IT is disconcerting that Islam is being tarnished by incidents that smack of ignorance. There are people who are enamoured with only the physical rituals of Islam.
The true spirit of Islam is being discredited by ostentatious rituals, garb and punitive actions.
Caveats are placed in the practice and preaching of Islam, creating confusion and misunderstandings among Muslims.
The most important and visible symbol of Islam is the mosque, that is, God’s House.
However, God’s presence is not confined to this physical structure, but permeates every aspect of life.
And the mosque is not merely a place of worship, but a place of learning and interaction among the ummah.
In the old days, the mosque was a centre of learning as in Andalusia, Egypt, and Iran, like our old madrasah.
It was also a social and charitable entity to ensure the well-being of its Khairiah.
It is also not exclusive to Muslims, but also allows people from other religions to engage in social and intellectual discussions.
The mosques can also be used as a meeting place for Muslims to get to know people from other faiths, as one of the divine purposes of creating various peoples is for them to come to know each other.
Islam does not discriminate against believers of other religions. It is a religion of justice and tolerance, as exemplified by the verses in the Quran and the life of Prophet Muhammad.
Granted, one should not engage in frivolous talk in mosques, but instead on matters relating to charity and wellbeing of the ummah.
One should not tolerate activities that mar the sanctity of Islam in the mosque.
But incidents involving Muslims and non-Muslims indicate intolerance among Muslims with regard to people of other faiths.
To these people, the spaces, symbols of Islam and the Quran are forbidden to non-Muslims. To them, the sanctity of Islam is exclusive only to Muslims.
Breaching these man-made restrictions is regarded as sacrilegious.
Among the rather unfortunate incidents were objections to non-Muslims breaking fast with Muslims.
But these incidents are few and uncommon.
Generally, Islam and Muslims in Malaysia are tolerant in the spirit of Wasatiyah.
Otherwise, how could you explain the many churches and Hindu and Chinese temples that are as ubiquitous as mosques? It shows a synergistic religious attitude.
Just as Muslims celebrate Ramadan, Aidilfitri and Aidiladha, other religions celebrate their religious holidays, such as Chinese New Year, Deepavali, Thaipusam, Christmas and Gawai.
Although Islam is the official religion of Malaysia, it embraces and accommodates other religions. God has stated that Islam is for mankind. Therefore, we should allow access to all His creatures. It is not the preserve of those who are Muslims.
It should be an open-access religion, without caveats that prevent others from knowing and getting acquainted with Islam.
Mohamed Ghouse Nasuruddin, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang