Much hoopla has been circulating about Al-Bayyinah Institute which failed to fulfill their promise of hosting Mufti Ismail Menk in their recent event, Amazed by the Qur’an. It was arguably a substantial breach of contract given that Menk was their selling point. This breach has minimal enforceability if the intervening cause (the so-called ‘ban’ I’m about to discuss) was entirely unforeseeable – or was it?
It is common sense, or at least, I would like to assume as much, that the peaceful coexistence of all branches of all faiths is an extremely utopian ideal. Not impossible, but extremely utopian.
It is also common knowledge, or at least, I would like to assume as much, that the occasional rejection of foreign speaker permits happen.
In all fairness, this so-called ‘ban’ is provisional and has been blown entirely out of proportion.
The Ministry of Home Affairs has an extensive history of turning down foreign personalities from giving public lectures in Singapore. Foreign lawmakers? Check. Local and foreign political activists? Check. Gay rights supporters? Triple check. Whether the grounds in each incident was reasonable is up for debate; I am not about to challenge the Government’s discretion in banning these persons.
Now, angry Muslims are taking to their keyboards and protesting the prohibition of Menk from speaking in a specific context, in Singapore. Allow me to repeat that the prohibition was provisional and people are now reacting to a single, isolated event. When something is provisional, it is not permanent. Therefore, perhaps using the term ‘ban’ was erroneous because it has permanent implications (such may be the case but even bans can be lifted).
To put things into perspective, various influential Muslim speakers have been banned from working in or entering Singapore over the past several decades. Starting from Bilal Philips who was banned in the 1990’s. The news is so old the internet has forgotten about it, but given his track record in Australia, Germany and the UK, there is absolutely no way for the government to grant him leave to enter Singapore. Later, Zakir Naik and Imran Hosein were banned from public speaking in the early 2000’s, the latter reacting rather bitterly as seen in this video.
(It is also worth noting that the people who pushed for the ban of Zakir Naik were not just Muslims but also Christians, primarily people from the National Council of Churches, in their personal capacity.)
The points I am putting across are thus:
1. The Muslim speakers that were banned had something in common.
They were threats to social cohesion and promoted values that were contrary to Singapore’s aim of achieving racial harmony. Drafted in 1989, the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act sought to diffuse existing tensions between various ethnicities and beliefs, and prevent similar incidents in the future. Zakir Naik’s Bible-vs-Qur’an talks were nothing short of antagonizing and misrepresenting Christianity. Imran Hosein earned his badge of (dis)honour when he told Singaporean Muslims to emigrate in order to escape the looming economic crisis. Bilal Philips’ views on terrorism alone warrant no further explanation.
In 2012, Menk posted on Facebook that “to feel obliged to congratulate others for engaging in something against ones core belief is against freedom of conscience & religion” – basically, he said that Muslims should not congratulate people of other faiths during their festivities. Not only that, but he also made it an issue of faith. This means that the mere act of even wishing ‘Merry Christmas’ was a threat to a Muslim’s belief and thus they should abstain from doing so, for fear of inciting God’s wrath. This implies that they cannot partake in festivities, even if their own families were of that faith.
Further, in claiming that the Prophet Muhammad was an ordinary man, and subsequently making fun of his narration on seeking knowledge in China , Menk has left the boundaries of the Ahlus-Sunnah wal Jamaah . The provisions for this are in the Administration of Muslim Law Act, sections 139 (1) and 33 (1), the former which states:
“139.—(1) Whoever shall teach or publicly expound any doctrine … relating to the Muslim religion in any manner contrary to the Muslim law … shall be guilty of an offence”
What constitutes ‘Muslim law’ is explained in the latter,
“33.—(1) Subject to this section, the Majlis and the Legal Committee in issuing any ruling shall ordinarily follow the tenets of the Shafi’i school of law.”
It is known that besides major differences in creed, followers of the Wahhabi sect typically claim to be ‘la mazhabi’ or belonging to no school of jurisdiction. This implies discrediting the scholars of these institutions, who coincidentally happen to be authorities of either the Ash’ari or Maturidi school of theology, or the ASWJ.
This means the guidelines in administering the sharia in Singapore do not apply to this sect. Thus, allowing them to teach Singaporean Muslims (to whom AMLA’s jurisdiction applies) is in direct violation of S 139 (1).
2. The organizers should not have marketed Menk if they knew he was not granted a permit.
When an application for a foreign speaker’s permit is submitted, it must always be accompanied by the synopsis of their speech, or sometimes even the full paper. The process may take about 6-8 weeks, so by following this logic, the synopsis for Menk’s speech should have been ready way before the event itself. Al-Bayyinah Institute promoted the event and claimed that Menk’s speech would be a ‘surprise topic’, but the other speakers had their own topics. This suggests that either they knew that he did not get the permit, and didn’t apply for it – or that they applied for the permit, and assumed that he would get it in time. The former is more likely because if they applied anyway, they would at least have the topic at hand, and would have marketed it as such. It simply does not make sense to market a public speaking event (or at least part of it) with an unknown topic, because the application process does not allow it.
If there is compelling evidence that proves me wrong in this point, I will retract my argument. But as it stands, I have no reason to believe otherwise.
In conclusion, the above information was publicly available and required minimal research – but people are too easy to convince, quick to react and often do so disproportionately. It takes just a little discretion and scrutiny to understand things as they are.