Religious department should not criminalise the rituals in the name of Islam

Religious department should not criminalise the rituals in the name of Islam

My sympathy for Ibrahim Mat Zin (also known as Raja Bomoh) and his cousin Suliaha Abdul Hamid who have been charged recently in the Lower Syariah Court in Ipoh, Perak, for performing the ritual of “tolak bala”.

In this instance, Raja Bomoh was performing a ritual to ward off the floods which had affected various parts of the country.

Apart from the investigation on them by the Perak Islamic Affairs Department (JAIPk) which led to the charge, someone had also lodged a police report on the matter.

Raja Bomoh and Suliaha are being charged under Section 22 of the Perak Shariah Criminal Procedure Enactment 2004 for performing a ritual that goes against Islamic teachings.

The Syarie prosecution is also looking into charges under Section 16 of the Perak Shariah Criminal Enactment 1992.When contacted by media, JAIPk director Mohd Yusop Husin responded by urging Muslims to not to be influenced by such rituals and to avoid practices that could lead to superstition.

I now urge His Highness, the Sultan Of Perak, who is head of Islam in that state, to intervene on the claim made by JAIPk against Ibrahim Mat Zain and friends. Whether the rituals are superstitions or silly “mumbo jumbo” is irrelevant.

We live in a supposedly free society, and therefore, everyone has the right to do silly or superstitious things, as long as it causes no physical harm to someone else.

When we allow the Religious Department to prosecute people for heresy under that legal provision,it means we go back 1,000 years in human history to a time when we burned witches and hanged those who believed in matters not approved by the majority clergy.

The state religious department should not have been given the power to prosecute for criminal actions for heresy and for defaming Islam in the first place, as criminal offences against insulting religions are already found in the Penal Code.

Is there a need to provide the state departments with more powers? Is it not enough that Muslims are being punished in so many instances for criminal offences for the way they dress or buying Sports Toto?

Rituals performed by Raja Bomoh may not have a scientific basis and probably do not have any effect whatsoever on warding off the floods or any kind of misfortune.

However, there are many things we do including officially endorsed rituals -which have no scientific basis nor proven to have the effect that they purport to render. These rituals are acceptable because the religious department say so.

Why criminalise a ritual one disapproves of? Just ignore Raja Bomoh. Islam and its adherents are not going to be affected by some actions of wayward bomohsThe belief prevalent in the country that if you vote for a particular political party, you will go to heaven, is pure mumbo jumbo; a superstition with no basis whatsoever in science or culture.

Yet, I am still waiting for the Religious Department from any state to take action against this organisation and its leaders. The leader of this organisation is close adviser to the Prime Minister.

I am not superstitious but I see the value of bomohs and their role in relieving stress and fear in people’s minds. I grew up in the kampung where “main puteri” was regularly performed and there were occasions when the depressed and the ill were exorcised by the “bagih” and the “ghosts” were taken out of the body of the sick person.

The bagih performer would begin by chanting words in classical Kelantan Malay, accompanied by traditional musicians. The crowd would rejoice to participate and help the sick person overcome the “ghost” inside the body and sometimes, the sick would recover fully.

My granduncle Pak Cik Soh was one of the more well-known “Bagih “performers in Kelantan. I still remember vividly his electrifying performance to control and ultimately overcome the ghosts.

This is how in the old days, people with depression and those who faced emotional challenges were given help.

They had no psychiatrists nor psychoanalysts. There were no sleeping pills or anti depressants to swallow may be heresy to the Perak Religious Department now but it was fortunate that religious officers in those days did not prosecute anyone performing such traditional rituals.

In the olden days, people in Kelantan were allowed to taste and savour the culture of seven hundred years but now, it has been taken away from them in the name of religion.

Bagih and main puteri are part of Malay culture and traditions dating back many hundred years. Some say it came about when Orang Asli rituals fused with those of the larger Malay community in helping the emotional imbalance amongst depressed individuals.

I suppose there are still many other ghosts inside the leaders of this country that need to be exorcised . If we allow more “Main Puteri and bagih to be performed on them ; perhaps there will be less nonsense coming out from them. The level of insanity amongst public officials currently is at all time high.

Whatever its usefulness nowadays, the Religious Department should not be allowed to criminalise the rituals in the name of Islam. We already have too many restrictions and punishments, all in the name of Islam. The wise Sultan Nazrin should put a stop to it now.

Datuk Zaid Ibrahim is a former federal minister

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