Written by Dr. Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin
Translation by Umm Hajar (ummhajar@gmail.com)

Holding on to Islam means to have complete faith or full confidence in all the contents of the teaching of the glorious religion. The stronghold on the teaching of Islam has to be founded on the faith that Allah s.w.t has commanded us to submit ourselves to him by obeying His Commands stated in al-Quran and al-Sunnah.

We should not be showing off our grip on Islam only because we wish to satisfy the people, or convince the voters, or prevent people from speaking negatively of us or to fish for and reap the benefits of certain rewards or business ventures. We should not be campaigning for Islam to strengthen our political position, nor to increase our sale nor to legalize our fault.

To hold on to Islam as a religion of faith is very different from holding on to Islam as a tool to fish for and reap a certain gain. The genuine stronghold on Islam as al-Din is as can be seen from the life history of all the Messengers and their followers.

Allah says (translated as): “Say: “Verily, My Lord hath guided me to a way that is straight,- a religion of right,- the path (trod) by Abraham the true in faith, and he (certainly) joined not gods with Allah.” Say: “Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are (all) for Allah, the Cherisher of the worlds: No partner hath He: This am I commanded, and I am the first of those who bow to His Will. Say: “Shall I seek for (my) Cherisher other than Allah, when He is the Cherisher of all things (That exist)? Every soul draws the meed of its acts on none but itself: no bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another. Your goal in the end is towards Allah. He will tell you the truth of the things wherein ye disputed.” (Surah al-‘An’am: 161-164)

It is clear from the above verse that Islam is the goal and not a tool. Islam is being held on to driven by the awareness and conviction that it is an obligation and we will be held responsible for it by Allah in the Day of Judgment.

That is how we are supposed to be in holding on to the teaching of Islam even though we have our own weaknesses and flaws in this life. We may fail to practice the teaching of Islam in every aspect of our life but we should not use Islam as tool to reap any worldly gain. We may have sins but we should not legalize our sins only because we have done it.

Therefore, when we hold on to or practice any element in the teaching of Islam, the hold and practice have to be built on faith that brings about sincerity in doing things only for the sake of Allah. In there, mercy and blessing will come. It is not because of any specific worldly interest that supersedes that foundation. If not, this religion will become a plaything to those who always look for gain and opportunity.

If religion is only used as a tool, then we will not be surprised to see the various medicines being sold nowadays using the name of the religion. It is to the extent that there is purportedly miracle water produced by dissolving some ink used to write verses of al-Quran on a plate in water. They claim that if one drinks that solution, he will gain so many kind of miracles that if the companions of the Prophet s.a.w were still alive today they would also be surprised to hear it. Even they had never received any incantation from the Prophet s.a.w that was as extraordinary as that.

Similarly, when al-Quran is regarded as a tool and not the objective, we will then see someone who has never given heed to the teaching of this revered book suddenly hire people to recite the al-Quran near his body after he has died. Will the al-Quran give him any benefit after his death whereas all the while when he is still alive, he never heeded the teaching and commands of Allah stated in the al-Quran? Will his body, after listening to the recitation of al-Quran that commands him to perform the prayer, fast, pay zakat, perform the Hajj, be trustworthy, be just and prohibits him from gambling, involving in usury, drinking alcohols, involving in graft, betrayal and the likes of it, be able to resurrect to perform all those orders and commands?

Whereas the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w stated, “Al-Quran can be a proof on your behalf or against you.” (Reported by Muslim) However, some people use al-Quran as a tool to reap worldly gains by making a business out of offering Allah’s rewards instead of using al-Quran as the guiding principle in life. Thus, some individuals emerge among our community as the supplier for Allah’s reward and they can be hired for thousands of ringgit to manufacture Allah’s reward using the recitation of al-Quran. Subsequently, Allah’s reward can be traded and the Afterlife can be bought. Because of that, the Prophet s.a.w once gave this reminder, “Recite the al-Quran and ask for rewards from Allah for there will be people after you who recite the al-Quran and ask (for reward) from humans.” (Reported by Ahmad and al-Tirmizi, ranked as hasan (good) by al-Albani)

In similar case is the collection of zakat. The campaign for zakat is very intense, even more than the campaign for solat whereas solat is the second pillar of Islam after syahadah (verbal acknowledgement that Allah is the one God and the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w was Allah’s Messenger). However, zakat means money and that is why so many verses of al-Quran regarding the sins of not paying zakat are being narrated. That is commendable. Indeed, the obligation of zakat is huge.

However, the objective of zakat is not to collect the wealth of the rich people but to ensure there is no threatening disparity of wealth in the community, to purify the soul, to eliminate animosity between the poor and the rich, to ensure the principle of helping each other in matters of goodness and takwa is being executed in the community.

Therefore, it is not only the sins of the zakat payer that are to be highlighted to the community in khutbah (Friday sermon) but the sins of not distributing zakat correctly shall also be mentioned to those managing the zakat. Do not let the zakat to accumulate up to tens or hundreds of millions ringgit but out of nowhere we hear stories about the poor people who are still suffering while the one managing the zakat still has not arrived at their front doorstep yet.

Just imagine, if the hundreds of millions ringgit are distributed properly, will there be any more Muslims who are homeless, unschooled and have inadequate clothing? Will there be any muallaf (potential or new Muslims) still living in misery? Will there be any dakwah bodies asking for donation? All the while, those managing the zakat seem to have changed and increased the number of their cars many times.

Is it right to only highlight the sins of not paying the zakat whereas we forget or do not give enough highlight on the abuse of power, graft and cronyism that use up the country’s wealth to make family members rich? Those are all sins and stimulate injustice in the economic cycle of this country. However, if religion is only regarded as a tool, then we only highlight to the nation whatever that can help us in reaping worldly gains and we leave behind whatever we feel does not bring any benefit to us.

In the world of politics, religion always becomes the victim. Various nas (authoritative texts of Islam) are being recited when election time is about to come. Some are sincere and some are being manipulative. Before, a friend of mine always recited this saying from Allah (translated as): “If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) unbelievers.” (Surah al-Maidah: verse 44) and also this saying: “Let not the believers take for friends or helpers unbelievers rather than believers: if any do that, in nothing will there be help from Allah except by way of precaution, that ye may guard yourselves from them. But Allah cautions you (to remember) Himself; for the final goal is to Allah.” (Surah Ali ‘Imran: verse 28)

Because of that, he accused many people of committing apostasy. I once asked him to broaden his understanding of those verses so that he would not be too narrow and constricted in interpreting them. The intention was so that he would not be accusing people as apostates easily. He disagreed with me and I was almost branded as an apostate too.

However, today when his political party is sharing power with the non-Muslims, he has a different kind of tone. I said to him, “What happened to the nas that you always mentioned before?” He answered, “We cannot be too narrow. We must consider various factors and there are things that we cannot do.” I cynically asked, “So, in this case, it is not considered as committing apostasy?” He replied, “We have to take into consideration the present situation.” I just kept quiet. Probably the apostasy they were referring before was political apostasy. This is the fate of the nas of al-Quran if it is recited for the sake of something.

The religion in this country in many cases is facing a similar fate. Sometimes religion is mentioned only as an adornment to a certain function and not as the principle that is being held on to. It is like those who start their functions with the recitation of this and that official prayer whereas the progression of the function itself is not based on the principles of the religion.

Islam does not require that a function must be opened with an ‘official prayer’ but Islam asks that the progression of a certain program be based on its teachings. To base it on the Islamic teachings does not necessarily mean that there has to be a religious lecture or to display a religious campaign. It is enough just by not doing anything that contradicts the teachings of this religion.

Therefore, some of the standpoints of the leaders in this country are like chameleons that can change their skin color based on the need of the function they are attending. Some talk about how the people should not be spendthrift but in another function, it can be seen that they are the ones leading the spendthrift. Some give talks advising people not to get involved in graft and to be trustful in managing the country’s wealth but in another function, they award projects to their family members and friends in a questionable way.

Some make the grand opening of the contest of reciting the al-Quran and the same individuals reject the principles of the al-Quran in another function. Thus, it is not surprising for us to see the different faces between the field of education, entertainment, industry and many more. At times, they want to follow Islam but on another occasion, they seem reluctant to follow Islam.

Today, the price of rice and other goods is going up. Soon, we will hear religious forums or the ustaz on telivision giving lectures on the discouragement of spendthrift, the campaign for frugalness and many more. It as if this religion is needed only during difficult times and is abandoned when life is easy. Or, it is as if this religion is only for the elderly residing at isolated small towns whereas it is irrelevant to those at the top.

This country is reasonably rich and if it is being managed in a trustworthy manner since a long time ago, the nation would have been able to benefit from its wealth equally. Khalifah ‘Umar bin ‘Abdul Aziz ruled for only thirty months but none of all the people under his governance was eligible to receive the zakat (because none was poor enough). What should be mentioned first in forums on television and radio is the requirement to be fair in distributing wealth and then only the people can be asked to be frugal. Do not let the religion be used only as tool to achieve a certain gain and not be used as a principle to drive the governance of this country.

Allah mentions the typical human’s character in the al-Quran by saying (translated as): “He it is who enableth you to traverse through land and sea; so that ye even board ships;- they sail with them with a favorable wind, and they rejoice thereat; then comes a stormy wind and the waves come to them from all sides, and they think they are being overwhelmed: They cry unto Allah, sincerely offering (their) duty unto Him saying, “If Thou dost deliver us from this, we shall truly show our gratitude!” But when He delivereth them, behold! They transgress insolently through the earth in defiance of right! O mankind! Your insolence is against your own souls,- an enjoyment of the life of the present: In the end, to Us is your return, and We shall show you the truth of all that ye did.” (Surah Yunus: verse 22-23)

To do something for the sake of one’s own interest without having any principles is like the story of Panglima Muda (the Young Warrior) in the country called Entah Berentah. He unsheathed his dagger to show his valor but when the voters in his country expressed their dissatisfaction over it, he quickly asked for their forgiveness though the dagger had just been pointed to the sky and not to someone’s abdomen. Thus, he who yearned for adoration changed from Hang Berani (the Brave) into Hang Takut (the Coward). However, I feel that the fault of that warrior of Entah Berentah in exploiting the dagger was not as bad as the fault of exploiting the religious authoritative texts.