Going cuckoo over an eagle: The Star columnist

The 12m-tall eagle statue in Lang Square has been a tourist attraction in Langkawi for the past 20 years.
The 12m-tall eagle statue in Lang Square has been a tourist attraction in Langkawi for the past 20 years.PHOTO: THE STAR

(THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Now that religious experts are going to discuss whether statues of humans or other living creatures should be forbidden, let them also look at national emblems, portraits of leaders and such.

The first message transmitted from the moon to earth was "The Eagle has landed".

The words were uttered on July 20, 1969, by Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, minutes before his more famous quote of "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind".

Much has changed since then, with new space-faring countries in the fold, such as China and India rising high in the race.

The United States, which ended its space shuttle programme in 2012, is paying US$490 million (S$659.3 million) for six seats on Soyuz rockets to the International Space Station (ISS) until next year, or almost US$82 million each.

Space is the only area where the US continues to collaborate with Russia, after sanctions imposed against the country two years ago over the Ukraine crisis.

Besides the Russians, the Europeans, China, India, Japan and even people like Stephen Hawking, Mark Zuckerberg, and Russian scientist and philanthropist Yuri Milner have become players in space. Malaysia is still too far behind in space technology but has never failed to make the news, mostly for wrong or ridiculous reasons.

Like our very own, the eagle has landed - into hot water.

The iconic statue of the Helang Kawi at Dataran Langkawi has become the subject of debate on haram (forbidden) monuments.

The 12m-high sculpture of the Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) or the red-backed eagle is among the main attractions of the fabled isles.

Perak deputy mufti Zamri Hashim wrote in Berita Harian last week that the making of statues of humans or other living creatures were forbidden under Islam.

His boss, Perak mufti Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria concurred, saying: "Any living creature, except for trees, cannot be built as a replica or monument if done with all limbs complete."

Kedah deputy mufti Syeikh Marwazi Dziyauddin said there would be no rush to demolish the statue but the Kedah Fatwa Council would be consulted for discussions along with the local authority, while the state's Religious Affairs Exco member, Datuk Mohd Rawi Abd Hamid, suggested that the matter be referred to the muftis of each state, adding that monuments of living creatures did not only involve Kedah.

"For example, in Terengganu, there are turtle statues, Kuching has cat monuments," Sinar Harian quoted him as saying.

I suppose the cute statues of the kancil (mousedeer) near the Clock Tower in my hometown of Malacca would also come under haram scrutiny.

We can't blame Malaysians for wondering if these people have gone cuckoo.

Now that the religious experts are going to discuss this matter - which seems to be a much more serious problem than corruption, drug abuse, baby dumping and other current issues plaguing the country - how about also looking at emblems with images of creatures?

Our National Coat of Arms, for example, is supported by two prancing tigers.

To return to eagles, the national emblem of Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, is the Garuda Pancasila.

Indonesians, who make up more than 12 per cent of the more than one billion Muslims around the world, have all sorts of monuments, even those predating the arrival of Islam, and they accept this as part of their cultural heritage. In Hindu mythology, the aquiline Garuda is Vishnu's mount or vehicle.

The eagle also features prominently in many Arab nations.

In Egypt, a golden eagle, also called the "Eagle of Saladin" is highlighted in the country's coat of arms, just as in Yemen.

The "Hawk of Quraish", regarded as a rival to the "Eagle of Saladin", is found in the emblems of Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Syria. Obviously, the religious experts in these countries do not regard this as a form of idolatry.

Last Sunday, the Government announced the creation of a 26.7 ha urban rainforest park at the cost of RM650 million (S$215.8 million) with the aim of making it an iconic symbol for Kuala Lumpur like London's Hyde Park and New York's Central Park.

Called Taman Tugu for now (the Government is inviting the public to suggest a permanent name), it would be located behind the National Monument, covering the Perdana Botanical Gardens.

The seven soldiers, dedicated to the 11,000 who died during the Malayan Emergency, were designed by Felix de Weldon who also created the US Marine Corps Iwo Jima Memorial.

Wreath-laying ceremonies used to take place there during Warriors' Day on July 31 but in 2010, the National Fatwa Council declared that the statues were "un-Islamic".

Dataran Pahlawan was then created in Putrajaya and the traditional ceremony resumed there this year.

Is the Tunku Abdul Rahman statue in front of Parliament, also designed by de Weldon, equally idolatrous? How about pictures of the King, the Rulers and Prime Minister in government offices and public places?

It may or may not have been connected to the issue of idolatry but on July 1, Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) demolished the Puncak Purnama or Lunar Peaks, one of the city's renowned public sculptures created by the late National Laureate artist Syed Ahmad Jamal in 1986.

Mayor Datuk Seri Mohd Amin Nordin Abdul Aziz described it as being in bad shape while Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor called it an eyesore, even though it had been DBKL's responsibility to maintain it.

The demolishing was the second and final blow to the iconic sculpture. Ten years after it was erected, DBKL changed the sculpture's pyroceram (a combination of glass and ceramics) surface into stainless steel without the consent of Syed Ahmad.

He sued DBKL and was awarded RM750,000 for infringement of his rights in 2010, but the amount was later reduced to RM150,000.

The stainless steel was removed, resulting in damage to the concrete structure and it was literally left to rot.

Ironically, the inspiration for Syed Ahmad's Lunar Peaks sculpture was Armstrong's 1969 moon landing.