Ladies and gentlemen. Let me begin my speech by saying I am here tonight to show my full support for CASIS, and what CASIS has achieved up till now. It is my hope that CASIS will achieve much more in the future.
It is also wonderful for me to be part of this gathering tonight. And like all of you, I am looking forward to listening to the last lecture by Professor Dr. Wan Mohd Daud Nor Wan Daud on worldviews, knowledge and civilizational development.
At a recent Forum Perdana which I attended in Johor Bharu, I learned that jihad or struggle is not confined to fighting in holy wars. They are other acts which are also considered as jihad, looking after our parents, looking after orphans and single mothers and seeking knowledge. In a world where they are far too many armed conflicts, wars, displacement of people, hatred, confusion, ignorance, and misunderstanding, we now need more than ever before learned man and women who can share their knowledge with us and why centers such as CASIS as well as all the other Islamic schools and centers at other universities must and should continue to exist, we need your guidance.
I first met Professor Dr. Wan Mohd Nor Wan Daud and Professor Dr. Muhammad Zainiy Uthman at a roundtable conference at Ditchly Park, Oxford, England in May 2012. The conference that was jointly organized by UTM and the Oxford Centre For Islamic Studies or OCIS and the theme of the conference was Science in Muslim Societies: Past and Present.
Apart from Professor Dr. Wan Mohd Nor and Professor Dr. Muhammad Zainiy, other Professors from UTM included Professor Azrai Kassim, Professor Rose Alinda Alias, Professor Azlan Abdul Rahman and Professor Jasmi. And the Malaysians who UTM had invited included Dato’ Dr. Afifi Al-Akiti, lecturer of Islamic Studies at the Faculty of Theology in University of Oxford, Tan Sri Dr. Ahmad Tajuddin Ali, President of the Academy of Science Malaysia, Tan Sri Dr. Salleh Mohd Nor, UTM Pro-Chancellor and Former Director General of Forest Research Institute (FRIM). Dato’ Professor Dr. Zakri, the science advisor of the Malaysian Prime Minister, and those who OCIS invited included Sir Terence English, the first surgeon to perform heart transplants. Professor George Saliba from Columbia University, Dr. Mahmood Abdul Rahim Kuwait Foundation of Advanced Science, Professor Peter Palmer from the University of Manchester, Dr. Sajat Risby from the University of Exeter and Dr. Micheal Morry, Templeton University.
And the reason why I mentioned all of these names, especially those who are not part of UTM or who are not from Malaysia is to emphasize the fact that this conference was made up of prominent academic figures and those involved in sciences from all the Western world. I was seated next to Dr. Farhan Nizami, the director of OCIS and the conference began with its first plenary session. As a non-academician, I looked at all the names present and I was in complete awe, and fear, a bit like how I feel now. And so the conference began and many of the figures I mentioned upon spoke, and then first Professor Dr. Wan Mohd Nor spoke and so did Professor Dr. Muhammad Zainiy. And the first question I asked myself was, why have I not heard of these Malaysian Scholars before? I felt that all the Malaysians that we met there at that conference were on par with the OCIS delegation. And since attending that conference. I’ve often wondered why we Malaysians do not give the due respect and acknowledgment which our own local scholars deserve?
As regards to Islamic scholars, why do we flock in the thousands to hear lectures and talks given by foreign scholars and speakers, some of whom have dubious academic qualifications, or none; but ignore our own born and bred scholars such as the two gentlemen I mentioned (Professor Dr. Wan Mohd Nor Wan Daud and Professor Dr. Muhammad Zainiy Uthman of CASIS). At this point, I would like to say to the other scholars and lecturers of CASIS that, the reason I have not mentioned your names is not because you are not as well qualified as these two gentlemen but because I have not had the pleasure to meet you yet. And I do apologize if I had offended anyone, perhaps there’ll be a chance for me to have another talk at CASIS, and I can learn more about the scholars at CASIS and the work that they do.
As I had said earlier, I find that the disinterest and the little acknowledgment given to our own local scholars rather puzzling, this is not to say that we should not listen to foreign Islamic scholars or read their books but we must have balance in receiving knowledge from both foreign and local ones.
Tonight is last of a series of lectures which focuses on worldview, knowledge and civilizational development, I would like to suggest that part of the global civilizational development has to include the use of social media, it is a phenomenon that cannot be ignored. Millions of people around the world use social media from students to politicians, even presidents, everyone has a voice and everyone expresses his or her opinion.
I too have been using social media for a while, 11 years now, but reading comments and online news give all of us an insight into the way we live, the way we work with our beliefs, everyone shares photos with their families when they go on holiday and what they do when they’re at work. It is also through social media that we notice an increasing polarization in countries in the West such as in the United Kingdom and certainly we see something similar here in Malaysia.
When I read a post or comment made by our fellow Malaysian Muslims, I sense an increasing disrespect for our fellow citizens who are of different ethnicities and religions, the combination of ignorance together with arrogance is a dangerous one. As sometimes it is quite apparent that some of us will make judgments according to just one verse from the Qurān or on a few Ḥadīth we have found in google. When I was sure what we should do as Muslims on certain issues which I had no knowledge, I will not go to google but I ask senior officials from the Johor Islamic religious council, so before I flew here to Kuala Lumpur I asked about the way we Muslims should behave toward others of other faiths and I was told to look up verse 8 from ṣūrah al-Mumtaḥanah which says:
“Allāh does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of your religion and does not expel you from your homes for being righteous toward them and acting justly towards them. Indeed Allāh loves those who act justly.”
Among the Ḥadīth are the following:
“He who torments non-Muslims torments the messenger of Allāh, accordingly he who torments the messenger of Allāh, torments Allāh.”
And that Prophet Muḥammad S.A.W also said that:
“Whoever oppresses a Dhimmi that is a non-Muslim that lives in a Muslim country for loads of work there is nobody strength, or take away something away from by force, I am his foe in the day of judgment.”
That is from hadith Abū Daud. So from all of this we see that the role of CASIS and academic scholars of Islam is most important, it is to guide most of us who may be misled or do not have the knowledge of our own religion. The other things that I have noticed when I go through the posts and comments on social media are that we have a tendency, and I am talking about us Muslims, to pass judgments on people based on how they are dressed, and I am a victim of one of those. And so we like to look at pictorial things, but when it comes to reading, seeking knowledge and lectures like this we tend to shy away. I don’t know if we are not a reading culture or we just don’t have the time, but that is why I feel strongly that CASIS and other centers have a role to play because we need guidance.
The other thing is that I think it is wrong that we show disrespect to other races or other religions because we live in one country and we should actually be united. And I don’t think that there is anything that Prophet Muhammad SAW did with his lifetime or what he said to his saḥābahs after he passed away, which shows that we should act differently or show disrespect to others. I would like to end by asking, and say that please, everyone who is at CASIS, continue with the work that you’ve done, especially Professor Dr. Wan Mohd Nor, and continue the legacy left from the establishment of ISTAC. We live in a time of fiṭnah, as we discussed with the excellency, the ambassador of Yemen and other distinguished guests there is a lot of misinformation, misguidance, and we don’t look into ourselves and we don’t consider to be as spiritual as how we look.
I remember once I had posted, or my photographer, who is somewhere here, had posted photos of me at a hospital in an emergency ward at Hospital Sultanah Aminah in Johor Bharu and because a bank had very kindly and generously donated a lot of sum. They were no comments about the amount that save lives, their mother, and their babies, they were no comments about the generosity of the bank, instead, they were comments about how I look. So it has come to the point where I am quite frustrated with social media, but I continue to go on and I think a few days ago I quoted in my Facebook status that I am coming to support CASIS. And that all the fatwa, or dictates that had been issued by, what we discussed just now, Imam Google, Ustaz google, Ustazah google. It’s very easy to do.
True scholars are those who have teachers, real teachers, and who have published works, who have learned and spent many decades of their lives pursuing knowledge, seeking knowledge, and then imparting that knowledge to their students. So I hope that CASIS with the grace of God, inshā’Allāh, will continue to go on, to thrive, and please help us, guide us, and tell us what we should do and not do because you’re all scholars in different fields of Islamic studies, and this is a time we desperately need people to guide us.
Wassalāmu ‘alaikum waraḥmatu’Llāhi wabarakātuh.