LAST_UPDATESun, 22 Jul 2018 9pm

Awal Muharam: A Look Back At Milestone Moments For Muslims In The 1438 Hijri Year

Today marks the first day of the Islamic lunar calendar for the 1439th year, and for more than a billion Muslims around the world, it is a day to reflect on their past year and to make new year resolutions to be a better Muslim in the coming year.

The 1438 Hijrah has been filled with many notable moments for Muslims in Malaysia and all over the world. In Malaysia, the Muslim population was graced with a visit by the Saudi King Salman Abdulaziz on February and His Majesty’s visit opened a new chapter inSaudi – Malaysia relations. Thanks to the visit, Malaysia sent a record number of pilgrims for Haj this year.

However, not everything went well for Muslims last year. While the Islamic State is losing ground in Syria and Iraq, a number of terror attacks across Europe by radical Muslims has sparked the world’s fear against Islam. Even in the Southeast Asian region, the bombings in southern Thailand and Jakarta has also raised concerns regarding the reign of Islamic terror in the region.

Even recently, the tragedy of the fire at the tahfiz centre has put the nation’s focus on the infrastructure in place to promote Islamic education system. Even though the fire was ignited by an arsonist unrelated to the tahfiz center, many parties questioned the design of the buildings, and the government has taken steps to help tahfiz centres in improving their overallsafety.

As we enter the 1439th year of the Islamic calendar, let’s take a look at the important moments for Muslims in Malaysia in the past year.

History of Awal Muharram And Its Significance For Muslims

The Nabawi Mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia. The city plays an important role in the hijrah of Prophet Muhammad to escape persecution from Mecca.The Nabawi Mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia. The city plays an important role in the hijrah of Prophet Muhammad to escape persecution from Mecca.

While Awal Muharram is an Islamic event, what does it actually mean for millions of Muslims around the world?

Malaysian Digest reached famed Islamic personality Muhammad Asyraf Mohd Ridzuan, popularly known as Imam Muda Asyraf, as the host of the reality TV show Imam Muda.

“Back during the times of Prophet Muhammad and even after his death, there was no special calendar for Muslims. So during the rule of the second caliph, Umar al-Khattab, there were some complications in handling state matters due to the absence of a time standard.

“So when Caliph Umar decided to start an Islamic calendar, his administration had a discussion on what day would be regarded as the first day of the calendar,” he explained.

Muhammad Asyraf Mohd Ridzuan.Muhammad Asyraf Mohd Ridzuan.There were many suggestions on important events that can be used to mark the start of the Islamic calendar, such as the birth or death of the Prophet. However, the caliph decided that the first day of the calendar should commemorate an important event in the history of Islam, and chose the day the Prophet made the hijrah or migration from Mecca to Medina in 622 AD as a suitable event to kick-off the calendar.

The migration was an important occasion for the Prophet and his early followers, as they migrated from a city that was hostile to them, to a place that welcomed the Prophet with open arms.

“It was a crucial change for Islam. From the hardships they experienced at Mecca, to the welcoming atmosphere of Medina, the migration ensured the continuous existence and safety of the religion,” the preacher explained to Malaysian Digest.

Theologically speaking, Islam does not dictate any special prayer or ritual for the coming of the new year, as Awal Muharam is only an event to remember a historic moment for the religion.

“The Prophet did not teach any form of prayer to observe the new year. Even the start of the calendar was proposed by Caliph Umar, and he also did not teach Muslims any special prayers for Awal Muharram.

“But the Prophet also encouraged his followers to pray at any time, so in Malaysia, some Muslims hold a special end-of-the-year prayers to ask for a better year ahead,” he said.

Imam Asyraf emphasised that the main lesson to be taken from the Awal Muharram event is to ‘hijrah’ and become a better person in the coming year.

“If we look at the migration of the Prophet, it was not as if they willingly wanted to migrate from their Meccan homes to a city they were not familiar with. They migrated out of necessity, to seek for a better life in the city of Medina where they can escape the persecution of the idol-worshippers in Mecca.

“When the Prophet and his followers arrived in Medina, they established a better life in their new home. The Prophet united the factions in the city and built a new mosque for his followers,” he said.

From this act, Muslims can learn that hijrah is not only about transferring to a better place, but also to become a better Muslim and establish a closer relationship with God. Even the word hijrah itself does not directly translate to ‘moving’ physically in Arabic, but also means a change to a better personality.

The Imam Muda reminded that the hijrah of a person to be a better Muslim should be a daily activity, and not just tied to single day such as the Awal Muharram.


Milestone Moments For Muslims In Malaysia

From left: Datuk Seri Najib Razak, King Salman, Sultan Muhammad V and Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.From left: Datuk Seri Najib Razak, King Salman, Sultan Muhammad V and Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

King Salman’s visit to Malaysia in February meant a lot for the countrlast time a Saudi king made a diplomatic visit to Malaysia was 11 years ago in 2006, where King Salman’s half-brother King y, as the relations between the two countries strengthened with better understanding and cooperation. The Abdullah flew in with a 300-member delegation.

One of the major outcomes of the visit was the signing of several Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) between Saudi Aramco and Petronas to collaborate in Malaysia’s Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development (RAPID) project, which brought RM30 billion worth of investments into Johor.

However, the visit also marked an important milestone for the mission to correct the world’s misconception towards Islam. The founding of King Salman Centre For International Peace (KSCIP) in Putrajaya will focus on combating terrorist threats and the spread of propaganda bandied about by extremists. The centre is closely related to the launch of the Global Centre For Combating Extremist Ideology in Mu’tamarat, Nasiriyah, Riyadh, and will be built on a 16ha land in Putrajaya.

On top of that, the good Saudi-Malaysia relations also meant the quota for Haj pilgrims from Malaysia to be expanded to 31,300 pilgrims, compared to just 30,200 previously.

Thanks to warm Saudi-Malaysia relations, the quota for Malaysian Haj pilgrims was increased this year.Thanks to warm Saudi-Malaysia relations, the quota for Malaysian Haj pilgrims was increased this year.

Malaysia also lent its expertise in public transport management for the Saudi Arabian government in handling the massive number of Haj pilgrims in Mecca this year. Malaysian public transport operator Prasarana Malaysia Bhd brilliantly ran the Al Mashaaer Al Mugaddassah Metro Southern Line (MMMSL) throughout the Haj season, ferrying 1.5 million pilgrims in the middle of the hot Saudi sun.

Prasarana has helped the Saudi government in operating the MMMSL since 2015, and is looking forward to serving the kingdom in future Haj seasons. The line only operates for seven days every year, ferrying pilgrims to important Haj locations which are Arafah, Muzdalifah and Mina.

In Malaysia, there were notable Islamic events as well.

This year, the World Quran Hour was organised for the second time since last year, and Malaysia had the honour to lead the event that was participated by 50 other countries, including South Korea, Maldives, Australia, India and Turkey.

The campaign was aimed to encourage reading, understanding and practicing the teachings of the Quran, and was pioneered by the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). Held on the 9th day of the Zulhijjah month in the Islamic calendar, it is held at the same day with Wukuf Day in Arafah, Mecca which incidentally falls on the same day as National Day.

The Malaysian level of World Quran Hour was held at 8.30 pm at the Dataran Merdeka and was promoted via national media such as RTM, Bernama, Media Prima, Utusan, NSTP and Karangkraf.

The annual Ramadhan fasting, Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Aidiladha holidays were carried out successfully as well.


Terrorism Threats By Radical Muslims Are On The Rise

There is no denying that a number of terror attacks this year by radical Muslims had rocked many parts of the world, including London, Brussels, Nice, St. Petersburg, Pattani and Jakarta.

While these attacks were only carried out by a very small minority of the 1.3 billion Muslims around the world, nevertheless it created a negative image for the rest of the peace-loving Muslims that Islam is a religion that promotes terrorism and chaos.

Unfortunately, a number of Malaysians were detected to be part of the radical Islamic State group, leaving for Syria and joining the fight there.

We spoke with Dr Sharifah Munirah Alatas, a lecturer from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia who specializes in geopolitics, and maritime security particularly in the South Asian region.

“The number of Malaysians linked to terrorist and other militant Islamic organizations such as Abu Sayyaf, Jemaah Islamiyyah, IS, Daesh, Al Qaeda, etc. is small when compared to such linkages in other Muslim countries.

Dr Sharifah Munirah Alatas.Dr Sharifah Munirah Alatas.“Even though numbers are small, these individuals can nevertheless contribute to violent terrorist activities and Islamic “jihad”. Having said that, however, the U.S., Canada and countries of the EU, which have had to deal with a number of violent terrorist incidents on their own soil, do not see Malaysia as a primary moving force in recruiting, inciting and operationalizing terrorist activities on a global scale,” the lecturer wrote to Malaysian Digest.

Unfortunate the past Islamic calendar year also shows evidence of a growing radicalisation of Islam in Malaysia, and restriction towards Malaysians may increase accordingly. Despite the recent arrest of 19 suspected Abu Sayyaf and IS militants in Kuala Lumpur, she thinks there are still more terrorists roaming in Malaysia, due to many regional geopolitical factors in the country.

“Firstly, the growing Sunni-Shia sectarianism in Malaysia, fueled by the Wahabbi ideology on Malaysian soil, has given rise to fundamentalist thinking that can be seen in schools, universities, and other segemtns of the Malay population.

“Secondly, identity politics has played an increasingly influential role in radicalising Muslims in Malaysia. We have an Islamic-based political party PAS, which has become increasingly attractive to the rural Malays in the northern states.

“I am not saying this inevitably will lead to more terrorist activities on Malaysian soil. But this development has already alienated the different races in Malaysia in which tensions are high,” she said, quoting examples such as the quarrel between angry motorists and Muslims performing Friday prayers earlier this year.

There are other examples of a growing tendency of some Muslims to isolate themselves and project an image of intolerance, such as the separating of Muslim and non-Muslim cups in a Cheras school, a refusal by a hotel staff to refrigerate someone’s breast milk because it was not halal, and when an MP said in Parliament it was okay for a rapist to marry the victim, even if she was only nine years old.

Abu Asrie (left) in an undated picture taken on the Basilan Island in southern Philippines. The others in the photo are believed to be gunmen in the Philippines.Abu Asrie (left) in an undated picture taken on the Basilan Island in southern Philippines. The others in the photo are believed to be gunmen in the Philippines.

Islam in Malaysia has also becoming increasingly politicised since 2009, where certain political parties are using religious ideology and skewed religious interpretation in the process of gaining political mileage.

“This serves to subconsciously justify in the minds of certain Muslims, that taking an extreme route towards “jihad” is sanctioned by the powers that be. Some Malaysian Muslims, despite living under ‘peaceful’ conditions, will be attracted to martyrdom as they believe they will get salvation for themselves and their families,” said the lecturer.

In order to curb the spread of extremism, Dr Sharifah thinks the government should do more than just monitoring the radical groups in schools, higher learning institutions or social media. The government must monitor more stringently Islamic preachers who promote dangerous and deviant teachings of the religion.

“Secondly, moderate, universal Islam should be championed by the government, not the haphazard, false interpretations, such as the “rapist-marrying-the-victim” scenario example cited earlier.

“In conclusion, the government is making a commendable effort, but a more holistic approach would be to include educational programs highlighting the separation of race from religion, denouncing bigotry and encouraging peaceful co-existence with other religions in Malaysia,” she summed up her take on the past year in the Islamic calendar.

Tahfiz Fire Tragedy Near The End of The Islamic Year Is A Brutal Reminder

The burnt building of Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah which was torched by a group of irresponsible teenagers recently.The burnt building of Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah which was torched by a group of irresponsible teenagers recently.

Recently, the nation was shocked with the death of 22 students in Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah Tahfiz Centre where they were trapped inside the building when the center caught fire.

It was later revealed that the fire was instigated by a group of drug-addicted teenagers who torched the building due to a quarrel with the tahfiz centre students at the futsal court.

On top of that, many has raised concerns regarding the building’s fire safety, where there was no certificate from the fire department regarding the building of the tahfiz centre whether it is efficiently designed for evacuation in the case of fires.

A few days after the tragedy, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced that the government will assist the existing tahfiz centers in improving their facilites, as well as amending the Education Act to include the centers under the Ministry of Education.

Fire department chiefs around the country have begun to conduct thorough inspections on tahfiz centers. The Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar also instructed local authorities to fine or close down any premises that do not meet the required safety standards, to ensure that a similar tragedy will not recur.

Earlier, Ustaz Haslin Baharim told Malaysian Digest while the tragedy is a reminder for Malaysians to improve the safety standards, we must also view it as a reminder and test by Allah to His servants.

"There is a reason behind everything that happened, where we should look at our own shortcomings, not just at the school. Allah would want to see whether we as his servants have patience or not when faced with calamities.

"Every test from Allah should be taken as a lesson including from the approval and safety (of the school) so that we would have awareness in the future. But do not make the aspect of safety as the reason for their death, but it is only the cause. Allah does not take any life without a reason," he said.

The preacher also stressed that parties who are interested to build religious schools to be more vigilant in the aspect of safety.

"Do not build a tahfiz and ask Allah to take care of it. Safety needs to be a priority. However, everything that happened, happened for a reason," explained Ustaz Haslin.

Another unfortunate outcome from the tragedy is the leak of sensitive information and pictures from the police, where pictures of the charred bodies of the victims circulated widely via messaging applications and social media.

Even the details of the seven suspects who torched the buildings were leaked into the internet as well, before the case was concluded by the police. It is illegal for the information of suspects, especially minors, to be distributed among the public when the case is yet to be solved which the police have established a special committee to investigate the matter, and the case is being investigated internally and regarded as a criminal case.

While the previous year of the Islamic calendar has been dotted with milestone events, as well as unfortunate tragedies, it is important to note that we must emulate the spirit of jihad and becoming a better Muslim in the coming year. We should learn from the mistakes and tragedies of the past year to improve our security and well-being, and also to continue good practices that we have adopted previously into the coming year.

Salam Maal Hijrah from Malaysian Digest!