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Last Friday, I went for Friday prayers at a mosque in south Los Angeles in the area of the University of Southern California (USC). Aside from performing my religious duty, I was also curious and wanted to listen to the sermon, especially with the current situation in the USA.

As we are all aware, US President Donald J Trump signed an executive order to ban refugees and citizens from seven countries, namely Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Sudan and Somalia. A legal crisis erupted and currently, the order has been suspended and being heard in court.

Many are furious, saying that Trump’s executive order is unconstitutional and does not represent the true spirit of the country. They have held protests and demonstrations all around the country and have expressed their displeasure.

Those who are against the order say that it is a racist and mean-spirited move to ban Muslims from entering the country. They believe that the country, which was built on the fact that immigrants came to look for a better life, should always be open to help those who are in need.

The mosque filled up quick after the azan and the congregation came out in full force. Aside from that, there were a group of USC students who dropped by the mosque to stand in solidarity with the Muslims in the community.

The gist of the sermon that Friday was more of wanting to assure the congregation that everything is okay and that they should not be nervous or feel threatened, that this country is as much theirs as it is any other American, and that they should all come together.

It is going to be interesting to see how the Muslim population in the US handle the crisis that is their new president. As reported in the media, hate crimes against Muslims have been on the rise and many Americans don’t even understand the religion.

If the Friday sermon is to be judged and extrapolated to represent the Muslim population in the country, then the Muslims are coming together strong. And they are not alone because they are being joined by the rest of America as well.

During protests, Muslims conduct their prayers while being protected by other demonstrators. They stand, march and chant together. And from my experience attending the protest that happened at the Los Angeles International Airport, even feed each other.

Many American Muslim spokespersons have also come out to speak against Trump’s order and to convey a message of positivity. Among those who have taken the spotlight include Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American from New York, and Edina Lekovic, a Yugoslavian-American.

Sarsour is one of the organisers of the Women’s March that took place last month, one day after Trump’s inauguration. She is also a plaintiff in a legal suit filed against Trump challenging the validity of his executive order.

Lekovic is a member of the Muslim Public Affairs Council and she regularly speaks in public and appears in the news media such as on CNN, Fox News, BBC, MSNBC, Associated Press, Wall Street Journal and many more to comment about Islam.

Lekovic constantly tries to push a positive image of Muslim Americans in the media and the public sphere to counter the negative image (such as acts of terror and violence) that is more often seen, especially in the news media.

Facing an almost similar situation

The current situation in the US is very interesting for Malaysia, and most probably for the rest of the Muslim world as well. We, in Malaysia, are facing a situation that is almost similar to the Muslims in the US whereby we are being threatened with a narrow-minded establishment.

Yes, we are a dominantly Muslim country. However, the narrow and single-minded systematic interpretation of Islam that is being imposed and enforced onto us in Malaysia is just as oppressive and discriminatory.

As Muslims, we need to be encouraged to challenge interpretations, ideas and thoughts so that we can continue to progress as a society. We need to be encouraged to learn and study so that we can think and come up with rational conclusions.

The concept of Ijtihad is something that is fast being lost in our society. It is a concept which refers to finding solutions through independent reasoning, using the full capabilities of a human’s mental faculties. Basically, to think with our minds.

The systematic enforcement of Islam in Malaysia does not encourage this. Instead, it constantly persuades society to not trust their intellect, and that the best way is to always just consult someone who is supposedly more knowledgeable, such as an ustaz or an alim.

One good example of how this is slowly stripping Malaysian Muslims off of their thinking ability is the current debacle that is being raised by the Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia (PPIM) regarding paint brushes that are made with pig bristles.

PPIM is urging a special ‘logo-babi’ to be pasted on all porcine-based products so that “Muslims would not be confused”. This has become a nation-wide news story as if there is nothing more important happening in Malaysia.

This reminds of the many times I have seen Malay Muslim supermarket cashiers using plastic bags as gloves when they have to handle beer cans and tins of spam or ham at the checkout counters, as if the alcohol or pork can seep through the aluminium and into their skin.

This just shows the lack of proper understanding of Islam by the people and I strongly believe that it is a direct result of the systematic narrow-mindedness way Islam is enforced in the country. It makes me sad to see that this is how Muslims in Malaysia have become.

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