Better to focus on good governance
A NOTICEABLE trend about religious lectures and public forums on Islam is that they are growing in popularity in major cities.
For the English-speaking Malays, especially among the younger generation, their favourite speakers are those from the UK and US, perhaps because these scholars speak about religion with a practical approach, reflecting their democratic and open societies. These speakers are highly educated second or third generation British and American Muslims whose tolerant view resonates well with most Muslims in Malaysia.
The openness of these scholars can be seen when they explain the origins of some Islamic customs and traditions. In many cases these were shaped by the influence of the ancient Greek, Roman and Persian civilisations which were the dominant cultural force in the Mediterranean region and Middle East, before the arrival of Christianity and Islam. Our religious teachers tend to ignore the external influence and would like us to believe Islamic culture grew on its own.
The western Muslim scholars do not shy away from making comparisons with Christianity or the Judaism.
For example, the hudud punishment for adultery is the same in the Torah and the Bible – death by stoning. Medieval Christians used to burn sinners on the stake. Ancient Jewish laws had severe punishments for stealing like cutting off the hand.
After the Renaissance in Europe, and the Reformation, all these cruel punishments were regarded as barbaric and abolished.
Well-educated ulama and preachers including our own, when asked about the syariah law of hudud, explain that Muslims should look beyond religion to understand that the greater priority for government in many countries is to provide enough jobs and take care of the poor so that they are not driven into crime to support families. They also advise Muslims not to push Islam too much into politics because that will complicate efforts to address reforms that most Muslim countries need urgently to deal with the social and economic issues. They strongly recommend to keep religion separate from the state so as not to let it be used as an excuse for not implementing democratic reforms.
Modern reforms to create trust and respect for Parliament, the judiciary, the civil service, and the law will have a greater impact on correcting social ills and improving moral behaviour than religious prescriptions.
As proof, the developed countries have better moral standards than Muslim countries because they have strong institutions to ensure clean government and empower their citizens to act against abuse of authority. We can see that there is more Islam in the developed countries than in the poorly governed Muslim countries.
Malaysia wants to be a role model for the Muslim world. The best way to do this is to carry out reforms for a better system of governance, with emphasis on transparency and accountability, the trade mark of successful countries.
Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim Kuala Lumpur