By Professor Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi
This year, come the 25th of January, my beloved Chinese friends will all be celebrating the Chinese New Year. On that auspicious of days for the Chinese, I will be 58 years old. That day will mark three decades of my voluntary indoctrination into the Islamic Reformist agenda. However, this year marks my final rejection of this agenda after 30 years of trust, faith and belief in its idealism. I will explain to Malaysians why I no longer support the Islamic Reform agenda for Malaysia after witnessing the political parties and NGOs react in issues related to the minority groups of the Chinese, Indians, Orang Asli, LGBTs and Muslim sects after the GE14. It is clear to me now that what I understood as Islam from the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad is not the same as those who claim to be on the higher moral ground of Islam. Actually the turning point of my decision was the Kongres Maruah Melayu and the Jawi issue. I will now walk through the three main agendas of Islamic Reformation and what I thought they were supposed to be and how it has been transformed into simply another race based priority and religious supremacist construct.
I was first introduced into the Islamic Reformist agenda during my first year at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay in the United States of America. Some Malay ‘brothers' and ‘sisters' from Madison who belonged to the MISG or Malaysian Islamic Study Group came to visit our small Malay community of less than 20 JPA sponsored students. They came in three cars laden with food and a kind disposition. They asked to stay for two nights and assured us that they will do all the cooking and that they will sleep on the floors. During their stay they were very courteous and prayed the five prayers with us and conducted what was known to me for the first time as the Usrah. They provided us with the basic literature on a new idea of Islam as a way of life with both Malay writings and English ones. They never forced anything but their arguments were compelling and their mannerism was extremely courteous and polite. I have never heard both arguments nor seen such courteous behaviors in a group of Malays in my entire life then.
After that visit, I was made a leader of the Usrah group and we managed our monthly meetings with discussions, presentation and food. I also became the imam of our weekly Friday Prayers and read Khutbahs or Sermons from such books as Abul a'la Maududi's Fundamentals of Islam. Aside from leading the community in these Islamic activities, I also read on my own many books purchased at the various conventions and 'training camps' organized by the MISG. My proudest collection was 200 cassette tapes on the Tafsir of the Qur'an by Abdul Hadi Awang, the present leader of PAS. At these meetings and gatherings, I met politicians such as Fadzil Nor and activists such as Pak Imaduddin from Indonesia, Siddik Fadzil and Abu Urwah (YB Shaari Sungib), giants in the Islamic Reformation agenda. I bought many books by Maududi, Ali Shariati, Syed Qutb and Fathi Yakan who preached Islam as a social and political force to replace the ‘outmoded Western modern life construct which places the supremacy of man over the divinely inspired Qur'an'. Man was seen to be unfit to rule over man. Only God has the wisdom to rule man because He created His Creations and so He would know best. Simple..right? There are basically three principles of the Islamic Reform agenda and I had embraced them all but now reject their interpretation which has warped into a racial and bigoted agenda of Muslim self-preservation.
The first Islamic Reform agenda was to make every single part of one's life as an 'ibadah' or worship. Whether one is doing halal work, studying or simply doing good to the community, all are considered a religious act. Cultural Islam taught us in schools that only prayers and rituals of religion are ibadah. There was no forcing of anyone into Islam or a dakwah program to convert non-Muslims. Dakwah was simply reminding other cultural Muslims to find the path back to Islam as a Way of Life, not just as a ritual. I believed this concept then and also now. However, this agenda has warped into forcing Muslims by caning people who have done some moral transgressions, jailing people for insulting the Prophet and for missing prayers and disallowing Muslims to be involved in festivals and other religious celebrations. Usually, conservative Muslim authorities like the Mufti office who are filled with narrow minded clerics are responsible for such nation destructive constructs. But I notice the Islamic Refom NGOs keep silent throughout the whole issues. I have also witnessed the silence of Islamist groups who were supposed to be open minded but they stayed silent over the Kafir Harbi issue and the Zakir Naik national headache. In fact many of the ABIM and IKRAM members I know personally defended Zakir Naik openly. When Sisters in Islam were mercilessly attacked by the authorities again I saw silence from these groups, including a political group now in government. I saw that the Islamist groups not respecting many fundamental liberties of our brethren citizens and that bothered me greatly as I believe that our constitution was as Islamic in granting these rights and liberties.
The other Islamic agenda was about the Islamization of knowledge. In the USA, the International Institute of Islamic Thought was born from the work of Ismail Raj al-Faruqi, a Palestinian born American scholar. He gathered a group of Muslim scholars in the modern disciplines such as sociology, philosophy, sciences and anthropology and began a discourse of reframing the disciplines within the construct of an Islamic world view. The traditional Ustaz were incapable of thinking critically and intellectually and so the onus fell on the non-Ustaz to lead the charge. The International Islamic University Malaysia was a manifestation of that Islamization of knowledge agenda. This agenda was supposed to liberate Islam from the shackles of traditional narrow minded interpretation into an Islam that could send people to Mars as well as sit at the head of the United Nation Chair advising about how the world can be a sustainable place for all mankind. I was excited and embarked on my own contribution of restructuring the thinking about Islam and Architecture as well as City Planning from the values of the Sunnah of the Prophet framed in modern technology and knowledge constructs. But then, after witnessing the silence of the IIUM academics on the banning of the book by G25 and Mustafa Akyol, I thought that this agenda too was a farce. The more so that important thinkers from that university never responded to mediate in the issues of Kafir Harbi, Jawi and the Allah issues that almost tore the fabric of our country's race relation.
The final agenda of Islamic Reformation that I believed in was the replacement of all man made constitutional framework with that of the Qur'an and the Sunnah. The simple premise was that if Allah created man, and He sent His Messengers in the Prophets as well as the Kitabs, these are the keys to governing all human kind in a just and spiritually uplifting manner. Democracy in some ways is seen as anti-Islam as it does not limit the votes and concerns to some of the issues that God had already decided on. I thought then that this was a viable construct because no one mentioned anything about caning people, cutting hands, stoning and also imprisoning young adults for picnicking during Friday Prayers. No one also said anything about forcing non-Muslims to learn Jawi as the script related to the Qur'an and Islam. So, I supported this agenda. The Iranian Revolution fired the minds and hearts of Islamist world wide and thumbed their noses on such monarchy system as Brunei and Saudi Arabia. In Malaysia, I supported PAS for 25 years with money and personal efforts. But now, this party wants to cut people's hands, cane individuals for moral misbehaviors, imprison young people and call Malaysian citizens musoh-musoh Islam and people like me and Siti Kassim as Munafik or hypocrite for criticizing Zakir Naik. This political group also supported the Najib regime in their alleged manner of abusing public funds. I was hoping that Islamic NGOs come out in full force against this new direction of the Islamic political party but they seem to be oblivious and in elegant silence.
This region of Asia, to me, is now under serious threat not only from Islamic radicals bombing and killing people, it is also under siege from the conservatives and Reformists who wants to turn democracy into a religion based autocracy. Indonesia and Malaysia are now a serious threat to this region of Asia and some serious thinking must be done to arrest this situation before the dominoes fall and we are looking at a Taliban-like Theocracy within less than a decade.
Finally, on the 58th year of my life, I renounce the Islamic Reform agenda that I thought would liberate man against its own selfish interest of greed and racism into a more liberal, progressive and open-hearted spiritual construct. The reform agenda of the Islamists now clearly shows itself to be no better than the selfish interest of greed and self-preservation that it once sought to replace.
(Professor Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor at a local university.)