group defines it? Even if one was to agree but with qualifications, unfortunately, whatever qualifications made will simply be ignored. It seems that to be objective and neutral regarding this ‘U.S.-Osamah’ feud is unacceptable (deemed political incorrect). Whereas, those who differ with the views of the leaders of predominant world powers, even though they only reflect a sense of justice and fair play on their part in not ‘dancing to the tune’, is not going to be tolerated. Their deference is taken as an excuse for justifying ‘retaliation’ and they may have to face the stigma of sharing equal guilt of the perpetrators and may bring about punitive measures by the world power that be. Many are simply ‘cowed’ – passively submitting under threat of ‘terror’ unless they condemn ‘terrorism’!! (what a paradox).

be careful of defending ‘strawman’

Whatever may be the bad blood between U.S. and Osamah, can we not stay neutral? At least for now as there are insufficient informations available. Yet, what transpires, especially in the media, are ‘selective’ information (mostly unverified) which both sides (pro-American and pro-Osamah) tries to present which unfortunately draws many into losing their objectivity. We have to realize that because the informations are unverified and selective, therefore we do not and cannot as yet see the bigger picture. Although it seems to us that both may claim that they represent something noble (i.e. both the value and virtues of the American way or the pristine faith and teachings of Islam), but mere claim is insufficient grounds that they truly represent what they claim. We must not be naïve to accept on the basis of mere claim or label – which is a common fallacy (i.e. judging only by labels)!

We must distinguish between the American (as a people and a nation) from that of the government. Likewise we need to also distinguish between a Muslim and the religion Islam. If we are not careful we may end up trying to defend a ‘straw’ (not the real thing we hope to defend i.e. neither the American way nor Islam). We may be mistaken that just because everything that a Muslim does therefore it must be Islamic. Likewise we may be mistaken that whatever an American leader does it must been accord with the American values. Our loyalty to either Islam or American way may cause us to be fanatical in defending (erroneously) everything that either Bush or Osamah did to represent our ideals. When evidence showed flaws in either of them (Osamah/Bush) or their actions, we lost objectivity but we try to justify and insist in defending them thinking that we are defending what we cherish i.e. Islam or the American way.

Last thought

We do not doubt the genuine concern of every one to eradicate evil and alleviate the sufferings of mankind. Yet, it cannot be at the expanse of neglecting the concern for upholding justice. To demand justice must be with means that is just with fairness to all. If motivated only by sense of anger and vengeance, the actions taken would only perpetuate terrorism not eradicate. Lest we forget, amongst Allah’s s.w.t. eternal messages for us Muslims especially is:

“O You Believers! Be ever steadfast in upholding justice (and equity), bearing witness to the truth for the sake of Allah, even though it be against your own selves or your parents and kinfolk. Whether the person concerned be rich or poor, Allah’s claim takes precedence over (the claims of) either of them. Do not then, follow your own desires, lest you swerve from justice: for if you distort (the truth), behold, Allah is indeed aware of all that you do!”
(Qur’an: an-Nisa’:4: 139)


Zhulkeflee Hj Ismail
------------------------------------------End of reflection ----------------------------------------


[1] As attempted by a Saudi Prince in New York where he tried to bring to the attention of the world to also consider similar plights of horrendous terror inflicted upon Muslims in Palestine.

[2] i.e. verify the truth before giving credence to any such report or rumour.

[3] “kangaroo court can conceal evidence by citing national security, make up its own rules, find a defendant guilty even if a third of the officers disagree, and execute the alien with no review by any civilian court.” – The New York Times columnist William Safire November 15, 2001 article “Seizing Dictatorial Power”

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