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Friday, July 14, 2006

Fearing the L-word

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There seems to be a lot of fear about the L-word. No, not "Lesbian" (although Walski doesn't mind them one tiny bit), but Liberalism. More specifically, when it comes to Islam.

Image hosting by PhotobucketThe big, bad, Liberalism wolf
(click to view a larger image)

Many are talking about how evil Liberal Islam is, and that it should be declared as haram (forbidden), and going a step even further, prosecuting those that espouse this school of thought.

Earlier today (Wednesday, July 13) a group of 100 Muslim lawyers gathered at the Federal Territory Syariah Court to form Peguam Pembela Islam (Lawyers in Defense of Islam), or PPI, as reported by Malaysiakini, and by Harakah (not surprisingly, none of the mainstream press has reported it as of midnight). Their purpose? To protect Islam against what they consider a "concerted effort to attack Islam".

In particular, their aim is to ensure that Islam remains in a position of superiority in the country. Just short of saying that they want an Islamic state, pretty much. Although the grouping was non-Partisan from a political party standpoint, they were united in wanting the status quo of Islam to not only remain as it is (purportedly), but to strengthen the religion's position.

But what exactly is Liberal Islam? Those that are speaking so vehemently against it usually do not offer a definition, rather they go on and on about how Liberal Islam is endangering the Islamic way of life and belief (akidah). Interestingly enough, there is a webpage that aims to educate the dangers of Liberal Islam. Here, a definition of what Liberal Islam is provided (originally in Malay):

► Destroying the meaning of Islam, Faith, Believers and Infidels (Merosak makna Islam, Iman, mukmin dan kafir)
► Deligitimizing the Uthmani-compiled Quran, and promoting the Critical Edition Quran(Mendelegitimasi (menyah-sahkan) Mushaf Uthmani dan menawarkan al-Quran Edisi Kritis)
► Equating the Quran with religious texts of other religions (Mempersamakan al-Quran dan Kitab Agama lain)
► Deligitimizing the (generally accepted) interpretation of the Quran (Mendelegitimasi (menyah-sahkan) tafsir al-Quran)
► Destroying Islamic law (Meruntuhkan syariat Islam)
► Destroying the authority of Prophet Muhammad, his companions and the ulama (Meruntuhkan otoriti Nabi Muhammad saw, sahabat dan ulama)
► Supporting moral decay (Menyokong kerosakan akhlak)

It's not immediately known if the definition above is what all anti-Liberal Islam conservatives believe, but that's what this one site has to say. It also names three Malaysians, Astora Jabat, Dr. Chandra Muzaffar and Zainah Anwar as proponents of Liberal Islam.

Other sites exist, whose purpose is to promote a status quo, traditionalist and conservative view of Islam. Among them are Bukan Islam Liberal, Muslim Professionals Forum and Swara Muslim - Counter Liberlisme (Indonesia-based site).

But what is the definition of Liberal Islam, from a liberal Muslim's point of view? An answer can be found at the website of the Jaringan Islam Liberal (or Liberal Islam Network), an Indonesia-based organization. According to the About Us section of the website, their stand is:
a. The openness of ijtihad's gates in the entire aspects
b. Emphasize on the ethical-religious spirit, not the literal meaning of the text
c. The relative, open, and plural truth
d. Stand behind the minorities and the oppressed
e. Freedom of belief and faith, and
f. The separation of ukhrawi (heavenly) vis-à-vis duniawi (worldly) authority, and the religious vis-à-vis political authority
(more analysis and Walski's thoughts in the full post)

Ijtihad is an Islamic jurisprudence term, meaning "making a legal decision by independent interpretation of the legal sources (i.e. Quran and Sunnah)" (source: Wikipedia). Historically, around the 10 - 12 century CE, the practice ijtihad gradually ceased as a means of determining laws of Islamic jurisprudence - known as the "closure of the door of ijtihad". In other words, what's commonly regarded as Syariah Law today is based primarily on interpretations over a millenium old.

The liberal muslim, it appears, does not outright reject everything traditionally held as sacred. Rather, the liberal muslim in essence, is calling for Islam to be made more relevant to address today's problems.

There are numerous other websites on Liberal Islam, and Liberalism in Islam is not new. In a paper written by Charles Kurzman, at the time a professor of Sociology at University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), entitled "Liberal Islam: Prospects and Challenges", Kurzman states that Liberal Islamic thought has grown out of three factors:
- Advancement in education
- Increased International communications, and
- the failure of Islamic regimes

In Malaysia, surrounding the fear of Liberalism is also the fear of an Inter-Faith Council (IFC) being set up, which is seen as an overt means of destroying Islam in Malaysia by the conservative Muslims. The conservatives see the need to retain an "Islamic way of life", as they see how an Islamic way of life should be. The key issue the conservatives seem to have a problem with is Article 11 of the Malaysian Constitution, which outlines the freedom of religion. Applied to all citizens, as the Constitution should, this would mean that a Muslim could, if he or she so desired, renounce Islam.

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If the Malaysian Interfaith Network is any indication, what the IFC aims is generally harmony between practitioners of all religions, and freedom of religion, in the true sense, for all. But in effect, it is this same freedom of religion that is being opposed.

Those that are against the setting up of the IFC have spun this into the IFC "promoting apostacy", and that the IFC has a hidden agenda (driven, as usual, by "external parties") to destroy the sanctity of Islam. This is seige mentality at its finest, boys and girls. And fueling this, among other things, is the revelation by the Perak Mufti (yeah, him again) that there are over 100,000 apostates in the country. These figures are based on "data provided by Muslim professionals" - data which the Mufti is reluctant to share. Data which is probably dubious, in Walski's view.

There is a big difference between freedom of religion, and promoting apostacy.

Walski's view is this - freedom of religion is a guaranteed right in the Malaysian Constitution to all Malaysians. The conservative Muslims want Islam to be supreme over other religions, and do not want a situation where all religions (Islam included) are of equal stature - this is the real root of their vehement rejection of pluralism (forget oil lamps). And the Constitution also stipulates that Malaysia is a secular state, not a theocracy. Does that mean that the Constitution must be done away with as well, to make way for a more Islamic theocracy-driven form of government?

There are those that will label Walski an apostate for supporting something like the IFC, and for being liberal-minded. But the determination of Walski's faith is up to God alone; not mere mortals, even if they are held in high esteem by other mortals, even if they are ulama. So label all you want. Walski answers to a higher power.

But going back to Kurzman's essay - can you name one Islamic theocracy in the modern era that has been a model of justice, and of progress? And is that what the conservative Muslims want for this country - to be another Iran, or Afghanistan, or another Sudan?