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Swine flu hogs headlines

IN the week of 27 April to 3 May 2009, the Malay-language press was filled with musings on swine flu, PAS’s internal strife over the possibility of a unity government with arch-rivals Umno, the morality of art, and the growing problem of mat rempit.

Following a week of global anxiety, religious commentators placed the blame for the influenza A (H1N1) outbreak where they thought it belonged: on the moral bankruptcy of the human race. Abdurrahman Haqqi, writing in Berita Minggu‘s 3 May edition (Selesema babi amaran untuk umat ingkar), implied as much. He cited verses from four Surah expounding the uncleaniless of swine, concluding: “If we examine the verses that explain that eating pork is haram, we realise that those verses aren’t just aimed at Muslims, but all humankind.”

(Pic by theodore 99/
Abdurrahman explained that the stigma on hogs was not only found in the Islamic world, but also in the West. “For example, in their society, there are proverbs like ‘Don’t be such a pig’ or ‘Take your hands off me, you filthy swine’.”

Interestingly, the writer excluded the fact that Jewish tradition marks pork as not kosher. The only time Jews came up, in fact, was when Abdurrahman quoted 60 Surah al-Maidah, which refers to evil-worshippers whom Allah has transformed into apes and swine. The Jews’ defiance of Allah’s teachings would warrant a similar fate, according to Abdurrahman.

The writer bemoaned the fact that the swine flu epidemic was now receiving too much attention — “Now the global mass media is reporting on it, and therefore ‘uplifted’ is swine’s name” — and quoted an article, Swine flu outbreak. The truth is ugly by one Dr Keith, intimating the possibility that the disease was propagated by American pharmaceutical companies.

Abdurrahman’s advice on how to deal with the outbreak was lifted from the Bukhari Hadith. “For facing epidemics like swine flu, Muslims are reminded of their holy teachings, among which some mean: ‘Flee from lepers like you would from tigers’.”

Conditional unity

On 28 April, Utusan Malaysia published a front-page report headlined Cadangan kerajaan perpaduan: Nik Aziz setuju dengan syarat. The story revealed that PAS spiritual leader and Kelantan Menteri Besar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat was prepared to accept a unity government, as was suggested by PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang. This was provided, however, that the Barisan Nasional (BN) give the Islamic party important posts such as the finance and education ministerships.

Nik Aziz was quoted as saying: “Yes, if the BN want us together, they must be prepared to give us important posts, so that we can carry out Islamic programmes in those positions … What we ask is good for the people and the nation. We can be together.”

His son, PAS Youth deputy chief Nik Abduh Nik Abdul Aziz, stirred controversy by saying that Nik Aziz’s assistants had misrepresented Abdul Hadi’s unity government suggestion. “Understand that the unity government that my father rejected was a type of government that assistants, who were ‘clothed’ in knowledge, made him to understand. They were happy to pit my father against Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang.”

Nik Aziz
The following day, Nik Abduh explained his view in ‘Serangan terhadap pembantu ayahanda’: “The stupidity is not in rejecting a unity government, but in understanding it in a deceitful way, with intentions that are not right. They (Nik Aziz’s assistants) are fighters of desire. I don’t want to say political or financial desire, but when you talk about desire it is contrary to religion.”

On the facing page, Utusan Malaysia ran Hasrat Nik Aziz dialu-alukan, a story that quoted figures such as Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin and Wanita Umno deputy chief Datuk Kamilia Ibrahim as welcoming Nik Aziz’s olive branch.

However, these had stipulations of their own. “Our condition is that they have to be sincere, and not set any conditions,” said Khairy.

Mat rempit disease

Senator Datuk Dr Firdaus Abdullah, in his Cermin Belakang column for Utusan Malaysia‘s 30 April edition (Menangani fenomena mat rempit), mulled over Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil’s outrage at the mounting violence propagated by mat rempit.

“She scolded the parents who were said to have neglected their children’s upbringing to the point that they became involved in mat rempit activities,” the writer observed.

“But something more crucial that has to be understood by all is that the mat rempit phenomenon is not an isolated issue … it is a social disease that has begun to spread into various sectors of life.”

The writer, a visiting fellow at Universiti Malaya, urged a concerted effort to address the issue, and believed that such action should include academics, “especially psychologists and sociologists, experts of law and criminology, as well as enforcers of traffic law.” However, Firdaus did not suggest any concrete measures. The issue, despite popular indignation, appears to remain an open question.

Art laid bare

Universiti Sains Malaysia academics were involved in a minor skirmish in Berita Harian‘s letter pages last week. On 28 April, a Mohd Jamal from Kuala Lumpur, in a letter titled Pameran Foto di USM papar gadis separuh bogel dikesali, expressed surprise that the university allowed an exhibition of “half-nude photographs of local girls” in its Adiwarna gallery.

“Many who saw the photos shook their heads, including the lecturers,” Jamal said, revealing that there were photographs of women in underwear, or covering their bare breasts with their hands. “The pictures that were exhibited numbered in the dozens.

“As a Malaysian, if you want to create work it should not be to the point that religion, race and country are mortgaged. We as Asians  and Muslims should be more aware of this.”

Jamal added that he hoped USM would put an end to such things.

(Pic by Stefan Wagner /
A response from the university the following day (Foto gadis separuh bogel bukan untuk pameran umum) revealed that the photographs had been part of a evaluation exhibition for Visual Art and Design students, and stressed that the show was for academic purposes, and not for public consumption.

The response by Mohamad Abdullah from the USM Penang Vice Chancellor’s office attempted to defend the show. “The works were an interrogation of the concept of sexiness that stems from the public eye. It is also an invitation for people to appreciate God-given gifts that are rarely appreciated.”

Abdullah assured Berita Harian readers that the coursework for USM’s Art Department was overseen by the university’s dean and other lecturers “to ensure that they are not overboard, and not against tradition, manners, and religious life.” It is significant, perhaps, that the university did not apologise for the show, or accede to pressure to stem such works from being exhibited in future.

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