The raging debate initiated by the Perak deputy mufti, Zamri Hashim, about statues of living things, does not show any signs of slowing down. It started when a municipal council, from an undisclosed location in Perak, asked the mufti’s advice about building an eagle statue.
Zamri informed the municipality about the religious connotations of the building of statues. He then penned his thoughts into his column, “Ibrah”, in Berita Harian, when he said that full bodied replicas of animals or humans were considered to be sinful in Islam.
Zamri may not have directly named the Langkawi eagle statue, but the fact that he was asked about the construction of an eagle statue, led many people to conclude that he was referring to Malaysia’s most famous eagle statue, which is located on the island of Langkawi.
With tempers flaring and people wondering if the much-admired eagle statue, in Langkawi, would be demolished, the Perak mufti, Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria added his voice to the debate.
Instead of calming people down, the Perak mufti stoked the fire when he brought the National Monument (Tugu Peringatan) in Kuala Lumpur into the debate, and said that having statues of humans, in the monument, was a sin.
He said, “From early on we did not agree with it (the construction of the National Monument) as we are an Islamic country. Why do we need to worship monuments?”
Who is the “we” that he mentions? Is it the Perak mufti’s office? When did they voice their objection? The monument was built in 1966. Harussani was either in his late 20s or early 30s. Was he the mufti at the time? Is there any official record of the objection lodged by anyone before the monument was built?
Most importantly, Harussani is wrong to suggest that monuments are made so that people will worship them. The National Monument is dedicated to the people, who fought and died, defending Malaya/Malaysia. It is not a place of worship, and even kindergarten children know that.
Why is it wrong to have a place, where the names of the people are inscribed on a plaque or a place where people can quietly reflect on man’s past violent deeds, so that they can learn lessons for the future?
Some statues and monuments are symbolic. The Parthenon monument in Athens is a symbol of Ancient Greece, the Athenian democracy and Western Civilisation.
The Monas (abbreviated from the Indonesian Monumen Nasional), in Merdeka Square, Central Jakarta, is a symbol of the struggle for Indonesian independence and its bloody revolution.
The Brandenburg Gate, in Berlin, is a symbol of Germany’s history and unity. No one would suggest that it is a place of worship.
The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of freedom. The Taj Mahal, a marble mausoleum built by the Mughal Emporor, Shah Jahan, is a place of beauty and an architectural wonder. The emperor may have worshipped his wife, when she was alive, like some men are wont to do, but in death he built the Taj Mahal to house the tomb of his favourite wife.
The Perak deputy mufti tried to assuage tensions by saying that replicas of living creatures, like animals or humans are not allowed, unless they were used for children’s games or for educational purposes.
Why are replicas of animals and babies alright for children and education, but not allowed for commemorative purposes? Children and adults are already questioning these conflicting remarks.
The damage and confusion created by the mixed messages issued by muftis, has been noticed for many years. Some conservative Muslim households forbid their daughters from owning dolls, like Barbie, Bratz or Princess Pony.
The confusion could go deeper. How can Muslims learn to appreciate beauty and form, in ancient statues like the statue of David by Michaelangelo? Can a Muslim become an art historian? Will Muslim Art Historians be made to choose between religious belief and art appreciation?
Why are some Muslims, in Malaysia, afraid of statues and monuments? No one worships a monument. We honour the dead, we do not worship them.
What is the cogent argument to say that dolls are acceptable but statues are not? Neither are worshipped.