Don't let the angry young men hijack Islam

In the 1970s, a Singaporean ustaz (Islamic preacher) was invited to give a lecture to members of a rising Islamic group, Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), at a mosque in Johor.

Before the evening prayers, he went to the mosque's ablution area and saw a leaking tap.

At the end of the talk, he was asked - and this was about 40 years ago - about the importance of an "Islamic state" for Muslims as it is one of the goals of PAS, now a key Malaysian opposition party.

His answer, roughly, as related to me: "You talk about a state where Islam is to be respected by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. To me, if you cannot even repair a small thing like a leaking tap, how are you going to run an Islamic state that people will respect?"

He was never invited to speak again by PAS.

Today, at a time when terrorists shouting Islamic slogans kill innocent people, this question often runs through my mind as it must do in many others': "What do these Muslims want, really?"

I keep asking myself: "If they really want to have an 'Islamic State' to run with their own laws, and expect Muslims and non-Muslims alike to be loyal citizens, is creating chaos the way to achieve this?"

Education should not be just about rote-learning the Quran, Islam's holy book, and memorising basic precepts of the religion. New scientific rock stars are needed to show that Muslims do not just look at past glories.
Education should not be just about rote-learning the Quran, Islam's holy book, and memorising basic precepts of the religion. New scientific rock stars are needed to show that Muslims do not just look at past glories. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

After learning about gun attacks in Istanbul and Paris, and the murder of innocent people in Jakarta and California, will "secular" Muslims and non-Muslims suddenly realise the Beauty of Islam? Are people now more convinced that Islam is a Religion of Peace?

Today, I worry for my religion as it has been hijacked by angry voices who think spilling innocent blood is the way to go.

True, there is a deep sense of anger in the Islamic world as never before. There are those who blame the ills in the Muslim world solely on the West.

Whether justified or not, they argue that in its quest for cheap oil and to protect Israel, the United States has caused chaos in Muslim lands.

How else does one explain, some Muslims say, the fact that while Uncle Sam shouts "democracy" in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, it turns a blind eye to dictatorial tendencies in its allies such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain?

After Gaza Palestinians voted in Hamas as their government, and the Egyptians voted in the Muslim Brotherhood, the Americans decided that one-man-one-vote is not for people who pick parties that are not going to be the US' pliant clients.

Other Muslims say that while Europeans now fear a "Muslim invasion" by asylum seekers and migrants from Syria, Iraq and Libya, these same Europeans helped to oust Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, and weaken Bashar Al-Assad of Syria, without thinking through what would happen afterwards.

But Muslims themselves are not blameless. Far from it.

Many Muslims today fret too much about the outward forms of the religion, from clothing to beards to even having separate supermarket trolleys for halal and non-halal food.

And leaders of some Muslim states spend much time amassing wealth and power, and little in helping their citizens to acquire the latest skills to allow them to stand tall in the global community.

The oil and gas coming out from the ground in many Muslim countries have been both a blessing and a curse.

The blessing is that the skylines and amenities in Dubai, Qatar, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta are similar to those in New York and London.

The curse? The people did not have to work too hard to build these modern cities.

The tall towers, subway lines and water supply networks are often built and maintained by Western (non-Muslim) experts, with unskilled labour from poor Muslim countries.

Employing the Singapore ustaz's analogy, if there are leaking taps, the Muslim owners likely would not be able to repair these themselves.

In my view, one way to reduce the lure of terrorism among Muslims - many of them young people - is for their leaders to give people hope that the future can be better. That they and their families do not have to live in slums or poor rural villages forever.

Parents around the world want to send their children to Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and to Oxford and Cambridge.

Is there a university in the Muslim world that non-Muslims are rushing to join to learn science and technology, philosophy and law, health and engineering?

Education should not be just about rote-learning the Quran, Islam's holy book, and memorising basic precepts of the religion.

Muslims today, sadly, still treat our two biggest scientists and philosophers, Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and Averroes (Ibn Rushd) like rock stars.

In their time, their work helped to enlighten European medicine and philosophy. But both died more than 800 years ago.

The Muslim world needs new scientific and technological rock stars, so that its people do not just bask in past glories as promoted by the terrorists.

The terrorists who have hijacked Islam also promote the idea that they are fighting an apocalyptic war.

This is a misconception that Muslim religious leaders must stand up against and correct.

Who gave these murderers the right to issue fatwas (religious edicts)? Who said that in the fight for Islam, they have the right to cut off the heads of innocent people, enslave whole villages, rape women and blow up ancient historical monuments?

It is time to put a stop to the anger and confusion in the Muslim world before the cancer becomes worse.

Educate the young so that they can live in hope of a better life.

They will then wake up, keen to chase their dreams rather than despair and lap up any angry rhetoric.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2016, with the headline 'Don't let the angry young men hijack Islam'. Print Edition | Subscribe