Anwar: I respect ulama, but not those who give mediocre, silly comments

PUTRAJAYA: Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim today said that he holds respect for ulama, except for those who offer mediocre and silly comments that are overtly political and frequently change their 'fatwa' (edict) while being intolerant of disagreement.

Similarly, he recounted an incident where some preachers took one of his speeches out of context, specifically when he cited the Quranic verse Ashabul Kahfi, the story of seven youths in a cave.

"We allow mediocrity, and elements of stupidity to be accepted without question.

"We don't encourage, in the name of religion, creative thinking. The moment you criticise, they say you have no right to question the ulama. The problem in this country is that you don't respect ulama. Who says so?

"When the prime minister doesn't recite the Quran, they accuse him of being liberal, but when he does, they interpret the verses only as they intended."

Reciting the verse, he said, the story took place before the Prophet Muhammad, and how the youths who possessed strong faith rejected the atrocities of the ruler and stood strong with the religion at the time, Nasrani (Arabic term for Christian).

Anwar said while a prime minister is not beyond criticism, he questioned the quarters who labeled him as "misguided and misguiding".

He said his intention was to get Muslims and non-Muslims to appreciate elements in Quran that show respect for religions of the past, including Christianity, but was condemned as reneging on the principles of religion.

"How do you deal with the complexity? In my answer, I'm suggesting acknowledging the fact that the challenge is still the issue of fanaticsm, irrationality using religious bigotry.

He recalled a recent dialogue with students, where one of them asked why he spoke about Madani and government policies albeit in the context of Islam, Quranic verses and traditions of the Prophet.

He said, in his reply, that it depends on the substantive issues and was about taking good values.

"We have to deal with it firmly through education and understanding. In the education system, religious understanding is important.

"Many non-Muslims asked about the need to learn the Hadith (narration of the saying, doing or approvals of the Prophet Muhammad by Muslim scholars)."

He said failure to appreciate this is also problematic, and that Muslims students would not dare to have creative thinking and question their teachers if they were not taught about Islam.

Anwar said this during a "no holds barred" dialogue with senior editors from the country's electronic, print and online media.

The session, held at the Kompleks Seri Perdana here, featured journalists from various publications nationwide including Sabah and Sarawak.

For more than an hour, Anwar fielded a host of hard-hitting questions, ranging from the country's economics projection for next year, the unity government's relations with Umno heading into the 16th General Election, his relationship with the incoming agong  Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar and others.

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