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Monday, February 16, 2009

The scary Musawah bogeywomen

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Related post: Musawah: Maligned and Misunderstood

At present, Walski is reading The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins. While Walski does not fully agree with everything that's written in the book, Dawkins does make some very relevant points. Among them is this:

If the advocates of apartheid had their wits about them they would claim - for all I know truthfully - that allowing mixed races is against their religion. A good part of the opposition would respectfully tip-toe away. And it is no use claiming that this is an unfair parallel because apartheid has no rational justification. The whole point of religious faith, its strength and chief glory, is that it does not depend on rational justification. The rest of us are expected to defend our prejudices. But ask a religious person to justify their faith, and you infringe 'religious liberty'.
(source: Dawkins, The God Delusion, p. 45)

A similar situation holds true for Malaysia, pertaining to the leeway given to anyone claiming to speak on behalf of Islam - regardless of whether sensible or not. 

Image hosting by PhotobucketLast week the Pulau Pinang branch of the Ulama Association of Malaysia (PUMPP - great acronym, by the way), issued a scathing press statement about the Musawah global meeting that's currently ongoing in Kuala Lumpur, until February 17th.

Within days, the statement was picked up and repeated by several other blogs, more or less parroting what PUMPP had to say, basing their commentary purely on what scant information they know, and letting their prejudice do the rest.

The press statement, originally published online on PUMPP's official blog (in Bahasa Malaysia), characterizes the way conservatives behave (be they religious or secular) the world over - that they are the only ones that are correct and have truth on their side, even when they are not fully informed about what they are protesting about in the first place.

Walski has translated the release into English, and has included some excerpts here. The full translation can be read at myAsylum reLoaded, the companion blog to this one.   
(all PUMPP'd up and nowhere to go, in the full post)

First, let's look at what PUMPP's all pumped up about (pun intended). From Walski's translation of their press release, dated February 12, 2009 (emphasis by myAsylum):

The Pulau Pinang branch of the Malaysian Ulama Association hereby strongly condemns the ‘Musawah’ program, i.e. Global Movement for Equality and Justice in the Muslim Family, organized by a major Malaysian proponent of the deviant Islam Liberal, Sisters in Islam (SIS). The Musawah meeting is seen to want to challenge the many basic principles of Islam, particularly in the area of syariah laws pertaining to women and family, that have been agreed upon and accepted by the consensus of eminent ulama.

Now, the ulama (or Islamic clerics), just like anyone else, are human, too. And humans can sometimes make judgmental errors (like the one Walski's probably making here in writing this post). Just because something has been "agreed upon and accepted" doesn't make it immutable, especially when situations leading to such consensus and agreement have changed.

Simple example from Malaysia: in 1984, the National Fatwa Council stated that only the Zaidiyah and Jaafariah branches of Shiah would be recognized as acceptable, in addition, of course, to the Ahli Sunnah Wal-Jamaah. Fast forward 12 years later, the National Fatwa Council repealed the earlier edict, making Ahli Sunnah Wal-Jamaah the only valid Islam in Malaysia and therefore, making the two branches of Shiah deviant (source: The People's Parliament). Both decisions were reached through consensus and agreement, in all likelihood. So, which one is wrong (and why)? If the first decision was immutable, can a second immutable decision override the first?

The press release excerpt above, incidentally, is from the first paragraph of the statement. Immediately, the conference and it's initiator are painted as scary bogeywomen. It's a known fact that the Malaysian ulama circles, dominated by conservatives, have a beef with SIS. So, how to quickly raise alarm bells within the Muslims (many of whom, when it comes to what the ulama say, have this strange ability to turn off their otherwise functional logic, and put their thinking caps on standby)?

Simple - "Islam Liberal" and SIS - two things that invoke all kinds of scary ideas, whether or not much (or anything) is known about either.

So, the first paragraph sets up the event (which Walski doubts PUMPP know enough about to comment) as something sinister... Moving along, the second paragraph starts off by saying,

This meeting is expected to be attended by various Liberal Muslim personalities whom the eminent Islamic ulama find objectionable...

and goes to mention who these persona non grata are. Why are they found to be objectionable? No explanation is given, other than (implicitly),"Because we say so".

And of course, as Walski had half expected, and was by no means disappointed, came this bit:

200 Muslim Liberalists have been invited from 40 countries, and will meet at the 5-star The Prince Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, on February 13, 2009, to attend the 5 day meeting. This closed-door meeting also does not allow participation from any party other than those by their closed invitation. PUMPP sees this well-funded meeting as possibly being supported by Western interests with the intention of liberalizing Islam, and hopes that the authorities will investigate the source of funding for the program.

Yes, folks - no tirade is ever complete without invoking the Evil West.

You can read the remainder of the translation at myAsylum reLoaded, but the following paragraph, to Walski, is the clincher as to why he thinks that PUMPP are making an ill-informed condemnation.

This meeting will also give a negative perception of Malaysia, which may be seen as a country practicing Shariah laws that discriminate against women, especially when the meeting will be brought to the attention of representatives from the United Nations, with the presence of Professor Yakin Erturk (The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women), who will officially launch the meeting.

Calling the event the "Musawah Global Meeting" - by virtue of it being a global meeting - should have clued PUMPP that Musawah is not about Malaysia alone, per se. It is a global movement - pergerakan sedunia, untuk mereka yang mungkin kurang faham.

Yes, while it's true that women's rights and interests in Malaysia, even for Muslim women, are in a far better state than in many parts of the world (but with room to improve), the same cannot be said about many other Muslim countries worldwide.

In fact, Musawah makes no secret as to where they get their funding from - it's stated quite clearly at the bottom of their Who We Are page. Go look for yourself, if you want to find out.

And that's the problem Walski sees with the conservative cleric class - and those who blindly and uncritically support them - there doesn't seem to be any need for proof, nor do they have to justify any claims they make, regardless of whether they're accurate or not. Everybody must accept their authority. Without question. Which is exactly the point Dawkins is making, in the excerpt Walski chose to open this post with.

The world is changing around us. From a technology standpoint, change happens faster than it takes Walski to write up a blog post, in all likelihood. Okay, he's kinda slow, too. But that's beside the point.

Society, too, has changed. A whole heck of a lot since the 10th century. But sad to say, there has not been much of anything ground-breakingly different since then, when it comes to Islamic scholarship or jurisprudence. Whatever consensus, agreements and what-not are based primarily on scholarship and research carried out over a millennium ago. And yet, few question this. Why?

If the Syariah laws are supposed to be immutable, why is it that almost every nation, state and sometimes even district, the world over has its own and different interpretation of it?

It's a reasonable question, he thinks, and Walski could go on endlessly about this. But he won't.

Two key things: the first is that Musawah is not something sinister, nor is it going to do what PUMPP claims that the meeting is trying to accomplish. Go to their newly launched website for yourself, and read up what they're all about. You can even read some of the papers presented during the ongoing global meeting in KL.

Second: there's nothing wrong with criticizing something you don't agree with - it's your right. But at the very least, find out what that something is all about first. Making clueless allegations only goes to damage your own credibility.

What's really a sad indication of how some people have taken the path to not think, but instead parrot-without-thinking, can be seen in the blog reactions to the PUMPP statement. One blog has called for SIS and Musawah to be banned (to save the ummah, it seems). Another even called for SIS to be detained under the ISA!

PAS Youth, too, came out with their usual diatribe - another group of wasted "youth" who have chosen the path of the faithful parrot.

Once again, a bogeyman is born - a bogeywoman this time around. Born out of ignorance, conjecture, and hearsay... from the imagination of those who cannot and dare not question, and ever so eager to regress into the idealism of an anachronistic past...