Saturday, 7 December 2013

Challenging Malaysia's Conservative Islam

Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid
In a guest column on the New Mandala website, a Malaysian academic challenges the conservative interpretations of Islam in his country. In the critique he has penned, Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, a UK-educated political scientist working at Universiti Sains Malaysia, accuses the government of being implicated in advancing, supporting and sustaining intolerant readings of Islam which he considers unsuitable for an ethnically and religiously plural country like Malaysia. Partly this can be attributed to the country's constitution, but in the remainder of the article, he singles out former Prime Minister Mahathir as the main culprit of government manipulation of Malaysia's majority religion.

Here are a few excerpts:
The Constitution was arguably a hybrid document, which was nothing peculiar in view of the new nation state’s eclectic sources of national history. Many analysts have put forward arguments that it had secular intent, but yet it seemed to elevate the religion of the majority of the population to a pedestal unreachable by other religions.

The expansion of the Islamic bureaucracy took place at a relentless pace under Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s Islamisation programme in the 1980s. [...] In contrast to his predecessors who had refrained from exploiting Islam as a political tool, whether out of their own ignorance or respect for constitutional niceties established by its secular-inclined drafters, Mahathir unabashedly championed Islam as the most effective way of outflanking his competitors 
 
Former Prime Minister Mohammad Mahathir

The state’s recent repression of unorthodox Islamic groups, as exemplified in renewed crackdowns on the Shiah and Global Ikhwan movements following the Thirteenth General Election, smacks of its inability to intellectually engage discontented elements within its majority Malay-Muslim population, who increasingly find the state’s handling of Islam to be inept and downright hypocritical
 Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid argues that this does not reflect the true state of affairs in Malaysia, where Islam is understood and practiced in a multiplicity of ways.
With its kaleidoscopic provenance as the backdrop, Islam as understood and practised by Malay-Muslims prior to the era of the nation state never bore monolithic traits. On the contrary, accommodation of mores from a variety of civilisational traditions prevailed, as strongly reflected in the assortment of religious practices deriving from various ethno-cultural traditions that eventually assumed the label of being part of Malay-Muslim heritage.
 In addition, it has also dire consequences for the intellectual vibrancy of a religion:
The government acts only on rogue Muslims in such a way that political benefit accrues to the state and its organic linkages. It is utterly unable to fathom that the Malay-Muslims have developed their Islamic horizons intellectually as a result of the shrinking of the ummah into a global village in the internet age, and so are open to the more sophisticated choices of models of Islam offered throughout the world. How could the state isolate the Islamic understanding of its Malay-Muslim population but at the same time urges them to embrace globalisation and modernisation?
The state continues to pursue an anti-pluralist approach to religion, but fails to appreciate that diversity of views and perspectives among the learned, even in theological matters, has been part and parcel of the glorious Islamic civilisation.

By equating unorthodoxy with deviancy, the Malaysian state is killing off intellectual creativity and innovativeness among its Muslim populace, over whom it prefers to exert an everlasting dominance. Ironically, this runs counter to the Islam Hadhari strand of civilisational interpretation of religion which the government once projected itself to be a proponent of [see also the post of 21 January 2012, ck]


To read the full article click here

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1 comment:

Roadto Makkah said...

Islam is a Religion of Love and Peace The definition of Islam. The root of the word Islam, silm, refers to "making peace, being in a mutually peaceful environment