Chapter 61: First Day as the Mufti

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This morning is unlike any other morning. After performing the Subuh prayer, Zulkifli puts on his white jubah, kakula [1] and al-Azhar turban. Rewinding back to several years previously when Zulkifli went to Egypt together with Negeri Sembilan Fatwa Committee members, he commissioned 2 kakula; one black and another grey in a tailor shop located near Husain Mosque. At the time, the only thought in his mind was that he wanted to put in on for any official ceremonies or occasionally for his sermons. Allah SWT’s fate brings about something else, it now become his official uniform when he was appointed as the Mufti of the Federal Territories.

Today was the first day for Zulkifli to start his work as the Mufti of the Federal Territories. Outside his house, Mr Azron who is the official driver appointed for the Mufti is already waiting in the car. “Asslalamualaikum Mr Azrin. How are you?” Zulkifli greeted him cordially. “Waalaikumussalam. Alhamdulillah, I’m good, doctor.” He answered simply. His face is austere, the face of a person who has just met another for the first time.

Zulkifli glanced at his watch. “Ok, it’s now 6.30 in the morning. Starting tomorrow, we’ll depart to the office at 6.30 every morning,” He informed his driver. The official car for the Mufti of Federal Territories Office started to accelerate from Bandar Baru Nilai heading towards the Islamic Central Tower in the Kuala Lumpur city centre.

As he arrives at the office, Zulkifli was greeted by the Deputy Mufti of Federal Territories, Sahibus Samahah Tuan Haji Abdul Kadir and several of his staff who he has yet to be introduced.

Welcome, Dr. I’m Haji Abdul Kadir, the Deputy Mufti. Beside me is Ustaz Omar Mehat, the Chief Assistant Mufti. And the one with spectacles is Mr Hilmi Salleh, diplomatic administrative officer in our office cum the Mufti Assistant in Management Services. Let’s go to level 10.” Tuan Haji Abdul Kadir introduced two of the staff standing beside him to Zulkifli.

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The Federal Territory Mufti’s Office was previously one of the divisions in the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Department (JAWI). At that time, the Mufti of the Federal Territory was the head of a division known as the “Istinbat Division”.

On 1st October 1998, the division was separated from the JAWI structure following the restructuring of the Public Service Department, Operations Development Division. In the early stages of its operation, the office consisted of only 6 staff members.

Beginning in the year 2000, all administrative and financial matters of the office were fully managed by this office with a management allocation warrant from the Prime Minister’s Department. On 3rd March 2004, the Labuan branch of Mufti of the Federal Territories Office was established. The Labuan branch Mufti’s office operates at the Ujana Kewangan Building, Federal Territory of Labuan.

At the beginning of Zulkifli’s appointment, The Mufti of Federal Territories Office consisted of the Mufti, Deputy Mufti, Chief Assistant Mufti (Kuala Lumpur and Labuan), Support Services Division and Information Resources Division. Under the Chief Assistant Mufti, there are Istinbat Unit, Buhuth Unit, and Falak Unit.

Before him, there are 6 other individuals who have ever had the honour of becoming the Mufti of the Federal Territories, they are:

  1. Sahibus Samahah Tan Sri Dato’ Sheikh Abdul Mohsein bin Hj. Salleh (1st February 1974 – 7th February 1986)
  2. Sahibus Samahah Dato’ Sheikh Othman Bin Hj. Ibrahim (2nd September 1986 – 30th September 1990)
  3. Sahibus Samahah Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Bin Talip (15th July 1991 – 16 January 1997)
  4. Sahibus Samahah Datuk Hj. Md Hashim bin Hj. Yahya (1st March 1997 – 15th January 2003)
  5. Sahibus Samahah Datuk Dr. Mohammad Yusoff Bin Hussain (31st January 2003 – 15th January 2005)
  6. Sahibus Samahah Datuk Hj Wan Zahidi Bin Wan Teh (21st March 2005 – 20th March 2014)

Sahibus Samahah Tan Sri Dato’ Sheikh Abdul Mohsein bin Hj. Salleh, the first Mufti who is fluent in both Arabic and English. Zulkifli has never had the chance to meet this Penang born Mufti but he watched him once on the television when he was still in primary school. On the screen, Zulkifli saw a figure wearing kakula where the Mufti’s appearance is just like an al-Azhar’s scholar as he recites the supplication in an Islamic ceremony at the Federal level.

Sahibus Samahah Dato’ Sheikh Othman Bin Hj. Ibrahim, the second Mufti was active in issuing numerous fatwas regarding deviant teachings. It’s probably because, during his time, the issue was a huge problem. Among them are fatwas related to the belief of the followers for Darul Arqam, Manaqib Sheikh Muhammad bin Abdullah As Suhaimi, Bahai Teaching and others related to faith.

Sahibus Samahah Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Bin Talip was a well-known Mufti in his time. His friendliness made him approachable and many were comfortable around him. Once, the government asked him to retract his fatwa on the issue of placing flowers and having moments of silence in front of the National Monument for it is considered shirk. However, he persisted in his standing. Due to his steadfastness, it was not practised again till this day.

Sahibus Samahah Datuk Hj. Md Hashim bin Hj. Yahya is among the prolific Muftis in scholarly writing. He was a columnist for Berita Minggu where he had his own column Masa’il Fiqhiyyah. His involvement in the Islamic movement ABIM and active in delivering sermons in mosques and surau made him closer to everyone in society. His son, Dr Asyraf was Zulkifli’s friend when they were studying together at the Islamic University of Medina.

Zulkifli knew of Sahibus Samahah Datuk Dr. Mohammad Yusoff Bin Hussain as a Mufti who is an eloquent debater and active in scholarly writing. His long experience as a lecturer made it enough for him with his research and writing, especially in the field of faith and philosophy.

Sahibus Samahah Datuk Hj Wan Zahidi Bin Wan The, the sixth and last Mufti before Zulkifli was appointed for the position after his contract ended. There were too many contributions from him towards the development of the ummah. Zulkifli experienced first-hand learning with him when he attended several meetings and workshops with the Mufti. To date, he is still entrusted with the position of the Chairman of the National Muzakarah Committee Council for Islamic Religious Affairs (MKI).

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Zulkifli’s first-day schedule was filled with briefings from the Chief Assistant Mufti, Ustaz Omar Mehat and Madam Rahmah who is his Office Secretary. Zulkifli also had the opportunity to get to know his office staff. Among them are Ezan, Ustaz Khairul Anuar, Hafizan, Ustaz Jamel, Ustaz Masri, Kak Chom, Ustaz Marngi, Hafizul, Famiezza, Sulaiman, Ustaz Mustakim and others.

The Mufti of Federal Territories Office is located on the 10th floor of the Kuala Lumpur Tower and is not too large. It is separated into two wings; the left for the Deputy Mufti, Chief Assistant Mufti and the right for the Mufti and several units. It helps foster a close relationship between the staff. From level 1 to 11 except for level 10 are all owned by the Islamic Religious Department.

After the briefings, Zulkifli entered his office room to make some notes. There are various things on his mind. Teaching students in a class or study hall regarding fatwa is very different from being in the seat of a fatwa institution which is referred by many. A difference between theory and practical. Zulkifli took a piece of A4 paper and wrote: “Fatwa Methodology Answer and Opinion Ruling of the Mufti of Federal Territories.

Insya-Allah, when the time comes, I’ll publish this. The people should know the process of how a Mufti issue a fatwa and give his opinion on the ruling in a certain issue so that no one will dispute the credibility of fatwa institutions.” Zulkfili whispered to himself.

Such is the heavy burden of the responsibility of a Mufti. His every action in issuing fatwa should be cautious and detailed. Every word that came out of his mouth, will bring about an implication of either good or the consequence. A rasg fatwa will break the ummah. While a protracted approach when an immediate solution is needed is destructive. All of this calls for wisdom and not solely on what has been written on the pages of a book.

Ibn ‘Abidin al-Syami, a faqih on madhhab Hanafi once advised:

ليس للمفتي الجمود على المنقول في كتب ظاهر الرواية من غير مراعاة الزمان وأهله، وألاّ يُضيَّع حقوقًا كثيرة، ويكون ضرره أعظم من نفعه

A Mufti shouldn’t be jumud in citing previous opinions in the books and just solely considering the literal narration without celebrating the current time and people situation. If not, various rights will be ignored and result in greater harm from good.” [2]

Furthermore, the challenges of current applications such as WhatsApp and social media causes 1001 information to be widespread in the blink of an eye. As to whether the information is true or false is a different matter. What’s important is that it’ll be spread immediately and gained the attention of many. This is the danger of modern communication.

Fatwa institution should be at the forefront in driving the ummah. This is the main responsibility. Solutions for the ummah problems should also be made available, for if this isn’t so, society may turn to other groups that carelessly issue fatwas and rulings without understanding the truth of the issue. The Prophet PBUH said:

أَجْرَؤُكُمْ عَلَى الْفُتْيَا أَجْرَؤُكُمْ عَلَى النَّارِ

How brave you are in issuing a fatwa quickly is how brave you are to be thrown into hell.” [3]

There was a knock on his door.

Dr, it’s already 5. I’m going home first,” Madam Rahmah informed from the other side of the door. She looked in the room looking straight at her new boss. Zulkifli smiled and nodded.

He puts his pen back in his pocket. “Insya-Allah, there are a lot of changes that I’ll do on this first month. May Allah SWT bless and help me!” He thought, praying in his heart.

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[1] Black jubah, an outerwear. Usually worn by al-Azhar scholars.

[2] Rasa’il Ibn ‘Abidin, 2/131

[3] Narrated by al-Darimi (159)

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Berkelulusan PhD dengan pengkhususan dalam bidang fatwa di USM, beliau juga merupakan Ahli Dewan Negara, Anggota The Muslim Council of Elders (UAE), Anggota The Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (USA), mantan Menteri di JPM (Hal Ehwal Agama) dan mantan Mufti Wilayah Persekutuan. Antara guru beliau sepanjang pengajian di peringkat BA (Madinah) dan MA (Syria) adalah Syeikh Dr. Muhammad Sa'id Ramadhan al-Buti, Syeikh Muhammad 'Ali Thani, Syeikh Rushdi Qalam, Syeikh Dr. Muhammad Abdullatif Soleh al-Farfour, Syeikh Dr. Muhammad bin Muhammad al-Mukhtar al-Syinqiti, Syeikh Dr. Muhsin al-'Abbad dan ramai lagi.

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