By Susan Loone
Well-known sociologist Syed Farid Alatas says that one of the greatest dangers facing Malaysian society is the rise of Muslim extremism – Wahabism and Salafism – or legalistic thinking that reduces citizens to rules and regulation.
He said these are the notion and role of an Islamic state currently being promoted by BN/Umno and PAS but both ways are “problematic” as there is no real debate on the issues here.
“There is not much difference between Umno and PAS, except that the former gives excuses that we can’t have an Islamic state because we are a multiracial society,” said Syed Farid (left), an expert in the area of the sociology of religion.
“The correct point I think is that we can’t have an Islamic state because an Islamic state is not good even for Muslims.
“When I say that, I don’t mean that Islam is not good for Muslims,” the head of Malay studies at the National University of Singapore was quick to add.
“I mean the conception of an Islamic state which is a modernist idea is a chaotic idea”.
Syed Farid was speaking in a two-hour plenary lecture entitled “Contemporary Muslim Revival: The Case of Protestant Islam” at the Wawasan Open Univesity in Penang last night.
Only 7% of Turks for Islamic state
His lecture was in conjunction with the ‘Colloquium on Democracy and Social Justice’ jointly organised by Penang Institute and the Islamic Renaissance Front.
The don – a Malaysian – has published extensively on the themes of Muslim revivalism, religious extremism, decolonisation of knowledge and democracy.
In his lecture, Syed Farid went on to explain that the proponents of the idea of an Islamic state mostly talked about hudud laws which centred around criminal laws.
“The kind of state they envisage is a horrible state as it is a state presided by a punitive God, and not the God of Love, as envisioned by the Sufists or the God of the early missionaries who brought Islam to Southeast Asia and the Malay world,” he said.
“Those Muslims never talked about an Islamic state. For them what was necessary was to live in the society that allows you to live according to the rules and laws of Islam,” he added.
He gave the example of a large scale survey conducted in Turkey two years ago, where the religious citizens (not the secularists) were asked whether they want to live in an Islamic state.
Only seven percent said “yes”, noted Syed Farid, as majority of Turks did not want the state to administer Islam or decide on religious matters, they wanted the freedom to administer it themselves.
Malaysia needs more debate
“So being against Islamic state is not to be secular or to be against Islam, Muslims really need to understand that,” said Syed Farid, who read for his PhD at the John Hopkins University.
“In this country, Muslims feel that if they are against Islamic state, they are not being true to Islam,” the professor who used to teach in Universiti Malaya, added.
They have to understand that the whole notion of the Islamic state is a modernist idea,” he stressed.
Syed Farid said the entire thinking of what constitutes a state in Islam and how the religion is brought into modern life needs to be debated and discussed but that is not being done because Islam is being politicised in Malaysia.
He echoed the words of the great Islamic philosopher Ibn Khaldun who said “governments as a rule are unjust”, adding he will vote for the least unjust government.
“Most Islamic governments in Islamic history have been unjust, even those which were in existence during the so-called Golden Age of Islam. “They were quite terrible in terms of abuse and torture and corruption,” said Syed Farid.
In Malaysia, Syed Farid said we have governments which are more interested in winning points with the electorate than solving pressing problems.
Dangerous cocktail warning
There is also a lack of professionalism in the civil service due to the preponderance of political interest which is in conflict with the governance of this country, he added.
“Christian extremist or the more extreme versions of Christian evangelism is not being discussed in a calm and academic manner here, he said.
“There is also the rise of market fundamentalism, a gradual encroachment of market values that are replacing spiritual and cultural values,” he added.
“Religious fundamentalism, extremism whether it is Muslim or Christians, tend to obliterate spiritual values,” he stressed.
“When spiritual and religious values are replaced with market values, it tends to reduce everyone to digits, this is a dangerous cocktail,” he warned. – Mkini