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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Liberalism, Pluralism and why using your intellect will land you in Hell

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Image hosting by PhotobucketFirst of all, a big THANK YOU to a myAsylum reader, JT who first elerted Walski to the Berita Harian interview with Perak State Mufti, Datuk Seri Harussani Zakaria (aka FatwaMan), published last Sunday, June 18.

So that this post makes sense, myAsylum has posted the entire interview (in Malay) and translated it into English, as accurately as possible (the interview opens in a new window).

In the interview, the good Mufti has shared with us his opinion of why Liberalism and Pluralism are evil, in as far as Islam is concerned. Aspiring future-owner of the Internet (Walski's favorite Mutant Mullah) UltraMENJ has stated that in this interview, the Mufti "has brilliantly justified his views and vindicates himself by giving a very concise and deep explanation of his earlier statement".

Ok. Let's analyze this brilliance that so overwhelms MENJ.

Image hosting by PhotobucketThe interview begins with FatwaMan answering the question "What is the real meaning of liberalism and religious pluralism that is said to be influencing Muslims?" Now, the question in itself is sneaky, because it sets up the reader to expect some profound truth. Naughty, Berita Harian, naughty...

Anyway, there's this long spiel about how religious liberal thought emerged, attributing its seeds to intellectuals rebelling against the Church. A concise, if not very accurate, way of putting it. But what's interesting is that FatwaMan seems to be in agreement with the old Roman Catholic Church, that scripture is not for the lay person to understand and interpret, and that only the clergy has this exclusive right. Putting it into the context of Islam, therefore, only the ulama have the exclusive right to interpret the meaning contained in the Quran.

While Harussani doesn't actually say this explicitly, this is very much implied, especially later on in the interview.

In explaining the roots of liberalism, the Mufti also mentions that the Bible has been re-written in a language simpler for the common folk to understand. He also makes the claim that the Liberal Muslims are asking for the same thing: that the Quran be altered/re-written (the Malay word used is diolah semula - which means to re-synthesize from the original into something else).

Now, Walski cannot comment on things going on outside Malaysia, but as far as can be ascertained, what liberal Muslims in Malaysia have called for is the re-interpetation of the Quran to address the relevencies of today.

Therefore, the assertion that Liberal Muslims are calling for the Quran to be re-synthesized is either a misunderstanding on the Mufti's part, or blatant obfuscation of the truth. Very brilliant, indeed.

On religious pluralism, the Mufti attributes it to John Hick, and explains that pluralism is the idea that "all religions are acceptable, because although the paths are different, the destination is the same".

[Note: John Hick, a Christian philosopher best known for his advocacy of religious pluralism, rejects the evangelical, exclusivist Christian view that those who do not accept Christianity are doomed to eternal damnation. His rejection is based on Christian teachngs of God's love, which he finds incompatible with the exclusivists' view.]

While a Muslim must follow the path perscribed by God in the Quran, there is room to allow for other religions to flourish. Basically, the philosophy is one of "to each his/her own" path. This is Walski's understanding of what religious pluralism is - the acceptance of the right for other religions to exist and flourish; which religion a person (regardless of race) chooses is ultimately up to God to guide.

There is a commentary written by Chandra Muzaffar on religions pluralism that is worth reading, originally published in The Star, but reproduced by the Malaysian Bar Association. It is a direct well-written rebuttal (unlike Walski's sometimes irreverant style) to the earlier assertions on the dangers of pluralism made by FatwaMan.

And the Quran's comment on this? (more in the full post)

[Surah 6 (Al-A'am), verse 108] Do not curse the idols they set up beside GOD, lest they blaspheme and curse GOD, out of ignorance. We have adorned the works of every group in their eyes. Ultimately, they return to their Lord, then He informs them of everything they had done.

Walski won't do a blow-by-blow, point-by-point rebuttal. That would be a sheer waste of resource. But there are certain idiosyncracies about FatwaMan that Walski must point out.

One of the interesting attributes of the Mufti is the superhuman ability to make great leaps of logic. In a later part of the interview, he quotes a verse (partially) from the Quran, to justify his assertion that Liberal Muslims have minimized the role of the Prophet Muhammad [from Surah 2 (Al-Baqarah) verse 151, as always the Yusuf Ali translation]:

We have sent among you a Messenger of your own, rehearsing to you Our Signs, and sanctifying you, and instructing you in Scripture and Wisdom, and in new knowledge.

The fantastic leap of logic is made by FatwaMan when he then states this:

"This verse explains that only the Mesenger has the right to translate the Quran because he was instructed with a strong mind by Gabriel as to the meaning in this holy book. Therefore, those that translate the Quran using only their intellect, are included in the group destined for hell."

Yes folks, intellect is bad. And how could this conclusion possibly be derived from the verse quoted? Remember the insinuation Walski made earlier about Harussani's view scripture being the exclusive domain of the ulama? Yes, MENJ, very brilliant. Very Spanish Inquisition-like.

So God gave mankind the gift of intellect for – what? As a Do-Not-Pass-GO-Do-Not-Collect-$200 express one-way ticket to Hell? Do Ulamas have a MONOPOLY on religious thought (pun intended)?

Which brings us to another idiosyncracy of the Mufti - the loathe he holds against intellectuals (except maybe those that agree with his ultra-conservative views). Whom does the Mufti blame for bringing the scourge of liberalism and pluralism to our shores - the intellectuals. He particularly finds loathesome those wretched Western-educated ones. Oh, and also how universities in the West have set up Islamic Studies departments for no other reason than to poison the minds of Muslims.

Of course, no Mutant Mullah speech would be complete without a fair dose of West-bashing. The interview has that and more. It's funny how ulamas are quick to blame the West for everything that goes wrong. And when that fails, blame the Jews. Yup - there's a bit of Jew-bashing, too, since the Mufti believes that the roots of pluralism and liberalism came from the Jews, who "from the beginning have wanted nothing more than destroying Islam".

So, is the interview brilliant? Well, for one thing it brilliantly illustrates how shallow the Mufti is when it comes to real world issues and ideas.

Walski has no intention to question the Mufti's religious credentials; for sure, he has loads. But when theocracy is upheld almost as a science in itself, the end-all, be-all of everything in this life, put on a padestal so high that no other mortal can challenge the Ulamas' opinions, without being accused of apostacy or of blaspheming - then it becomes a problem.

Ultra-conservative Muslims will take the interview, lock, stock and barrell, and herald it as brilliance. The more conservative, exclusivist, and chavinist, an opinion is, the better. To Walski, however, gold-plated crap is still, in the end, crap.

The biggest irony of this interview is that at some point, the Mufti laments:

At the same time, our mindset is backward, since the time of colonization, and until now, I can safely say only 10 percent of Malay Muslims have achieved the level of true professionalism. We continue to believe the illusion, as illustrated by "triumphing on cheers, but your home is pawned away" - we forget.

But really, is it that big a mystery why?