The 'ban', if it can be called that for its legal basis remains unclear, is heavily nuanced. In as much as it calls for a consideration of Islam Hadhari and the Barisan Nasional, it equally raises very crucial questions about the Pakatan Rakyat. Farish Noor, who is equally concerned, has already written on it, asking some of the questions I have in my mind. I have republished his article (originally published on The Other Malaysia) with permission as the first posting in a series on this subject. I have also discussed the issue with Haris Ibrahim who has similar reservations and intends to address the matter on The People's Parliament as well.
Islam Hadari and the Politics of Banning
There are ideas, and there can be stupid ideas; but to ban an idea simply because of its stupidity seems to be a rather stupid thing to do in itself.
Among the ideas that circulate in the congested bowels of
The rationale behind this prohibition leaves us with some unanswered questions that might as well be raised at this point. Who called for the prohibition of Islam Hadari and on what grounds? And if Islam Hadari is to be banned by the Pakatan-led state governments, what does this entail for the Muslims and non-Muslims of
Now this academic would hardly call himself a fan of Islam Hadari, as anyone who has read these columns would realise. Time and again we have pointed out the shortcomings, contradictions, double-standards and downright hypocrisy between the ideals of Islam Hadari and what has been put into practice. Islam Hadari – as a broad statement of inter-related intentions crafted in the form of a statist religio-political discourse – promised us the opening of the Muslim mind, the creation of a more open civil space, the protection of pluralism and difference and the promotion of gender equality.
Yet what we have seen thus far falls short (and very short, mind you) of the abovementioned objectives. In Trengganu I walked into the Islam Hadari theme park that seemed more like a vulgar imitation of
Criticisms like these, however, serve to keep the powers-that-be in check and to remind them of their public commitments to ideas and values that they fail to practice in office. How, pray tell, can you open up the minds of Malaysians when the very same government that preaches Islam Hadari remains as a passive witness to the spate of book-banning and the narrowing of discursive space in the country?
This, however, should not be taken as the license to simply ban Islam Hadari – or any other ideas or interpretations of Islam – outright. For if we were to say that Islam Hadari is wrong in toto simply because the people who thought it up don’t even understand it themselves, then would we not also be rejecting some of the better ideas and values that have been inculcated into the general framework of the project itself? Islam Hadari, on paper at least, calls for the respect of difference and pluralism and the promotion of gender equality between men and women. Are these ideas to be rejected too, simply because they have been brought within the ambit of Islam Hadari? For my part, I am quite happy to see any party or politician, be they of the ruling parties or those in opposition, endorsing pluralism, democracy and gender equality at any time of the day…
Which leads us to the actors and agents behind the prohibition of Islam Hadari in Selangor and
Despite assurances that this move to prohibit the promotion of Islam Hadari is not political, we find it ludicrous to suggest that the move is void of any political motivation. Islam Hadari itself began as a political project – to politically engineer the opening of Muslim discursive space, though this did not happen – and the reactions to it have been political as well.
Those who claim that any modern revisionist attempt to re-think Islam is deviant or dangerous, and that Islam is perfect as it is, are obviously missing the point: We all know that Islam in its essential, fundamental, literalist form conjoins and promotes equality, freedom and justice. But a cursory overview of the normative religio-cultural and social praxis of Islam in the daily lives of Muslims the world over today will show that the Muslim world is riddled with the problems of sexism, racism, feudalism, communitarianism and sectarianism. The appeal to ‘return to the Quran’ or the fundamentals of the Muslim faith ring hollow when we look around us and see how the politicisation of Islam has served only the agendas of elites who manipulate the sentiments of the majority, who have organised and led pogroms against racial and religious minorities, who have been the first to accuse other Muslims of being ‘kafirs’, ‘munafikin’ and apostates. Why, all this talk of Islam being singular and perfect makes me glance to our neighbours next door in Indonesia where at this very moment the Ahmadiya minority are being labelled as deviants, apostates, enemies of Islam, etc. while the self-proclaimed ‘true Muslims’ are calling for them to be banned, their mosques burned to the ground and their members harassed, attacked and murdered.
So let us not kid ourselves with the worn-out cliché that Islam has not changed over the past fourteen centuries, or that Islam does not require a modernist interpretation that meets the needs and reflects the realities of the modern age. For Islam to remain a meaningful and dynamic belief and value system today, it has to undergo a process of serious, thoughtful, objective and critical interpretation that allows it to reflect the complexity of Muslim social life in the present. This means evolving a contemporary theology and orthodoxy that reflects the strides that have been made in promoting gender and racial equality, the advancement in Muslim thought, the openness of Muslim society today. We don’t need some conservatives telling us to go back to the Golden Age of Islam 1,400 years ago, because frankly I would rather live in
And if Islam Hadari is to be criticised – and it deserves to be criticised constantly, too – it should be for the reason that those who have tried to promote it have failed to meet the standards they have set for themselves. Cakap tak serupa bikin, as they say. I don’t need some tawdry crystal mosque to impress me about Islam, Prime Minister. Lets see you lift the ban on the Ahmadis and recognise other Muslim groups like the Shias, and maybe my opinion of you might be revised somewhat.
The Pakatan-led state governments, on the other hand, would do well to focus on real issues such as governing this country well; as the previous lot obviously had no idea how to do that. The banning of books, ideas, belief and value-systems and alternative cults and sects should be relegated to the past and the dark ages of the Barisan Nasional government. The March 2008 elections was a vote for a new
Dr. Farish A Noor is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, NTU,