Friday, March 24, 2017

Islam for Muslims or Islam for all?

S Thayaparan     Published     Updated
“Be not intimidated... nor suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberties by any pretense of politeness, delicacy or decency. These, as they are often used, are but three different names for hypocrisy, chicanery and cowardice.”
- John Adams

I was sincerely trying not to write another article on Islam. Every time I write an article on Islam I get the usual hate mail from folks who accuse me of being anti-Islam and anti-Malay. The people who email me are not bad people. Far from it. If you define “good” as opposing Umno and corruption, then these folks fall into the category of “good” as defined by oppositional forces. Personally, I think this is a crappy definition of good but it takes all kinds, right?

Lawyer Aidil Khalid said something in a debate organised by Bebas recently that demonstrates why this country is ultimately doomed. Forget about the fact that non-Muslims are losing the demographic game but this idea of co-existence and mutual gain is anathema to mainstream Islam. If people wonder why when most people migrate they do not want to go to places where there is a Muslim majority, then you have to look no further than the idea espoused by Aidil Khalid.

"And we do not even want to impose it (syariah law) on the non-Muslims. It is only for Muslims," Aidil said. On the face of it sounds reasonable. However, is it really? What these Islamists are doing, and they do this everywhere, is make a clear distinction between "us" and "them". They are proud of the distinction they attempt to make but get all butt hurt when Western governments attempt to do the same.

Let me be very clear. There is enough empirical evidence that laws solely meant for Muslims in this country have a direct impact on non-Muslims hence this separate but equal canard is just another example of how mainstream Islam in this country always attempts to subvert democratic principles in the name of Muslim solidarity and hegemonic power.

Some folks got extremely upset when Aidil claimed that Muslims have not complained when they have been subjected to civil laws which have a “Christian” influence. While this statement is inaccurate for many reasons, the intent behind the claim points to an anti-Western bias rooted in Saudi Wahhabism and drenched in hypocrisy.

Let us unpack this statement, adding a couple of other points that this young lawyer made. Here are the three points he made:
1) Muslims have not complained about the Christian-influenced civil laws.
2) That interpretation of the Federal Constitution should be based on our traditions.
3) The right of states to “debate, enact and pass matters on Islam".

The first statement is utter bunkum because we have a dual track system when it comes to certain civil laws. Over the years, and with the Arabisation process, state religious departments have encroached in the legal and social domains of Malaysians and have used anti-Western rhetoric to bolster claims of Malay/Muslim nationalism and to maintain political hegemony.

This brings us to the second point. What exactly are “our” traditions? Who defines these traditions? I doubt Aidil when he talks about traditions he means a Malaysian culture that should be inclusive and accepting of diversity as guaranteed under our Federal Constitution.

What he most probably means is the traditions of the dominant Malay majority. Fair enough. However the problem here is that Malay culture has evolved over time. The Malays of today are different from the pre- and post-colonial Malays.

Social engineering, the influx of foreigners and decades of the Arabisation process has made it clear that mainstream Malay culture and traditions is in fact a replica of Saudi culture or at least that is the eventual goal. “Malay” tradition and cultural norms have over the years been replaced with Wahhabi imperatives that seek to extinguish the various cultural influences that made Malay culture and traditions such a melting pot of Southeast Asian influences.

Hence if we know that Wahhabism is the dominant Malay culture, then what this young lawyer is advocating is that those so-called traditions of those interpreting the Federal Constitution should rely on is in fact a foreign Islamic ideology that the Saudis themselves are claiming to curtail.

Deviant thinking

However, let us for one minute think it is okay to rely on such interpretations. Let us assume that Islamic jurisprudence is an acceptable source of law for all of us. Let us go back to the so-called golden age of Islam, that era where most rational Muslims use as a touchstone to promulgate the idea that theirs is in fact a forward-thinking religion.

Do you know of any Muslim Malaysian scholars who advocate such a position? I do. I could name many but these folks are sanctioned by the state for deviant thinking. Deviant from what, you may ask? From standard, Wahhabi thinking.

People like Aidil always reminds us that “interpretations of Islam and the Quran should be left to scholars who have spent entire lives dedicated to understanding the religion”, but when confronted by voices other than the ones approved by the state, these scholars suddenly lose their Islamic credentials.

Here is an opinion of someone who has had a formal education when it comes to the intricacies of Islam, Wan Ji Wan Hussin - “I don’t agree that only Islam can be propagated. The Federal Constitution states that, but I don't agree with it from the viewpoint of religion. Let the law practitioners debate if it’s from the law’s point of view. But as someone who studied religion, that statement is wrong. Non-Muslims should be given the right to give their views, as opposed to only the Muslims who can do so. Maybe that's why people have accused me of being ‘liberal’.”

Does this sound like something Aidil can get behind or is this one of those situations where this Islamic scholar suddenly loses his Islamic credentials? I have often argued that the only way we can stop the process of sliding into a failed Islamic state is when we have diversity of thought when it comes to Islam. The main reason why the state wishes to silence dissenting voices is that they are a threat to religious, but more importantly, political hegemony.

However, the last point is where the action really takes place. I am a firm believer in constraining federal power. So my question to this young lawyer is, what if a state decides that it is unIslamic to discriminate based on race and religion? What if Islamic authorities in a particular state decide that there should be a separation between mosque and state? What if the state’s Islamic authority decides that there no need for a local Islamic authority?

Would this young lawyer be still gung-ho on state rights or would this just be another case, where the state loses its Islamic legitimacy because it goes against the federal-approved form of Islam?

That Malaysian original Haris Ibrahim at the Bebas debate said that he would not have the Islam he believes in taken away from him. The tragedy is that his version of Islam is anathema to mainstream Malaysian Islam.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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