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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Wake up and smell the 21st century...

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Image taken from, hosting by PhotobucketRecently, there has been a series of letters at Malaysiakini arguing about Islam, it's interpretation and relevance today. As is usually the case, it is between support for the traditional, tried and true approach, versus a call for a more contemporary interpretation.

It all started with a letter from Azza Basaruddin, writing from Cairo, commenting about the Lina Joy decision, particularly about the apparent obsession of some to keep Lina within the fold of Islam. Part of his argument quoted the oft quoted verse from the Quran - Surah 2 Verse 256 - that there shall be no compulsion in religion.

This was rebutted by another person writing from Cairo, Abdul Rahman Abdul Talib, protagonist for the traditional (and conservative) view, stating the usual argument that the verse does not apply to those whom are already Muslims.

Walski wonders, though if Abdul Rahman and Azza actually know each other in the real world. Assuming, of course, both are Malaysians studying in Cairo.

In any case, Abdul Rahman's letter was rebutted by Syed Alwi Ahmad, and the ongoing back and forth has been primarily between these two. One calls for maintaining the status quo, while the other calling for a more contemporary interpretation. In making his case, however, Abdul Rahman states some pretty interesting stuff, which gives us a glimpse into how conservatives view the question of the Quran, and its role in Islam today.
(more back-n-forth, in the full post)

In the letter written by Abdul Rahman, entitled "Secularism the anti-thesis of Islam", while rebutting Azza's interpretation of 2:256, he had this to say (emphasis by myAsylum):

Azza’s understanding of the verse would also introduce massive contradictions in the Quran. Azza should also be fully aware that the source of jurisprudence in Islam is not limited to the Quran alone. It is also based upon Al Hadeeth, Al Ijma and Al Qiyas. The Quran alone is not sufficient to answer all the needs for jurisprudence for the entire time until the Hereafter.

That is why the Quran tells us to follow the Prophet SAW (Al Hadeeth) who then taught us how to use Al Ijma (consensus) and Al Qiyas (comparison) when making a ruling based on Islam.

Obey God, and obey the Prophet... which is found in many places in the Quran. This, however, has been used as justification that EVERYTHING the prophet said, ate, wore, and did must be followed verbatim. Ironically, in many cases, the word hadith in the Quran comes with it negative connotations, such as "In what Hadith after this will they then believe?" (Surah 7 [ Al-Araf] verse 185) - of course, leaving the word hadith untranslated.

But what's more surprising is the dogmatic belief that the Quran alone is insufficient, despite the many verses which makes claim that it is detailed and complete. It would appear that this belief, too, would give rise to contradictions within the Quran. And it reminds Walski of this verse from the holy book:

Image hosting by PhotobucketQuran chapter 17 (Bani Israel) verse 46

And We put coverings over their hearts (and minds) lest they should understand the Qur'an, and deafness into their ears: when thou dost commemorate thy Lord and Him alone in the Qur'an, they turn on their backs, fleeing (from the Truth)
(Yusof Ali translation)

In his reply to Abdul Rahman, Syed Alwi has this to say, among other things ("Time for moderate Muslims to put their foot down"):

With this sort of blind following of dogma - totally devoid of questioning and criticism - it is no surprise that the Muslim world is in a pathetic state today. It is time for moderate Muslims to question Islamic dogma.

We cannot blindly follow dogma which is based on the socio-political context of the 10th century to guide us in the 21st century. Scientific progress is based on the freedom of thought, conscience and speech. Ignore or oppress those liberties at the expense of progress.

And this continues over two more rounds of back and forth. Walski will not delve into the details, but will provide you the links for your further reading (see the end of this post).

Another interesting thing to note is that while Malaysian Muslims (the majority anyway) seem to be so caught up in upholding the traditional-conservative approach, Muslims elsewhere are starting to realize that it is high time to live in the now.

Walski came to know about the initiatives of a group of Muslims in North America, calling themselves Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV), who are promoting a more inclusive and progressive approach towards Islam. Much emphasis is given to the basic principles of tolerance, inclusivity, mercy, compassion, and fairness. These are, after all, principles that are abundantly talked about in the Quran. A press release about the recent MPV Founding Conference can be downloaded here (in PDF) for anyone interested.

What also makes MPV interesting, to Walski, as a Malaysian, is that it is co-lead by a Malaysian, Zuriani Zonneveld.

Quite different, however, with what's happening in Malaysia itself, where conservatism, coupled with a very narrow worldview, and intolerance, is being promoted as being what Islam is all about. Where exclusivity of who can, and cannot, speak about Islam, is strongly articulated. And even more disturbing, is some of the actions being carried out by Islamic authorities, in the name of "protecting Muslims".

We all know and have read about the more high profile cases involving belief, and so Walski won't rehash them here.

Very recently, Walski got to know about a raid carried out by JAKIM on an Indian-Muslim and one non-Muslim Indian eateries. This was also reported in Lim Kit Siang's blog (see here and here). Apparently, in the case of the non-Muslim eatery, JAKIM took offense (via some person's "complaint") to the fact that there were Hindu deities on display in a restaurant that Muslims frequent - the food is apparently halal (kosher for Muslims) based on the halal certifictes from the food suppliers, but the restaurant didn't have the JAKIM Halal logo (which costs money).

In the case of the Indian Muslim restaurant, the charges were even more bizarre. JAKIM claims that the restaurant didn't have the proper JAKIM Halal certification (which they probably didn't), although the restaurant did produce certification from the bulk food suppliers to state that what was supplied was halal. Then, JAKIM also confiscated the Quranic verses which were adorning the restaurant - were these too not the JAKIM approved kind? Then there was the charge of not having Muslim staff (everyone working there is Muslim, although not Malay).

The above accounts, incidentally, come from reliable sources, including eyewitness accounts.

To Walski, it's up to the individual, and not the state, where one wants or doesn't want to eat at. If there is doubt, then don't. Apparently, someone had complained to JAKIM, and so they took action - interestingly enough, whenever there is a complaint about ex-husbands not paying up alimony and support, etc. the excuse given by the Syariah courts is always that there is a shortage of enforcement manpower to pursue the ex-husbands. It would appear that there is more than enough feet to do other enforcement, including the invasive kind.

Is this the Malaysian version of being progressive? Or have the more vocal Malaysian Muslims (majority or minority, Walski truly doesn't know) totally lost any sense of being able to rationalize anything in their lives, and choose to let some other authority do the thinking for them? It's almost as if the Muslims here want state intervention in more and more areas of their lives... Walski wouldn't be surprised if one day even the freedom to have a conscience would be made illegal for Muslims - rather, only rely on what the state says what one can, or cannot believe.

Certain things, Walski strongly believes, is up to the individual, and not the state to dictate. Like what to believe, and where to eat. At the end of the day, it is the individual, and not the state, that's answerable to the higher power. Which is again something that many Malaysian Muslims don't agree with - that the state must intervene and police, even in the most mundane of everyday activities.

In any case, Walski has digressed... the real point here is this: God gave us two things, our intellect, and the Quran, as our guide.

Why have many chosen to totally abandon both?

If this question can be answered, then perhaps, there is still some hope that Muslims may one day wake up and finally smell the 21st century...

Chronology of Malaysiakini letters
For those interested, Walski has compiled the list of related letters pertaining to the back and forth mentioned in this post. One other letter writer not mentioned earlier, is Mahdar Tahir, who leans more to the traditional camp. There are a number of things of interest that have been brought up by both sides of the argument, so happy reading!

► June 11, 2007 - Gatekeeping will not stop apostasy
► June 14, 2007 -
Secularism the anti-thesis of Islam
► June 18, 2007 -
Time for moderate Muslims to put their foot down
► June 19, 2007 -
Time for moderate Muslims to start learning
► June 20, 2007 -
Find more contemporary interpretation of Islam
► June 21, 2007 -
Muslims need to learn their religion properly
► June 22, 2007 -
Whimsical interpretation of Islam wrong
► June 25, 2007 -
Apostasy - what’s good for the goose also good for the gander?
► June 28, 2007 -
Islam - learn first before calling for re-interpretation