Debate: Malaysian Perlis Mufti Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin vs. Ali Sina
25 Feb, 2007
Dear Ali Sina,
I am a muslim and I dare you to debate with The Mufti of Perlis, Dr. Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin. You must know that he IS influential especially with the young at Malaysia (if you didn't know, Perlis is a state at Malaysia ). He is a sunni Muslim. I have already e-mailed him about you and the website. If you must know, when somebody is called a Mufti, he holds a HIGH position in an Islamic council. His e-mail is: moasriza at yahoo.com That is all. Talk to him....if you are ready.......
Ali Sina accepts the challenge to debate
Thank you for your email and for inviting Dr. Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, the Mufti of Perlis and myself to debate on Islam.
I searched Dr. Asri on Google and was delighted to learn about his views. As someone has described him, Dr. Asri is indeed a breath of fresh air in this fetid atmosphere of Islamic obscurantism and violence.
Let me introduce Dr. Asri to my readers.
Dr. Asri hopes to push Islam towards modernity and out of the clutches of extremism. He proposes a different reading of the Islamic sacred texts to create a modern and compassionate Islam. For example, Dr. Asri opposes the khalwat law. Khalwat means privacy, but do not jump to hasty conclusions. This law is not what you think. In democratic countries privacy is sacrosanct. No one can take your privacy away from you and those who transposes can be charged and prosecuted. Most Islamic countries, including Malaysia , also have privacy laws, but with a diametrically different meaning. In these countries, the law says that individuals do NOT have the right to privacy. The state has the right to spy on the citizens to make sure that they abide by the laws of Sharia (Islamic laws) and enforce those laws. The Malaysian khalwat law is part of this Islamic ruling. Empowered by the khalwat law, the vice squads spy on people and if they are caught breaking a religious law, fine them, beat them, jail them or put them to death. These vice squads sneak on citizens and encourage people to spy on one another and report any unIslamic conduct, like couples holding hands, kissing or expressing affection for one another in public. If the sinners are found guilty in the court, the informers are then rewarded. The vice squads check the guest lists and bang on hotel doors. They peep through windows to catch couples in close proximity. To further humiliate the culprits, they invite members of the press and ruffians to witness their raids. The khalwat laws have been on the statute books for a long time and thousands have been charged and fined.
At 36,  Dr. Mohd Asri is the youngest mufti from the smallest state in Malaysia. He has defied the understanding of other religious scholars, twice his age and claims that the application of “enjoining good and preventing evil” (Amir bil ma’roof and nahi min al munkar) should be more pragmatic and ethical. He has wisely stated that it is not up to the state to preoccupy itself with what the citizens do in the privacy of their homes but rather it should be more concerned with addressing the pressing moral and social problems like corruption, crime and drug addiction.
In an article published in The New Straits Times, Dr. Asri has remarked, “State religious authorities must stop spying, snooping and the practice of looking for couples to be charged with khalwat (close-proximity).” The Perlis Mufti said such practices are against the Islamic principles of privacy and denoted the act of trespassing. "It's an embarrassment to Islam to see religious officers going to hotels and demanding the guest list,” he said.
"Islam does not encourage people to look for acts of sins. The principle of amar bil ma’roof and nahi min al munkar (performing good deeds and abhorring evil) must be implemented only when sins and crimes are committed in the open. To invade an individual's privacy is against Islam."
Dr. Asri lamented the recent case of a khalwat raid mistakenly carried out against an elderly American couple in Langkawi. “There were many other similar cases where local husbands and wives were raided in their homes” said Dr. Asri. “Such activities give the impression that Islam encourages invasion of privacy.”
He also questioned the practice of bringing along unauthorized people for khalwat raids such as the Press.
"What is the purpose of bringing along the media, and sometimes members of the public? Are we trying to shame a private individual publicly or are we really abhorring sins?"
Dr. Asri has criticized the government for being confused about its responsibilities. He has said that instead of harassing the citizens the government should try to force the deadbeat fathers to pay their alimony and child support, which they don’t enforce because they claim to lack manpower, while they have enough manpower to sneak on citizens to see if they are conducting themselves in accordance to Islamic morality.
Unlike other Muslim apologists, Dr. Asri does not blame the non-Muslims for misunderstanding Islam. He lays the full blame on the shoulders of the Muslims themselves who through their attitudes, their appearance and their focus on petty issues have portrayed Islam as a backward religion. He believes that this is because they have turned non-religious matters into religion.
“While people all over the world are building intellectual thinking, some religious people are busy with jampi (incantation) with 'magic water' to make us more clever. They are not interested in focusing on research or study,” repines Dr. Asri. He believes that the fear that the non-Muslims have of Muslim is justified. “Islam, if explained properly, will make non-Muslims respect Muslims more.”
When asked what he thinks of his role as mufti, Dr. Asri responded: “To me, a mufti's role is to forge his intellectual capacity to develop a fatwa in this world. He must be responsible to bring the knowledge of Islam in this modern era. To me, my duty is to present Islam in its modern face and get it out of the clutches of ultra-conservatives, who have made the religion look obsolete.”
How does he propose to achieve this? Through reinterpreting the Quran and sunnah. “We can't oppose the evidence of Islam, and what is in the Quran and Sunnah. But the interpretation of the Quran and Sunnah by the religious experts are open to evaluation.” Dr. Asri encourages dialogue between religions. He says “Such dialogue must be conducted harmoniously where everyone presents his case and others listen to his view in a mature way. We shake hands, you tell us your belief and I tell you mine in an academic discussion. After that it's up to both parties to evaluate the discussion. At the moment, I don't see such a dialogue being on the cards.”
He says that the dialogue between religions does not mean trying to solely focus on Islam with an agenda to impose the Islamic views on others. According to Dr. Asri, in a true inter-religious dialogue, “everyone will have an opportunity to bring up religious matters in an academic manner and others will listen and give views.” He has further emphasized, “Such a dialogue should end without any riots. After it's over, people can leave the hall and buy books sold outside. They can buy the Qur’an, they can buy the Bible. People can evaluate.”
Dr. Asri opposes the ban that his government has imposed on non-Islamic religious books written in Malay. “When a community is strong, their level of knowledge is high, there's nothing to be afraid of. Some religious people, including me, have to read the Bible. If we don't, how would we know about the Bible? There's nothing wrong with reading the Bible.”
Interestingly enough Dr. Asri opposes also the killing of the apostates. Acknowledging that Muhammad has said "Whoever changes his religion, kill him," he believes that this applies only to those who endanger the Muslim society and not to anyone who simply changed his religion.
Well, my respected and valued friend Dr. Asri (i.e. if you allow me to call you that, despite being an apostate and despite having launched a campaign to eradicate Islam), I am open to dialogue. I believe that before trying to reach out to non-Muslims in order to establish dialogues with members of other faiths, we Muslims should talk among each other first. There are many questions within Islam that need to be addressed. These are not new questions; they are old, as old as Islam itself. However, they have been kept under the rugs and never resolved, because Islam does not encourage dialogues. We both know that Muslims have no tolerance for questionings. As you yourself have stated, Muslims are more prone to riots and violence than to dialogue.
For the first time in history, we can talk. The Internet has allowed many of us to come forth with our questions and ask them without the fear of being killed. Now no one can keep the dirt under the rugs anymore.
Many of us, who were born in Muslim families, have questions about Islam. These are not sanitized and the run-of-the-mill questions that the mullahs like to hear, such as how one must perform allusion and how to clean inside the various orifices in one’s body to please Allah, but fundamental questions about the very claim of Muhammad as a messenger of God.
The reason this Muslim friend has decided to invite you and this author to debate is because these questions concern him too. He, obviously, has great respect for you and believes that you are the kind of person that is able to answer my questions and clear his doubts.
He is not alone. There are many Muslims with similar questions and their number is growing fast. I believe this is an opportunity for us to discuss these issues that have been taboo for so many centuries and find answers to them once and for all.
You know very well that Islam has been imposed on our forefathers by sword. My ancestors had no way of investigating the truth of Islam. They were indoctrinated forcefully. This is the first time that we have the chance to ask serious questions and not fear for our lives. For the first time we want to know the truth of Islam without coercion and threat of decapitation.
I believe you are mistaken. I believe that Islam cannot be reformed through reinterpretation of the Qur'an and Sunnah. I believe that Islam is essentially evil, that Muhammad was a terrorist and that it would be a travesty of justice to hold his memory alive and revere him. This is no different than trying to reform Nazism and keeping the memory of Hitler alive. While Muslims have not been able to give a single evidence to prove Muhammad's claim to prophethood, I have given plenty of evidence that he was not. I believe that the backwardness of the Islamic world is the direct result of the nefarious influence of Islam and that our only hope to get rid of this backwardness is to get rid of Islam.
However, I am a fallible person. I could be wrong. If you think I am wrong I would be more than glad to hear your opinion and publish your views. If you manage to prove me wrong, I promise to publicly announce that I have been mistaken and acknowledge the truth of Islam. Since millions of people visit our site, if you are convinced that Islam is a true religion of God, it is your responsibility to let the world know the truth and this is your chance.
I am publishing this to announce my acceptance of this friend’s invitation to debate on the truth and falsehood of Islam with you. I hope you will accept it too. This is a great opportunity to clear the air and resolve the questions surrounding Islam once and for all.
I remain respectfully and sincerely yours