By now, most of us should be aware of the controversy that was sparked by the 2019 Piala Tun Razak debate motions. Following the controversy, the two co-chief adjudicators; Aidil Ali and Iyad Zakiy came out with an apology statement. If you haven’t read it yet, it was a three page explanation basically saying “sorry, not sorry” and trying to justify what they did.
As a former debater, I do think that debate motions are moving towards being more liberal by the year. I had been involved in debate competitions for five years, both as a participant and adjudicator in national and international competitions. Yet I have not come across motions that were close to the ones introduced by Aidil Ali and Iyad Zakiy on rewriting the quran and homosexuality.
They mentioned that other competitions had similar motions like “This House believes that birth lottery should be a legitimate defense for the non-believers in the Afterlife”. If this is true, then the debate scene has definitely been much more liberal than it used to eight years back when I was part of it.
Although the co-adjudicators deny it, this trend of pushing the limits of religion in the name of discourse is a direct form of indoctrination of liberal values to the participants. Instilling that there is a hypothetical situation where Islamic fiqh is “a law decreed thousands of years ago from ijtima whose judgements were clouded by inherent homophobia” is nothing but a subtle way of casting doubt on fiqh scholars. I think it is also not a coincidence that one of the co-adjudicators, Aidil Ali, is also a homosexual and a supporter of LGBT activism. It is obvious he is trying to project his own values in this competition.
The debate motions were also a direct mockery on the traditions of Islamic knowledge. Imagine Muslim school kids debating back and forth on whether the Quran should be rewritten. Firstly, I have yet to come across a mazhab of Islam that believes the Quran should be rewritten, over the 1400 years since it was revealed. Second, how has the participants been equipped with the right foundations of Islamic knowledge traditions to even discuss such core concept of Islam?
If anything, this culture of pushing the boundaries of religion in the name of freedom of thought and expression will do more harm than good to our Islamic country, and our Muslim youths. While the co-adjudicators justify it being merely a sport to “think outside of the box”, what it instead does is teach our young kids that you don’t have to respect Islamic knowledge traditions, or have the knowledge authority to break down core concepts of Islam into pieces.
While the co-adjudicators deny it, the motions presented are nothing but an indoctrination of liberal interpretations of Islam; where anyone has the authority to define or redefine Islam however they wish to. This is all done in the name of discourse, freedom of expression, religion, and thought; all of which are core concepts of liberal ideas. If we keep this up, then we will support the foundations of a generation of youths that are open to question topics they have absolutely no fundamental knowledge and understanding about, even if it means going against their core identity.
Islam provides room for debate and discourse on a wide variety of topics. We are open to discuss on policy, science, tech, health, and many other fields. But Islam also teaches us to only talk on things that we have authority on. This is where the debate culture is lacking. Debate can be a good way to instill critical thinking, but I often find that it also promotes a culture of speaking eloquently while questioning things that you absolutely have no fundamental knowledge about.
I urge debaters and competition organizers to reform the current debate culture so that it reflects our creed and values as Muslims. Malaysia is a country where Islam is the religion of the federation. Thus, the competitions that we organize need to also reflect those values as well, regardless of who is organizing or participating.
ISMA Cawangan US-Canada