Tolerance for others articulated, regardless of religious affiliation
One of Cambodia's important Islamic leaders is President H. E. Zakaryya Adam, former Mufti of Cambodia and now serving as Deputy Mufti for the orthodox community.
Zakaryya also serves as the vice-president of the Cambodian Muslim Development Foundation (CMDF), a Muslim NGO that has as its primary goal the support of the Muslim community in the Kingdom.
Zakaryya says the three main objectives of the CMDF are to improve Muslims’ daily lives, seek the “right way” of beliefs and develop the human resources in the Cambodian Muslim community.
Zakaryya himself, a man of integrity, survived the Khmer Rouge regime and was forced to eat pork during that time – something forbidden by Islamic teaching – yet he’s very comfortable that he
did nothing wrong, knowing that a wise and merciful God understands the extenuating circumstances of the Pol Pot regime and the need for people to survive.
“The obligation given by God to humans depends upon our own human cap-acity. If we don’t have any capacity, God will not punish us. Those who respect and worship God also think of their own survival. When you worship God, you have to take care of yourself as well,” he smiles.
Zakaryya explains that, according to Islamic prin-cip-les, those who can take care of themselves can then take care of others and, in turn, can take care of the environment.
“They can then have a per-iod of peace: that is Islam.
"Whenever our deeds conflict with the environment, even plants, it is not good in Islam.”
Among Zakaryyra's, and CMDF’s, activities is the Islamic Voice radio program.
“The purpose of establishing the Islamic Voice radio program is not to broadcast only the Islamic religion sol-ely to Muslims," he says.
"But our main goal is to broadcast about religion and culture to non-Muslims who do not understand. Our goal is not to convert them, but just to help them understand how to find peace, and how to have it in their mind.”
According to Zakaryya’s religious understanding,
God (Allah) did good deeds to all humanity, and therefore people should go and do good deeds as well.
“Please do good deeds, as Allah does good deeds for you. This means that if we want to be a good worshipper of Allah, we have to do good deeds to everyone: animals, vegetables or people.
"Allah didn't do good deeds to only Muslims; he did good deeds to all human beings.”
When asked how Muslim and non-Muslim people can successfully interact, Zakaryya responds without hesitation that “We are all human beings.”
”Even if they are not Muslims, sometimes their good deeds are more than what a Muslim did,” he says.
“So we shouldn't be proud to be a Muslim by looking down on other people who are not Muslims. If we look at the history, the companions of the prophet were non-Muslims.”
Just because we respect others, it does not mean we have to worship the same way they worship, Zakaryya says.
“First, we respect the religions of others. It doesn’t mean that we worship as they worship. But we give them the chance to do what their religion allows them to do: this is the first principle of Muhammad. He allowed the others to follow what he used to do.
"During Muhammad’s power, he allowed nonMuslims to continue their own worshipping in their own place.”
Converting others to any religion by force is prohibited by Islam, Zakaryya says.
Whenever he goes to workshops or conferences, Zakaryya explains that there is no extremism in Islam.
“Not even a little bit. We preach about the small things, even the small bad deeds we cannot do. Don’t kill the plants.”
Zakaryya says it is just as important for all Cham and Muslim people in Cambodia to follow the law, like all other Cambodians.
“If a Muslim brother catches a fish at a forbidden time, it is also wrong in Islam,” he says.
“Eating the fish eggs is also prohibited in Islam, because it can destroy the environmentof fish.We think deeply to protect the environment.
"Any activities leading to destroying it are forbidden in Islam.”
For harmony with others from different religions besides Islam, Zakaryya looks to the Koran for guidance.
“Why do you hate people who don’t believe as you do? Islam does not allow people to hate others because of their different beliefs.
"The important thing we have to do is provide them with the goodness. This is the justice in Islam.
"If you get only the belief in front of you, and you forget the happiness of others, this is wrong.
"The Muslim leader who did not provide comfort to their people is worse than the non-Muslim leader who provides a comfortable life to the people.”
Zakaryya says there is a difference between the Cham culture and the Islamic relig-ion because the Cham originated in the central part of Vietnam and absorbed influences naturally from surr-ounding cultures.
“Whenever we live together as one society, it's a simple case. We copy from one another, and there is a rel-ationship between culture and religion.
"Right now, the Cham people in Cambodia are improving themselves to be good Muslims."
Nevertheless, being a good Muslim in Cambodia doesn't mean copying what a Muslim in Malaysia or Saudi Arabia does.
“Our identity is Muslim, but it's an identity that is suitable for Cambodian people. In our observance of Islam, we follow Cambodian law. Muslims in Cambodia very much appreciate this point: we have to follow the laws of Cambodia, and this is included in broader ideas of democracy and human rights.”
Zakaryya is married with three sons and five daughters. “Everybody is working except the three still studying,” he says.