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Friday, June 13, 2008

Islam Hadhari And The Pakatan Rakyat

The 'ban' on the promotion of Islam Hadhari in Selangor and Penang is something of concern. I say this not in defence of Islam Hadhari, which I believe that as well-intentioned as it may have been at conception had evolved into a convenient justification for a range of wrongs, but rather from the perspective of governance, civil rights and politics.

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 Malaysia’s public domain is the somewhat nebulous idea of ‘Islam Hadari’; loosely translated at times as ‘civilisational Islam’ or ‘societal Islam’. Others of a less charitable bent have dubbed it ‘theme park Islam’, ‘Crystal mosque Islam’ and even ‘Badawi’s brand of Islam’. Branding aside, it would appear that this brand of Islam has come under close scrutiny and admonition of late. In May the Pakatan-led state government of Selangor announced that henceforth the state would no longer promote Islam Hadari and this was later followed up by a similar move on the part of the Pakatan-led state government of Penang.

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 Malaysia? What, in the final analysis, was the objective of this ban?

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 Disneyland than a concrete affirmation of rationalism and the spirit of enquiry. The famous ‘crystal mosque’ that accounted for the whopping price tag of the whole theme park failed to impress and was certainly a pale mimic of what Islamic aesthetics could achieve. And one wonders how such grand and money-devouring projects would serve the ends of opening up the Muslim mind when all we see are posters and banners celebrating the ego and image of the man said to be the mastermind of the grand logic of Islam Hadari itself, the Prime Minister.

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 Penang. Now according to reports, the calls for the ban on Islam Hadari have come from those who claim to be representatives of the Muslim community and this includes members of political parties, Muslim lobby groups, Muslim NGOs and former Muftis. The justification for the ban, we are told, is that some of these individuals feel that “the teachings of Islam are perfect as they are” and that “there is no need for supplements”. Their calls for the prohibition of Islam Hadari, it would seem, is fuelled by the desire to “return to the true teachings of Islam”. But this immediately leads us to the obvious question: Is defending gender equality, promoting openness and recognising pluralism and difference (both among Muslims and between Muslims and others) not essentially Islamic anyway? How, pray tell, does promoting gender equality amount to ‘supplementing’ or ‘deviating’ from the teachings of Islam?

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 Malaysia in the present, thank you.

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 Malaysia, one where pluralism and diversity would be defended. Lets not let this vote be misunderstood as an endorsement for an Islamic state shaped according to the mould of UMNO, PAS or any sectarian Muslim party or organisation. Banning should be a thing of the past, like the BN; and if Islam Hadari is to be dumped into the dustbin of history, it should be relegated there on account of its contradictions and mis-application by incompetent politicians, and not because some Mullah wanted it so.

Dr. Farish A Noor is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, NTU, Singapore and affiliated professor at Universitas Muhamadiyah Surakarta, Indonesia. He is also one of the founders of the research site.


meesh said...

I've already spoken to Farish about this, and posted it in a note on Facebook, but I'll say it again. (Because I can, and this really gets my goat).

Banning or prohibiting anything, should come with certain guidelines. Let's look at the facts.

Is Islam Hadhari in any way wrong? Or causing anyone harm, hurt, or grief? And the simple answer is No.

If you look into what Islam Hadhari says, you see 10 tenets which form the basis of this "government theory." (Which still remains a theory, more on that later)

It consists of 10 fundamental principles.

* Faith and piety in Allah
* Just and trustworthy government
* Freedom and independence to the people
* Mastery of knowledge
* Balanced and comprehensive economic development
* Good quality of life for all
* Protection of the rights of minority groups and women
* Cultural and moral integrity
* Protection of the environment
* A strong defence policy

Do you see anything wrong with it? I don't. In fact, if this was properly implemented and actually practiced we would be a whole lot better off. Thus, yes, it remains a theory in Malaysia. Produced with a lot of pomp and fanfare and complete waste of taxpayer's money. Like all these structures Farish mentions.

Now, the PR guys are saying this isn't a political move. Which I must disagree with. The concept of Islam Hadhari and it's role in governance, and it's introduction in Malaysia by the PM is in itself political, so how can it's banning then not be? So that really doesn't throw us off in any way. It's so obviously political. It's a big giant finger in Pak Lah's face. Let's not be coy about it.

More importantly, I think PR is pulling a BN. Which really pisses me off. Time and time again, we've told them to stop acting the way they do (the BN), they didn't listen so we voted them out in 5 states.

Now comes a new political power, and they're beginning to function the same way.

"We don't like this, we think there are better ways. We will prohibit it."

What utter rubbish.

Malaysia is a democracy, or at least we have a semblance of democracy here. And part of a democracy is to accept dissenting views, and listen to a variety of voices, despite not necessarily agreeing with them.

You do not ban or prohibit (arrest/jail), something, or someone simply because you are the majority (i.e No Shiites allowed here) or because you simply think people are different from you (i.e Ayah Pin, Kamariah Ali, JI, HINDRAF).

What happens to plurality? In this race for homogeneity we have compromised so many Malaysians, and it is a vile, inhumane thing to do to silence people simply because of differences.

This prohibition doesn't affect me as a non-Muslim, nor do I think it will affect that many Muslims, as it is about "not using it in mosques and sermons."

But the concept of prohibition, the denial of expression, a way of life, or an idea - by anyone, PR or BN should be condemned.

Why is it that after 50 years, after 20 odd years of being "scared and under authoritarian rule," we cannot open our hearts and minds more and accept that there will be difference in our spheres.

This step is a step backward and PR should know better after all the "democratic voices R we" pontificating.

You want to scrap this? Scrap it on account that it was but a mere theory in the time the BN ruled, not because you collected some muftis and they said it should be scrapped.

If these Muslims groups and NGOs and mullahs are so disagreeable to it, where the hell were they when HINDRAF, BERSIH, and every other thing happened? When women are persecuted, when minorities still suffer, and when Malaysians still languish in jails for being different? I've seen but a tiny amount of voices from Muslim groups when these instances of human rights violations happen, and it seems ironic to me they should be agreeable to this.


Old Fart said...

Was it really a ban that was intended and invoked? It thought that it was something like not allowing the discussion of Islam Hadhari. Which of course is as good as banning it. But for whatever reason I did not see it as an official ban.but just merely a disregard for it. Of course if it was a ban, then I really don't know if in any context the ban would have any bite.

But I was kind of interested in the comment of Nik Aziz of PAS in today's Malaysiakini, “Islam hadhari is nonsense ... so we can’t talk to the current Umno because it is promoting the wrong, deviant teachings"

So what is it about Islam Hadhari that is nonsense to Nik Aziz? The recognition and a willingness to concede that there are others with a legitimate existence outside Islam? And he does not want Islam Hadhari banned. Why? Because it iconically stands as a contradiction to his interpretation of Islam. And thta is usefuly to him politically maybe!!

Nik Aziz has also been quoted in the same article "Instead of banning the discussion, what should be done is to educate the people through the Quran on why Islam Hadhari is not accepted." So what really are those Quranic verses that are going to contradict Islam Hadhari's concession to non-Muslims and having to live with them?

What I find offensive is when he goes on to say "he could not accept collaborating with Umno because the biggest ruling party is against Islamic teachings by separating religion and politics.

“As long as Umno is secular, I can’t accept... (To separate religion and politics) can be the policy in Christianity and Buddhism, that’s their policy. We have what is being advocated in Islam,” he said.

I did not know that Christianity had anything to say about Church and State. What I know is, "to give unto Ceasar what's Ceasar's". Never mind that for several hundred years when only the people in the church could read the very few bibles that were around and they interpreted these to their whims and indulged the illiterate population, including the king, to abide by it. Fact is, the church's hold on the state started its very quick downward slide shortly after teh printing press came into being and everyone could read and they decided to think for themselves.

One caveat that has been useful for the Muslim clergy has been the monopolistic preserve that they have over the interpretation of the quran as well as the hadiths. That is why, people like Farish Noor, Haris and yourself included, might find similarities to those individuals all those hundreds of years ago who fought to isolate the church from the affairs of the state.

If Nik Aziz his like don't recognise it yet, I would say that the greatest enemies to their idea of Islam is to be found within the uslim umrah themselves. However, I would join these revisionists in whta they are doing as indeed I too am a firm believer in such a distinction between church and state.

Donplaypuks® said...

The censorship and Fahrenheit 451 mentality is very, very strong in most, if not all (India may be an exception)Asian countries. Nor is it a new attitude.

But, I too cannot see the logic of this ban on promoting Islam Hadhari, other than to gain political mileage specifically against AAB, and indirectly agaisnt UMNO.

Whatever the tenets of IH, it is clear that it will not survive past Imam Hadhari's premiership.

After all it is no more than the policy of one individual, which has received less than lukewarm enthusiasm and responsive from his own inner circle. Have you heard any other UMNO Minister or MP championong its cause?

Seng said...

If it's a "ban", then, I would indeed be worried.

As a non-Muslim and a non-reader of MSM, unfortunately I have not yet seen nor read about the "official ban".

I would be grateful if someone can point to me the original source of this official ban, so that I can make an informed decision.

Thanks in advance.

Anonymous said...

New Cabinet:

Prime Minister - Anwar

Deputy Prime Minister - Lim Kit Siang

Agriculture Minister -

Community Minister -

Culture Minister - Farish Noor

Defence Minister - Azmin Ali

Education Minister - Nga Kor Ming

Environment Minister - Teresa Kok

Finance Minister - Tony Pua

Foreign Minister - Ramasamy

Health Minister - Tan Seng Giaw

Home Minister -

Information Minister - Jeff Ooi

Law Minister - Teng Chang Khim

Manpower Minister -

Sports Minister -

Technology Minister - Nizar

Trade Minister - Khalid

Transport Minister - Liew Chin Tong

Tourism Minister -

Anonymous said...

Very good post. As a non-muslim, the tenets of Islam Hadhari, on paper at least, is pleasing and make it believable that Islam is indeed the most peaceful and tolerant religion. It sows the germ of an idea, and it is this idea that we must not lose sight of despite the discrediting results that followed. The autocratic ban (and folly rationalisation that it was not a political move) opted by the Selangor PR government, instead of recognising merits where it must be due, shows that the bases of the promises upon which the Selangor people hold against their current government in return for these people's mandate is beginning to fritter. This is the danger of promising radical changes, for it is so easy to be reflexively critical of the (previous) government, yet actual governance with integrity takes so much more than abolishing everything that belong to the administration previous. This ban, taken together with the recent ruckus by PAS over the pre-match entertainment issue, and the ill-thought out water subsidy plan, is beginning to really worry the Selangor folks. 2 steps forward, 5 steps back.