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Thursday, July 08, 2010

When Muftis collide

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It all started with an e-mail Walski received from his good buddy. In the e-mail, said friend included this link, and a short message: “It’s good to know that the Fatwa committee has reliable sources for decision making. Thank Lucifer for ‘Christianity for Dummies.”

The link, as it turned out, was to a recently gazetted Federal Territory (Wilayah Persekutuan) fatwa about the ESQ Leadership Training, and similar understanding (you can also download a copy from here).

Walski, being of sound and inquisitive mind, decided to dig a little deeper into the fatwa, which appears to have been gazetted on June 17th, 2010. It is authored by the Mufti for the Federal Territories, Datuk Hj Wan Zahidi Wan Teh, who also happens to be the same mufti that got himself embroiled in the controversy surrounding Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan swearing on the Quran in 2008 (via The Star). He also happens to be the author of “Malaysia adalah sebuah Negara Islam”, a publication by the Ministry of Information, way back in 2001 thereabouts, which caused quite a stir at the time.

Here’s the odd bit – ESQ Leadership Training, formulated by Dr. Ary Ginanjar Agustian, has been around in Malaysia since 2006, and its client list not only reads like the who’s who of corporate Malaysia, but the program has been extensively administered in several state and federal level Islamic departments!

If that’s not odd enough, ESQ has its own Syariah and Faith-compliance panel, comprising of:

  1. Dato’ Mustafa Abdul Rahman - former Director General of Jakim (panel chairman)
  2. Tan Sri Abdul Kader Talip - former Federal Territories Mufti (making him Wan Zahidi's predecessor)
  3. Dato’ Paduka Sheikh Hasbullah Sheikh Abdul Halim - former Mufti of Kedah
  4. Dato’ Hj Nooh Hj Gadot - former Mufti of Johor
  5. Dr Adnan Mohd Yusoff – Dean for Quran and Sunnah, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia.

ESQ Training Malaysia’s Syariah Panel (from this press release)

If nothing else, a very impressive line-up of the Malaysian Islamic bureaucracy, whom Walski is very sure know their syariah. Now, would you logically expect such a line up in the panel if the ESQ program were heretical? 
(some justifications, lots of rebuttals, and more, in the full post)

But logic, in fact, is one of the things that the Federal Territories fatwa takes issue with (translation by myAsylum).

(v) menjadikan logik sebagai sumber rujukan utama. Ini bertentangan dengan akidah Islam yang menetapkan bahawa Al-Quran dan As-Sunnah sebagai sumber rujukan utama

(v) using logic as the main resource for reference. This contradicts with Islamic belief that has determined the Quran and Sunnah as its main reference resource
(source: ESQ Fatwa Gazette P.U. (B) 276)

Kind of ironic, if you take another justification (there are 10 of them in all) stated in the fatwa text.

(i) mendukung fahaman liberalisme iaitu memahami atau mentafsir nas-nas agama (Al-Quran dan As-Sunnah) secara bebas, dan fahaman pluralisme-agama iaitu fahaman yang mengajarkan semua agama adalah sama dan benar. Kedua-dua fahaman ini adalah sesat dan boleh membawa kepada kekufuran

(i) supports liberal ideology of freely understanding or interpreting religious texts (Quran and Sunnah), and the ideology of religious pluralism, that is the ideology that all religions are correct and true. Both of these beliefs are astray, and can lead to heresy.
(source: ESQ Fatwa Gazette P.U. (B) 276)

Many have talked about the creeping conservatism that’s been observed amongst the Islamic bureaucracy in Malaysia. Well, for Walski, it’s not creeping any more – we’re close to being swallowed by conservatism.

The reality is that in today’s cleric circles, particularly when formulating fatwa, more emphasis is given to interpretations and analogies of classical scholars – the Dead Scholars Society, as Walski calls it. Direct interpretation of scripture is strongly frowned upon. And logic – muftis forbid – the biggest enemy of all. 

Walski won’t quote all of the ten justification points clause by clause. Suffice it to say that it epitomizes a very insular and narrow point of view. And you know the worst part? Mufti Wan Hamidi has never even attended any of the ESQ modules (emphasis by myAsylum).

“We are trying to reason with the mufti but we haven’t had any response from him yet,” ESQ official Dwitya Agustina said.

Dwitya also told news portal she believed Zahidi did not fully understand ESQ training methods because he had never attended any sessions.

The ESQ official site notes that the mufti from Malaysia’s 13 other states supported ESQ training.
(source: Jakarta Globe article: "Malaysian Mufti Ridiculed for Decree Against Leadership Training Method")

This is only one of the many cases of late, where books and other materials – this time an entire training program – in Malaysia have been banned, or fatwa’d against, based on ultra-conservative viewpoints, typically based on little or no information.

In the process, the mainstream Muslim populace, typically raised in an environment of “thou shalt not question”, who hang on to every religious opinion made by others as if they’re the gospel truth, become more and more insular in their outlook. It is this kind of environment that has given rise to a growing conservative society, and fertile ground for groups like Perkasa to flourish.

Just about everyone who has attended these ESQ programs have raved about them being beneficial. One of the most common comments – it makes them think. And as everyone knows, a thinking populace is one that’s difficult for demagogues to lord over.

So, is this a simple case of Mufti vs. Mufti, or are there other underlying reasons? Walski doesn’t wish to speculate, as he doesn’t have sufficient information. What he can tell you is that this fatwa has come under criticism from two of Indonesia’s largest Islamic organizations: Nahdatul Ulama, and the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI).

Said Agil Siradj, chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization, said no religious leader should pass judgement on other groups within the same religion without thorough knowledge of the issue.

“This just goes to show how narrow-minded the mufti is being,” he said.

Said added that Islamic teachings could only be deemed misleading if they rejected any of the five pillars of the religion — the recognition of only one god, praying five times a day, fasting during Ramadan, performing the hajj, and giving alms.

“If ESQ taught people to pray only four times a day, for instance, then it would be right to speak against it,” he said.

“But what they teach is already available and acceptable in mainstream Islam.”
(source: Jakarta Globe article: "Malaysian Mufti Ridiculed for Decree Against Leadership Training Method")
The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) has denounced an edict issued by a Malaysian mufti declaring Islamic-based motivation and training methods developed by an Indonesian heretical.

MUI chairman Amidhan told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday the fatwa issued by a Malaysian mufti to declare the widely-popular Emotional and Spiritual Quotient (ESQ) training program heretical was “exorbitant”.

“The ESQ method is very advanced and extraordinary. Those who issued the fatwa are just not ready [for such methods],” he said.

(source: The Jakarta Post article "MUI rebuffs Malaysian fatwa on ESQ")

Now, you might think that the consternation expressed by the Indonesian religious bodies could be construed as a knee-jerk nationalistic reaction (Dr. Ary Ginanjar Agustian is Indonesian, incidentally). Fair enough.

But here’s what a Malaysian cleric, Datuk Hassan Ahmad, Mufti of Pulau Pinang, had to say (translation by myAsylum):

“Saya telah mengikuti ESQ Training dan saya mendapati pendekatan ini adalah pendekatan yang terbaik dan sesuai pada masa kini. Sebab pendekatan ESQ ini adalah pendekatan berbentuk ilmiah, iaitu berdasarkan daripada ayat Al-Quran, kemudian disepadukan dengan akidah. Walau dipaparkan penemuan astronomi atau ilmu sains dan sebagainya tetapi ia Berjaya dikaitkan dengan keyakinan kepada Allah Yang Maha Pencipta. Bagi saya apa yang dibuat oleh ESQ adalah training terbaik yang pernah saya ikuti.”

”I have attended ESQ Training and I have found the approach to be the best and most appropriate for today. This is because the ESQ approach is academic in nature, based on the verses of the Quran, and integrated with faith. Although astronomical discoveries, scientific knowledge, and so forth, are incorporated, but it successfully relates back to faith in God the Almighty Creator. For me, what has been done by ESQ is the best training I've ever attended.”
(source: ESQ Sharing article)

So again Walski asks, what's the heck is the deal with the fatwa?

For one thing, Walski found out that the fatwa text, in its entirety has been around at least since March this year, found in the form of an opinion article at a site called Now, how did this finally become a gazetted fatwa is beyond Walski’s knowledge to comment.

Walski also found this critique about the program, written by Ustaz Zaharuddin Abd Rahman. Although it is not a damning as the fatwa, Zaharuddin has problems with some of the terminologies used, among other “flaws” he’s found. Again, if you were to ask Walski, the point of view is rather conservative, being wary and cautious about every little thing lurking in the shadows that might jump out and eat up your faith.

Remember the Third Power Column hypothesis that Walski made not too long ago? Still not convinced that it is a real possibility? For Walski, this fatwa is another indication of the subtle attempts to make Malaysia a haven for conservatism.

So far, none of the mainstream news organizations have picked up on the fatwa. Or, at least, that Walski has seen. It also makes one wonder why the downplay and silence.

In any case, the direct implication now is that ESQ cannot conduct their training anywhere in the Federal Territories of KL, Putrajaya and Labuan. So far, it’s kosher everywhere else. Their website has indicated that they are waiting for a decision from the National Fatwa Council.

In that respect, one can only hope the National Fatwa Council will use resources more credible than “Christianity For Dummies” as part of their rationalization and justification… whatever it is that they eventually decide.

~ ~ ~ o O O O o ~ ~ ~

Walski’s affiliation disclaimer footnote: The reason why he’s blogging about this is because Walski thinks that this is yet another Islamic storm in a teacup. One of the many we’ve had. And rest assured, Walski is in no way affiliated with ESQ. That said, if you want to know more, you can read up about what the ESQ Training program is about through their website, or through their brochure that you can download from here.