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Sunday, 3 April 2016

Ok to use God-given intellect

What we need is to overhaul the way Islam is taught and understood. Our aim is to bring out the best in the religion so Muslims may use it to bring good to the modern world.

THE Minister in charge of Religion worries about liberal and pluralist Muslims whom he considers deviant. The Mufti of Perak worries about Muslims who use logic and intellect to make statements on Islam.

And this guy from the Perak Islamic Information Centre worries there are Muslims who believe the Federal Constitution, drawn by men and amended several times, could ever be considered superior to Syariah laws formulated by God.

Never mind if it’s men who drafted those Islamic laws he was referring to, and men who passed them in Parliament and state assemblies, and men who enforced them.

Let me save them from sleepless nights in search of solutions for problems that do not exist, and in the process, waste hours and millions of taxpayers’ money. Such men in power should really be concentrating their time – if not their intellect – on far more important matters that beset the country and the ummah.

The threat of terrorism and extremist illiberal thinking, corruption, abuse of power, the thousands of men who beat their wives, who fail to provide and protect their families, who destroy family well-being by taking another wife without the consent, let alone knowledge, of their existing wife and children, who fail to practise family planning and produce more and more children for whom they have no money to support and no time nor skills to guide and nurture.

Really. Let’s get some priorities right here on what really are threats to the well-being of the ummah.

They certainly do not come from Muslims who believe in liberalism and pluralism. So, yes, let’s use our God-given intellect. Let’s be logical, let’s reason, let’s make decisions on the basis of facts and realities.

In a recent parliamentary response to the PAS MP from Pasir Mas, Jamil Khir Baharom said liberal Muslims are a danger because they believe in “pluralism”, which supposedly means an ideology which holds the human intellect to be a revelation.

Now that’s a revelation! I wonder how he reached such an understanding of pluralism and where he finds the evidence to support that conclusion.

I know many Malaysian Muslims who proudly proclaim themselves as liberals.

But as far as I know, they believe in differences and diversity, in progress and change, and they resist authoritarian rule. Those are Islamic values.

And the pluralism they celebrate is directly inspired by the Qur’anic verse 49:13: And God has created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes so that you may get to know one another.

And where are those so-called liberals who supposedly advocate scepticism on the authenticity of the Qur’an, and advocate new interpretations of worship and dispute the criteria and morals of prophets?

He must be reading obscure reports produced by even more obscure people who have to justify their existence as thought police.

Yes, there are liberals who question the methodology in interpreting the Qur’an and Hadith, and refer to other methods to comprehend Islamic law that the Minister disagrees with.

But lest the Minister forgets, the reason why there are several schools of theology in Islam (kalam) and even many more schools of law (madhab) is due to the fact that the Qur’an has always been open to diverse and differing interpretations.

What believing “liberals” in the contemporary world are trying to do is to unearth the richness of the Islamic legal and philosophical tradition in their search for solutions to the injustice perpetrated in the name of Islam, and to bridge the gnawing disconnect between classical law and contemporary reality.

It is clear that so many of Malaysia’s Muslim leaders are ignorant of their own tradition when they accuse fellow Muslims as deviants, simply on the basis of differing opinion on how Islam is understood and used as a source of law within a democratic nation-state.

If we really want Islam to remain relevant to the realities of our lives today and to ensure that justice is the outcome of any law in practice, there are many Islamic legal principles that can be used to bring about the urgently needed reforms towards justice and equality.

We should be proud of our rich and complex tradition and continuously mine for gems, instead of shunting them aside to serve a dogmatic ideology that privileges a few men in authority.

I don’t know where and how they studied Islam. But the Islam I studied and continue to study gives me so much hope that justice and equality are possible.

Just to start with, I wish they would be guided by the principles of maslaha (public interest), ikhtilaf (differences of opinion), istihsan (choosing the best opinion in the interest of equity and justice), istislah (choosing the best opinion in the interest of public good) in drawing up laws, policies and fatwas.

These are rational and liberal concepts constructed by Muslim jurists some 1,000 years ago that our contemporary ulama seem to have forgotten.

Why? Is privileging power, authority and dogma over the best interest of the ummah far more important?

There is much in our tradition to be proud of. And yet, we continue to be bombarded by pronounce­ments and actions that just make us cringe and fearful of the future of this country.

How could anyone who loves Islam pronounce shamelessly in public that a Muslim cannot use logic and intellect when it comes to Islam?

God created humans different from other beings because of our ‘aql (intellect). Dozens of verses in the Qur’an refer to the importance of using the intellect and the consequences when one does not use the intellect.

Again, I don’t know where this idea that Muslims cannot use logic and ‘aql comes from. In fact, the science of logic (mantiq) was developed in the most sophisticated manner by Muslim philosophers such as Ibn Arabi and Ibn Sina.

Mantiq is taught for hundreds of years in Islamic universities in the Arab world. Muslim philosophers regarded mantiq as a vital instrument to acquire knowledge, develop reasoning and argumentation to demonstrate truth claims.

And yet in the 21st century, we Muslims have deviated so far from our own enlightened heritage, and impoverished our minds in the process. This is a tragedy.

While history acknowledges how Muslim mantiq scholars brought Greek logic to the attention of the Latin West and helped transform intellectual life of Western Europe in the Middle Ages, we today pronounce Muslims who use logic and intellect as those who have gone astray.

Astray from what? The attempts at imposing one authoritarian understanding of Islam to perpetuate power and privilege?

Obviously, what Malaysia and much of the Muslim world need urgently is an overhaul of the way we teach and understand Islam.

For too long, the religion has been used and abused to serve the interest of those in power and those desperate for power, manipulated beyond recognition to justify discrimination, injustice, authoritarianism, obedience, violence, and at the end of the spectrum of abuses, the unthinkable barbarity perpetrated by IS.

Instead of spending hundreds of millions, if not billions on military and security solutions to the problem of extremism, how about spending just a few millions to bring enlightened scholars, public intellectuals, education specialists together to develop a new curriculum on how Islam should be taught in schools and universities to bring out the best in the religion to enable Muslims to use the religion in the best way possible to do good and bring good to the modern world, and to the lives of impoverished Muslims – materially and intellectually.

It is this jihad in the intellectual realm that is urgently needed, not a pathetic misguided war against Muslim liberals.

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Tags / Keywords: zainah jihad isis

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