A for­mi­da­ble, but doable, chal­lenge

If the Pakatan Hara­pan govern­ment is truly com­mit­ted to ‘Com­pas­sion­ate Is­lam’, it must lead in shap­ing a new dis­course, build new cham­pi­ons within its own re­li­gious au­thor­i­ties and in­sti­tu­tions, and build pub­lic sup­port for the ne­ces­sity and pos­si­bil­ity f

The Star Malaysia - - Focus - news­desk@thes­tar.com.my Zainah An­war

THERE was the Is­lam of PAS that wanted to cre­ate an Is­lamic state with the Qu­ran and the Ha­dith as the Con­sti­tu­tion of the coun­try. There was the Is­lami­sa­tion of Dr Ma­hathir Mo­hamed to in­tro­duce univer­sal Is­lamic val­ues of hon­esty and hard work as the ba­sis of gov­er­nance. Only for the pol­icy to be hi­jacked by con­ser­va­tive ide­o­logues into a mas­sive ex­pan­sion of the Is­lamic bu­reau­cracy and Syariah ju­ris­dic­tion.

Then there was the Is­lam Had­hari of Datuk Seri Ab­dul­lah Badawi, a civil­i­sa­tional ap­proach to Is­lam to pro­mote good gov­er­nance, demo­cratic prac­tices, and eq­ui­table shar­ing of wealth.

There was a mo­ment of open­ness when Ab­dul­lah was able to as­sert his be­lief in the need for ijti­had (rein­ter­pre­ta­tion) to deal with chang­ing times and cir­cum­stances and to pro­mote in­ter-faith di­a­logue and women’s rights in Is­lam.

But by 2006, the Is­lamic state ide­o­logues within and out­side govern­ment launched a cam­paign against any ef­fort at lib­er­al­i­sa­tion of the ways Malaysians un­der­stood and used Is­lam as a source of law and pub­lic pol­icy.

A na­tion­wide cam­paign, sup­ported by Jakim and other govern­ment re­li­gious ap­pa­ra­tus work­ing with Is­lamist non-state ac­tors, was launched to mo­bilise Mus­lims against more open­ness and com­pas­sion, pro­claim­ing Is­lam was un­der threat, Is­lam was in­sulted be­cause of civil so­ci­ety de­mands for fun­da­men­tal lib­er­ties and equal­ity. Un­for­tu­nately, the then Prime Min­is­ter was not able to muster the po­lit­i­cal will to push his agenda, and mo­bilise sup­port from within his cabi­net and his own party to his vi­sion of Is­lam. Those be­hind a dog­matic and puni­tive ap­proach to Is­lam dug their heels deeper, un­hin­dered and un­chal­lenged by those in au­thor­ity.

And then came the Is­lam wasatiyyah (mod­er­ate) of Datuk Seri Na­jib Tun Razak to counter the growth of ex­trem­ism and to pro­mote mod­er­a­tion in Is­lam. He even launched the Global Move­ment of Moder­ates at the United Na­tions and es­tab­lished its Sec­re­tariat in Kuala Lumpur. But Is­lam wasatiyyah brought no respite to the rakyat. In­ci­dent af­ter in­ci­dent of in­tol­er­ance and in­jus­tice in the name of Is­lam piled up on a long range of is­sues.

And now we have the newly minted Is­lam rah­matan lil alamin (com­pas­sion­ate Is­lam) of the new Pakatan Hara­pan govern­ment, as an­nounced by the de­facto Min­is­ter for Reli­gion, Min­is­ter in the Prime Min­is­ter’s Depart­ment Datuk Dr Mu­jahid Yu­sof Rawa. The proof of the pud­ding is of course in the eat­ing.

But fi­nally we have a Min­is­ter for Reli­gion who seems will­ing to take on full frontal the chal­lenges in the decades-long un­re­solved mat­ters in the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Is­lam in this coun­try. He made sev­eral sig­nif­i­cant points in his re­cent in­ter­view with The Star that are wel­come de­par­tures from how the last Barisan Na­sional govern­ment un­der­stood and prac­tised Is­lam.

That the Min­is­ter has pro­nounced that the Is­lam of this Pakatan Hara­pan govern­ment will be in­clu­sive, com­pas­sion­ate and pro­gres­sive set dis­tinct val­ues that we pray will guide how laws and poli­cies are made and en­forced in the name of Is­lam.

On the highly con­tested is­sue of moral polic­ing, he made the im­por­tant dis­tinc­tion within Is­lamic ju­rispru­dence of the dif­fer­ence be­tween “sins” com­mit­ted in the pri­vate and pub­lic spheres. What takes place be­hind closed doors be­tween con­sent­ing adults is not the busi­ness of the govern­ment. And any form of en­force­ment by state re­li­gious au­thor­i­ties should be guided by the com­pas­sion­ate Is­lam of this new govern­ment.

He believes in dis­cus­sion and con­sul­ta­tion to re­duce the ten­sions and po­lar­i­sa­tion be­tween dif­fer­ent vi­sions and un­der­stand­ings of Is­lam. He is not scared to say that he might take a stand against a fatwa be­cause it might not serve the pub­lic in­ter­est, re­fer­ring to the con­cept of maslaha in Is­lamic ju­rispru­dence.

He crit­i­cised the un­seemly com­pe­ti­tion among some states to prove their pi­ous­ness by im­ple­ment­ing more puni­tive mea­sures such as pub­lic can­ing. He ca­joled Syariah court judges not to be dic­tated by ex­trem­ist thought or be fear­ful in show­ing com­pas­sion and be­ing la­belled lib­eral for ex­er­cis­ing their au­thor­ity to do what is just.

Af­ter over a decade where it seemed that we had a po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship that showed no will, no courage and no in­ter­est in deal­ing with the con­tentious is­sue of how Is­lam is un­der­stood, cod­i­fied and en­forced within a multi-eth­nic, multi-re­li­gious con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy, Dr Mu­jahid is giv­ing some hope that this new govern­ment is will­ing to take on the hard­lin­ers and their puni­tive and in­tol­er­ant ap­proach to Is­lam.

This is an im­por­tant and wel­come be­gin­ning. For even­tu­ally, he will need to grap­ple with much big­ger and more dif­fi­cult chal­lenges and de­bates on the place of Is­lam within Malaysia’s con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy.

If the com­pas­sion­ate Is­lam of Pakatan Hara­pan takes the po­si­tion that per­sonal wrongs that hap­pen be­hind closed doors are not the busi­ness of the govern­ment, then it will have to deal with the sub­stance of the Syariah Crim­i­nal Of­fences law which pro­vides for state in­tru­sion into the pri­vate lives of Mus­lims and state im­posed pun­ish­ments on those who com­mit per­sonal “sins” that cause no harm to the pub­lic.

When he talks about the pro­gres­sive Is­lam of this new govern­ment, then he must deal with women’s de­mands for a more just and eq­ui­table le­gal frame­work gov­ern­ing mar­riage in Is­lam. When he says this govern­ment believes in in­clu­sive Is­lam, he must en­sure that the voices of those silent and si­lenced in the de­ci­sion mak­ing process must now be heard. The com­plaints of in­jus­tice and dis­crim­i­na­tion women suf­fer in the Syariah Court sys­tem must be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion in the re­form process.

If this govern­ment is truly com­mit­ted to Is­lam rah­matan lil alamin, it must lead in shap­ing a new dis­course on Is­lam, build new cham­pi­ons within its own re­li­gious au­thor­i­ties and in­sti­tu­tions, and build pub­lic sup­port for the ne­ces­sity and pos­si­bil­ity for change. It needs to build a new cul­ture of civic en­gage­ment on mat­ters re­lated to Is­lam, in­stead of be­ing put on the de­fen­sive by toxic state­ments by hard­lin­ers meant to in­flame their sup­port base, rather than find so­lu­tions to real prob­lems on the ground.

The prob­lem in the end is not with Is­lam, as the le­gal tools and con­cepts for re­form to­wards equal­ity and jus­tice, to­wards com­pas­sion, to­wards bring­ing about an Is­lam that is a bless­ing to all, ex­ist. The prob­lem is whether those in au­thor­ity have the po­lit­i­cal will and courage to do what is right and the wis­dom and strate­gic think­ing to win over those in the mid­dle ground and iso­late the ex­trem­ists that ex­ist within ev­ery so­ci­ety.

The chal­lenge is for­mi­da­ble, but doable as this Pakatan Hara­pan govern­ment is filled with re­formists and self-pro­claimed Mus­lim democrats.

The Min­is­ter in charge is mak­ing a good start and I would like to be­lieve that he has it within him the skills to build bridges and mo­bilise sup­port to de­liver the govern­ment’s com­mit­ment to a more com­pas­sion­ate and just Is­lam.

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