The guests in the grand ballroom of Kelab Shah Alam on December 18, dined as they were serenaded by a compelling rendition of Il Divo’s “I Believe in You” soon to be followed by an Arabic/Islamic version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. The six singers, accompanied by a full live band, were heartfelt in their performances. The multi-racial, multi-religious, audience were in good spirits.
CHILLING OUT … Dzulkefly reacts to a performance
It was fun. There was laughter and applause. Men and women enjoyed the moment together. All were present tonight to for the dinner-dialogue fundraiser for Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad. Such details would of course be rather mundane if not for the simple fact that Dzulkefly is an Islamist and a PAS politician.
In a discursive space as intellectually narrow and shallow as the one we have inherited in Malaysia, where much fuss and frenzy continue to be made about issues as menial as concerts and dress codes, the casual mood of the evening was received as a breath of fresh air, or for those unfamiliar with Dzulkefly’s work and opinions, a much needed cause and occasion for relief. Dzulkefly represents the rare alternative, progressive voice out there, and they are warmly welcomed by his gracious company.
“Islam is a way of life”, he reminds us in his opening speech. The phrase has indeed become an overused truism, but if Muslims are to truly embody that expression then we must show how Islam is life fulfilling, not life denying.
A fulfilled life is one of joy rather than fear, of wonder rather than anger, of community rather than segregation and animosity. It is a life to be lived meaningfully, not constantly scrutinized for every possible breach of sensitivity.
Dzulkefly also spoke of the importance of engaging with modernity, Islamically. Every two years he would gather his family members for an honest conversational review of where they are in their respective paths in life. The emphasis is on individual flourishing and vigilant, critical self-reflection. But this must be pursued horizontally, in dialogue, not an imposed authority as if from high on above.
After dinner, an auction ensued. The proceeds would fund Dzulkefly’s election campaign. Some of the items auctioned were donated by close friends. Most notably, a cartoon sketch of himself by Johnny Ong, sold for RM7000. A collection of adorable paintings by his grandchildren sold for RM1500. The tenor became more serious towards the end, when a panel discussion attended by Nurul Izzah and Tony Pua steered discussions to contemporary politics.
But that should not take away the most memorable aspect of the evening, and that is the political solidarity built on warmth and openness that was evident in the mood.
* The writer is Research Fellow, Islamic Renaissance Front, Kuala Lumpur