New Straits Times

Mercy to all

This is reason enough not to fear this old religion

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The world is being bathed in US-produced TV shows put together by a tiny group of news agencies...

HOW did Islam, which means peace, come to be associated with terrorism? The root cause is ignorance. Of believers and non-believers alike. Neither the learned nor the laymen have been spared the affliction. Even leaders and men of science haven’t escaped the malady. Some believers, having gained knowledge of Islam’s message of peace, do not venture forth to explain, explicate it to fellow human beings. As for those who have yet to believe, especially the Islamophob­es, they do not keep their ignorance to themselves. Thanks to the Internet, the velocity of circulatio­n of such ignorance is unlimited.

Malaysia — as a Muslim-majority nation — has decided to enlighten the world. Malaysia’s message is built around the concept of Rahmatan Lil ‘Alamin, which means mercy to all in the world. The source of this concept is the Quran, Surah AlAnbiya, Verse 107, which reads: “And We have not sent you (O Muhammad) except as a mercy to people of the whole world.” God willing, China to Chile, and every nation in between, should be so enlightene­d when Malaysia takes this message of mercy to the world. As this NST Leader goes to press, Cambridge University in the United Kingdom is readying itself to hear the message today from Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa. Baku in Azerbaijan will be next.

Malaysia’s effort to make the world understand Islam isn’t a new one. In its 62 years of nationhood, Malaysia’s mission has been unwavering. But the world has changed tremendous­ly in the last six decades. Hate speech and other forms of “othering” Muslims have increased manifold. The late Edward W. Said — a Palestinia­n Christian scholar, it must be mentioned — spent much of his life fighting Islamophob­ia.

In an essay titled Islam Through Western Eyes written on April 26, 1980 for The Nation newspaper, he said the media — and by this he meant the Western media — has become obsessed with making Islam represent “the threat of a resurgent atavism, which suggests not only the menace of a return to the Middle Ages but the destructio­n of what former United States senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan calls the democratic order in the Western world”. Islam — as a religion and civilisati­on — does have a meaning very much beyond this. It is time the nonMuslim world, especially the West, stopped seeing the Muslims, as Said put it, “either as oil suppliers or terrorists”. Exemplary lives lived by Muslims will help.

There is yet another menace. The world is being bathed in USproduced TV shows put together by a tiny group of news agencies, according to Said. This means we get to see only the world according to Uncle Sam. Sadly, the rest of the world, including the Muslim world, is learning Islam through the eyes of America. Said left us with this warning: “To the extent that Islam is known about today, it is known principall­y in the form given it by the mass media: not only radio, films and TV but also textbooks, magazines and best-selling, high-quality novels. This corporate picture of Islam on the whole is a depressing and misleading one.” Malaysia’s message of mercy must correct this.

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