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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Cancer of the mind

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It has been a very, very long while since Walski has written anything related to religion. But recent events have made it necessary for him to do so.

In the Quran, there is one basic commandment that is seldom talked about these days, going by the rhetoric from the many so-called “protectors” of faith.

Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things
Quran 2:256 Yusuf Ali translation

Instead, what we hear today here in Malaysia is compulsion – in spades. Compulsion to believe that there is one, and only one, interpretation of what Islam is, and what it demands of the faith’s believers. Compulsion to accept what the “majority” accepts, and the compulsion to denigrate any point of view not in concordance with what’s “accepted”. Worse, the compulsion to prevent any expression of said viewpoints.

How else could one explain this news report, published by Malaysiakini earlier this week?

A Muslim lawyers’ group is protesting Canadian author Irshad Manji’s programme in Kuala Lumpur on account of her “liberal” Muslim position, and wants her out of the country.


Persatuan Peguam Peguam Muslim Malaysia (PPMM) president Zainul Rijal Abu Bakar in a statement today said PPMM “objected to Irshad Manji’s programme” scheduled for this week.

“PPMM urges the government not to allow her to continue with her programme and have her leave Malaysia immediately, as it can be a cancer to Islamic practices in Malaysia,” Zainul Rijal said.

He added that several groups have lodged police reports over the matter, and also urged the ulama to come up with “rebuttals to counter” the ideas the author allegedly propagates.
(source: Malaysiakini, subscription required)

Two things occur to Walski immediately: Zainul Rijal is afraid. And Zainul Rijal has no bloody clue what he’s afraid of.
(what the real cancer is, and more, in the full post)

In fact, Walski dares venture that Zainul Rijal has never read anything Irshad Manji has written. Not her first book, “The Trouble With Islam Today(via Goodreads), nor her new book, “Allah, Liberty, and Love: A Path to Reconciliation".

And, as Walski’s learned friend Haris Ibrahim has suggested in his posting on The People’s Parliament, Zainul Rijal "has, himself, no answer to her points of view".

Instead, the vehement opposition to Irshad Manji is based on her sexual orientation, and the fact that she’s a “liberal”.

And as we all know, the word “liberal” has become a foul seven-letter word among the seemingly growing number of folks wearing a conservative faƧade.

Even worse, without even delving into what her message is – probably because these naysayers don’t have a clue – there is the immediate assumption that she’s here to champion LGBT issues. And as Walski has mentioned elsewhere, LGBT has become a manufactured political issue du juor.

So, exactly what points of view does Irshad Manji have? Here’s an example:

The clip above is from approximately two months ago, and talks about her new book “Allah, Liberty, and Love: A Path to Reconciliation”. Any mention of LGBT and the championing of LGBT issues?

So what is it that Irshad Manji says that orthodox Muslims find so repugnant and repulsive, to the point that they do not even want her on Malaysian soil? And please do Walski a favor – get your orthodox and/or conservative Muslim friends to listen to the the clip above, and then ask them the same question.

If you had the moral courage to listen to the clip above, allow Walski to ask you a couple of other questions: Did you spontaneously combust, or get struck down by a bolt of lightning? Has your faith in God (assuming you have it in the first place) suddenly disappeared?

It is a safe assumption to say that the probable and most likely answers to both these rhetorical questions are ‘No’.

Having heard what Irshad Manji had to say in the clip above, do you still think that she is a “cancer to Islamic practices in Malaysia”?

Walski’s personal opinion? “Islam” in Malaysia has been reduced to a very narrow and rigid interpretation, and nothing other than the “approved” Sunni-flavored “Islam” is tolerated. Just look at how the Shi’ah sects are viewed in this country, not to mention other schools of thought that have been deemed to be “deviant”.

Oddly enough some of these very same “deviant” schools of thought are generally accepted elsewhere in the Islamic world. Ever heard of the Amman Message? Malaysia is one of the signatories, and yet, the various Shariah laws we have in Malaysia do not reflect the consensus arrived at within this message.

The gist of what is contained within the Amman Message can be summarized as follows, what’s commonly known as the Three Points of the Amman Message:

  1. Whosoever is an adherent to one of the four Sunni schools (Mathahib) of Islamic jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi‘i and Hanbali), the two Shi‘i schools of Islamic jurisprudence (Ja‘fari and Zaydi), the Ibadi school of Islamic jurisprudence and the Thahiri school of Islamic jurisprudence, is a Muslim. Declaring that person an apostate is impossible and impermissible. Verily his (or her) blood, honour, and property are inviolable. Moreover, in accordance with the Shaykh Al-Azhar’s fatwa, it is neither possible nor permissible to declare whosoever subscribes to the Ash‘ari creed or whoever practices real Tasawwuf (Sufism) an apostate. Likewise, it is neither possible nor permissible to declare whosoever subscribes to true Salafi thought an apostate. Equally, it is neither possible nor permissible to declare as apostates any group ofMuslims who believes in God, Glorified and Exalted be He, and His Messenger (may peace and blessings be upon him) and the pillars of faith, and acknowledges the five pillars of Islam, and does not deny any necessarily self-evident tenet of religion.
  2. There exists more in common between the various schools of Islamic jurisprudence than there is difference between them. The adherents to the eight schools of Islamic jurisprudence are in agreement as regards the basic principles of Islam. All believe in Allah (God), Glorified and Exalted be He, the One and the Unique; that the Noble Qur’an is the Revealed Word of God; and that our master Muhammad, may blessings and peace be upon him, is a Prophet and Messenger unto all mankind. All are in agreement about the five pillars of Islam: the two testaments of faith (shahadatayn); the ritual prayer (salat); almsgiving (zakat); fasting the month of Ramadan (sawm), and the Hajj to the sacred house of God (in Mecca). All are also in agreement about the foundations of belief: belief inAllah (God),His angels, His scriptures, His messengers, and in the Day of Judgment, in Divine Providence in good and in evil. Disagreements between the ‘ulama (scholars) of the eight schools of Islamic jurisprudence are only with respect to the ancillary branches of religion (furu‘) and not as regards the principles and fundamentals (usul) [of the religion of Islam]. Disagreement with respect to the ancillary branches of religion (furu‘) is a mercy. Long ago itwas said that variance in opinion among the ‘ulama (scholars) “is a good affair”.
  3. Acknowledgement of the schools of Islamic jurisprudence (Mathahib) within Islam means adhering to a fundamental methodology in the issuance of fatwas: no one may issue a fatwa without the requisite personal qualifications which each school of Islamic jurisprudence determines [for its own adherents]. No one may issue a fatwa without adhering to the methodology of the schools of Islamic jurisprudence. No one may claim to do absolute Ijtihad and create a new school of Islamic jurisprudence or to issue unacceptable fatwas that take Muslims out of the principles and certainties of the Shari‘ah and what has been established in respect of its schools of jurisprudence.

The Malaysian reality, however, is that apart from the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence, all others are officially seen as not entirely kosher. Despite Malaysia being a signatory. Compulsion by the powers that be, therefore, to ensure that only “approved” Islam is practiced.

And while Walski may not agree 100% with the Amman Message, it is a good and positive start towards reconciliation between the major schools of thought.

The same Malaysiakini report quoted earlier also had this to say:

Meanwhile another pressure group Persatuan Persaudaraan Muslimah Malaysia (Salimah) said they vehemently objected to the arrival of one who they said “insulted Islam with her writings and attitude” that allegedly “denigrated the views of venerated scholars”.

“Inviting someone like her is surely an effort to challenge the sensitivities of the Muslim community in this country,” said the group’s chief Aminah Zakaria in a statement.

She said her group rejected Irshad’s presence charging that it would “raise confusion and incite anger” of the Muslim community.
(source: Malaysiakini, subscription required)

Honestly, Walski doesn't know where to begin commenting on this. For starters, he seriously doubts that Salimah has read anything Irshad’s written. Secondly, why is it that champions of the brand of Islam we’re being force-fed are so damned sensitive and angry all the time? And why is it that just about anything disagreeable incites anger?

Thirdly, by their own admission, Salimah are of the opinion that being a Muslim necessitates not thinking, and therefore prone to being confused all the time.

Solution? Suppress ideas, and enforce this suppression through the stance of compulsion.

The truth is that groups like the PPMM and Salimah refuse to accept that there exist views other than those that jive fully with the state-endorsed narrow world-view version of “Islam”. They live in denial, and would prefer that the rest of the Muslims (over whom they have no jurisdiction, incidentally) also be in denial just like them.

That is the real cancer – the self-inflicted refusal by vocal ultra-conservative groups such as PPMM and Salimah to use the God-given gift of reasoning, in fear of possibly insulting the views of “venerated” (and centuries-long dead) scholars.

But before you think Walski is being unduly harsh, he happens to think that theirs is a conditioned condition. It is the result of having been raised in an environment that loathes healthy inquiry, and damns questions as leading towards religious infidelity.

In turn, they compel their dogma unto others, stopping at nothing to ensure that any opposing views are silenced. And yes, sometimes resorting to using ultra-conservative elements within government to ensure that their suppressive tendencies appear legitimate.

Compulsion in religion, to Walski, does serve some purpose. Control is the primary one.  And compulsion in religion breeds hypocrisy, as pointed out by Mustafa Akyol in his recent opinion piece published by The New York Times.

From Walski’s point of view, the root cause of the mind cancer that afflicts Mulsims at large, not just in Malaysia, but in many parts of the Islamic world, is in fact, compulsion. Coupled with the notions that the human intellect should not be applied to matters pertaining to religion, and religion is best left to those “more qualified”, a fertile environment is created for cancer of the mind to metastasize.

That is the real threat facing many Muslims today. As things stand, the notions of liberty only threaten those in positions of religious influence, positions that facilitate realpolitik power. And power, once tasted, is something difficult to relinquish.

Perhaps the fear Walski senses in Zainul Rijal is the fear of liberty, and perhaps more fearful, freedom of conscience. Both are potential show-spoilers that can unravel the hold that persons of religious influence have.

But it is exactly liberty and freedom of conscience that are needed if we ever want to eradicate the cancer of the mind that afflicts us.