Inaugural address by Anwar Ibrahim, MP and Chair, World Forum for Muslim Democrats at the Opening of the Biennial International Conference on Islam on 1st February 2015, in Ampang, Selangor.
We gather here today in circumstances of turmoil and political unrest in the Muslim world as yet unprecedented in our modern history.
Whether it is in the Middle East, the Indian sub-Continent, or in Europe, hardly a week goes by without some negative breaking news of innocent people being kidnapped, beheaded, shot at or blown up by perpetrators who are ostensibly Muslims. Not since 9/11 have the repercussions of these vile attacks been so far-reaching and pervasive.
When the Twin Towers were attacked in 2001, I wrote an op-ed piece for Time magazine a week later but being still in prison, it took another two weeks for me to get it out. I had prefaced it with the Qur’anic reminder in surah al-Maidah ayah 8: “Let not your hatred of others cause you to act unjustly against them.” I then said:
“Never in Islam’s history have the actions of so few of its followers caused the religion and its community of believers to be such an abomination in the eyes of others. Millions of Muslims who fled to North America and Europe to escape poverty and persecution at home have become the objects of hatred and are now profiled as potential terrorists. The nascent democratic movements in Muslim countries will regress for a few decades as ruling autocrats use their participation in the global war against terrorism to terrorize their critics and dissenters.”
Today, religious groups in the name of jihad are trying to outdo each other in their demonstration of faith – who can kill more, be more violent and be as uncompromising as possible? Who are the champions in striking fear among those who do not subscribe to their beliefs?
In this perverse race for supremacy in brutality, ISIS has been at the forefront, issuing ultimatums for ransom to be paid for the release of foreign captives and beheading them with clock-work precision when the ransom is not paid. To add to the depravity, they also carry out mass summary executions by firing squad and shamelessly broadcast these atrocities to the world.
For fear of losing out to ISIS and other terror groups in notoriety as bloodthirsty and ruthless killers, the Taliban on December 16 last year struck their as yet ‘most cruellest cut’ in depraved violence by attacking a school in Pakistan and massacring 140 children.
Just two days before that, Boko Haram insurgents kidnapped at least 185 women and children, and slaughtered 32 people in a raid in Nigeria where, incidentally, twelve of its thirty-six states have introduced hudud punishments. The gunmen attacked a village, destroying half of it, shooting down men before herding women and children together.
But even all this seems to pale before the atrocity committed by ISIS militants in late October when they herded over 600 Shia, Christian and Yazidi men into the desert and executed them at point blank range.
They were forced to count themselves as they lined up before their executioners who, while proclaiming ‘God is great’, opened fire on them with machine guns.
Stabbing Islam in the back
Then of course there were the horrific murders that were carried out at the offices of Charlie Hepdo in Paris on 7th January followed by the brutal killing of four Jewish hostages. There was widespread condemnation of the Paris killings from people and quarters regardless of religion or creed. Once again, the savage acts of a few in the name of Islam had tainted the rest of the Muslim communities.
In this senseless and brutal killing, the perpetrators have stabbed Islam in the back. It is indeed the height of audacity for these murderers to say they are avenging the Prophet and protecting the sanctity of the religion.
By what authority do they justify killing people for insulting Islam or the Prophet?
Islam has survived for almost 1500 years without these self-righteous self-proclaimed defenders of the faith. It can certainly go on for another thousand years and more without them. The Prophet was sent unto mankind as a blessing and guidance, not a preacher of terrorism.
“And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds.”
We know that during his early mission, all kinds of insult, led by Musaylima, were hurled at the Prophet and his Companions urged him to fight back. The Prophet merely said: ‘Let him be. He is just a liar. Ignore him.’
When the enemies of Islam stepped up their ridicule and persecution, the Companions again asked the Prophet to curse them. At this, the Prophet replied, “I have not been sent to lay a curse upon men but to be a blessing to them.”
When the Prophet went to Ta’if, he attempted to call the community there to Islam. In response, they set the street urchins to hound, harass and then stone him. When he was utterly exhausted and bleeding from head to foot, did he curse his tormentors or seek help for revenge? On the contrary, as all Muslims know or should know, what issued from the Prophet’s lips was and remains indeed one of the most moving and beautiful du’a in Islam:
“O Allah, To Thee I complain of my weakness, my lack of resources and my lowliness before men.
“O most Merciful! Thou art the Lord of the weak and Thou art my Lord. To whom wilt Thou entrust me? To one who will misuse me? Or to an enemy to whom Thou hast given power over me? If Thou art not angry with me then I care not what happens to me. Thy favour is all that counts for me.
“I take refuge in the light of Thy countenance, by which all darkness is illuminated. And the things of this world and next are rightly ordered. I wish to please Thee until Thou art pleased. There is no power and no might save in Thee.”
So, where is the textual authority to establish that Muslims should avenge the Prophet by embarking on a killing spree?
The Prophet’s heart was always filled with love and compassion for human kind regardless of creed or colour. The hearts of these self-appointed avengers are filled with hatred and hostility.
The Prophet taught us tolerance and understanding. These avengers preach intolerance and animosity. The Qur’an tells us to reach out and get to know one another. These killers sow discord and division.
Of 9/11 back then, I had denounced it thus:
“The attacks must be condemned, and the condemnation must be without reservation. The foremost religious authorities are outraged and have issued statements denouncing the monstrous murders. All efforts to punish the perpetrators must be supported.”
Likewise, the response to the killings in Paris must also be unequivocal condemnation. It is cold blooded massacre, plain and simple. There’s nothing to justify or rationalise. It is also not the time for moralizing over U.S., French or European foreign policy.
As stated earlier, these acts of barbarism are tragically not new. We would recall the reaction of Muslims to the Danish cartoons. Innocent lives were lost and buildings were set on fire as angry mobs in various parts of the Muslim world went on a rampage to demonstrate their anger. Was that following the example of the Prophet?
Freedom of expression and double standards
Nevertheless, much as we must defend our fundamental liberties, the fact is that there is no such thing as absolute freedom of expression, not even in Europe and certainly not in France. When the comic book on the life of the Prophet was first published in France two years ago, I had deplored it as sacrilege against Islam. Indeed, I had called for calm and rationality in response even as we should denounce the cartoons as vile and contemptible.
To my mind, the Danish cartoons, Charlie Hebdo caricatures and the rest of the tasteless and insensitive publications ridiculing Islam and the Prophet are mere manifestations of Islamophobia in all its varied guises. They appear to betray a deep-seated Freudian prejudice or animosity harking back to the Crusades.
This is most disappointing considering the strong tradition of scholarship and interest on Islam in Europe that has yielded scholars such as William Muir, Richard Burton, Reynold Nicholson, Max Muller, Theodor Noldeke, Ignaz Goldziher, Ernest Renan, Louis Massignon and Henri Pirenne, to name but a few.
Inspired by Hafez (1325-89), Goethe (1749-1832) wrote West-östlicher Divan (West-Eastern Diwan). It symbolizes, not a clash, but interaction between the West and the East, between Greek and Persian civilizations and between Christendom and the Muslim world.
Goethe’s Diwan in turn inspired other works by European writers. In 1924, Iqbal (1877-1938) himself was moved to publish Payam-e-Mashriq (The Message of the East) underscoring the role of religion and spirituality in civilisation.
As we moved into the 21st century, instead of great works of literature celebrating intellectual convivencia between the Muslim world and the West, we are instead inundated with trashy and worthless writings and cartoons clearly aimed at provoking Muslims and causing unrest.
A clear line must therefore be drawn between freedom of expression and hate crimes.
So, while I condemn the Paris killings, I cannot subscribe to the chant of “je suis Charlie” because I do not support the portrayal of the image of the Prophet, let alone caricaturing him in any way. Likewise, I do not support blasphemy against Christians, Jews or any other religion. Neither do I support the freedom to incite hatred against anyone or community on account of religion, ethnicity or culture.
The publication of the Charlie Hepdo cartoons was highly offensive to many Muslims. The French government did nothing to hold to account the people responsible for that act of profanity. Now, in the aftermath of the Paris massacre, just a few days later the magazine republished the offensive cartoons and this was officially sanctioned by the French authorities.
These are blatant acts of provocation and must be condemned.
The issue here is: should there be freedom to commit blasphemy and incite communal hatred? It is true that crimes such as incitement to racial discrimination or hatred will always be challenged as a violation of the right to freedom of expression. But if someone makes a speech clearly liable to arouse feelings of distrust, rejection or even hatred towards a particular group of people of a particular ethnic background, it is incitement to racial hatred. His freedom of expression must then become secondary to the right to dignity and freedom from harassment or vilification on account of ethnic or religious differences.
In 2007, the European Union approved legislation that would make denying the Holocaust punishable by jail sentences. This was said to be a minimalist compromise because of the need to reconcile the protection of freedom of speech with protection of their citizens from racism and hate crimes.
This EU law mandates prison terms of as much as three years for “intentional conduct” that incites violence or hatred against a person’s “race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.” The same punishment would apply to those who incite violence by “denying or grossly trivializing crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.”
Even before that, “Holocaust denial” laws were already in place in Germany, France, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland and several other European countries: It is a crime publicly to dispute the official version of Holocaust history. So, this is a classic example of even established European democracies watering down freedom of expression. But no one, at least no Western media, has ever framed this issue as a clash between Judaism and freedom of expression.
I personally have no problem with that. ‘Holocaust history’ is something very sensitive to the Jewish community. To deny that indeed is to hurt the feelings of the Jewish community – and also to deny that they were victims of genocide. It may or may not incite violence in doing so. We don’t condone violence but we appreciate that the Jewish community is entitled to feel hurt by such denials.
Of course, those who subscribe to absolute freedom will not agree. We can debate this and there is no need to kill anyone.
But the question is why is it perfectly legitimate to hurt the sensitivities of Muslims by depicting their Prophet or caricaturing him?
Why the double standards?
If France is to remain true to its “je suis Charlie” credo which is the metaphor for absolute freedom of expression then they should repeal the “Holocaust denial” law too or other related laws. Or else, they should stop parading on their moral high horse in the name of absolute freedom of expression.
However, the constraint on freedom of expression in these matters must work both ways. For example, in the case of Malaysia, if action is taken against anyone for blaspheming Islam or ridiculing Muslims on account of their religion, then the authorities must also act even-handedly in cases of blasphemy or insult to other religions and faiths. This is not a hypothetical issue. In Malaysia, we have seen how certain prominent Muslim leaders openly insult Hindus or Christians and get away with it. Why the double standards again?
As even the great libertarian Hayek has said, liberty and responsibility are inseparable. A free society will not function unless its members accept the consequences of their action. Freedom also implies the freedom to speak the truth and not to spread falsehood or corrupt public morals.
Yet, in saying that not only Muslims but any right minded and decent individual may be offended by these kinds of publications, Muslims must learn temperance and tolerance in the tradition of the Prophet. Remember the Prophet’s du’a at Taif and stay true to the Prophet’s memory. Emulate his magnanimity in the face of ridicule and scorn from the enemies.
Between je suis and j’accuse
There is also the tendency to pin anti-Semitism in Europe to Islamic militants as was clearly the case in the Paris attacks where both the Israeli and French governments were quick to label them as anti-Semitic attacks.
Some perspective is needed here. We may recall that the French government has had a history of anti-Semitism. While the mantra is now “je suis Charlie”, at one time more than a century ago, it was “J’accuse”. That was the title of the open letter that Émile Zola published on the front page of a leading Parisian newspaper.
Expressed in highly emotional language, Zola charged the nation’s military top brass with conspiracy and anti-Semitism in dealing with the infamous Alfred Dreyfus affair.
Instead of bringing the culprits to book, the authorities lost no time in arresting Zola, charging him with criminal libel, and having him tried as a common criminal. The show trial was so well managed that an angry bloodthirsty Parisian mob gathered outside the court house clamouring for Zola’s head.
Anatole France, another eminent man of letters, came to his defence and valiantly testified to Zola’s “admirable good faith and absolute integrity.” But this was of no consequence as Zola was hastily convicted and sentenced to jail. However, thanks to his quick thinking and survival instincts, Zola chose freedom instead and dashed off to England. By his reckoning, there was a total failure of justice and it would be foolish for him to submit to an utterly corrupt and unjust system.
Today, France has swung to the other end of the pendulum in making itself among the most vocal in condemning anti-Semitism, apart from the “Holocaust denial” law.I have no quarrel with that. But placing anti-Semitism in juxtaposition with Islam or Islamist activities perpetuates a false dichotomy. It is misguided as well as misleading and only breeds further Islamophobia.
Islamophobia and the ‘clash-of-civilisations’ narrative
Should the Charlie Hebdo attack lead to a resurgence of the clash-of-civilisations narrative?
For the reasons as aforementioned, it should not. Why should it? If it does, then it is testimony to the success of the military jihadists’ doctrine of terror. Terrorism wins if we succumb to fear. It wants to sow discord, distrust and suspicion. Jihadist terrorists rejoice at the rising tide of Islamophobia for it sustains and justifies their hatred and killing. Islamophobia may deal a double whammy – it pushes moderate Muslims to a corner and moderate non-Muslims further to the right. The clash of civilizations would then become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
There are portents of that possibility as evidenced by the rising cases of the German far-right extremists attacking foreigners, particularly Muslims. As of last year, there has been a significant nationwide increase in xenophobic offences.
At the same time, there has been a spike in anti-Islam ‘Monday marches’ under the PEGIDA banner. What can we expect from a movement that says “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the Occident” if not more intense Islamophobia? There has also been a sudden rise in hate crimes against Muslims in France after the Paris killings.
It is therefore not only wrong but harmful to frame the Charlie Hepdo killings as a clash between Islam and freedom of speech, and hence the chanting of “je suis Charlie”. Such a narrative can only add to Islamophobia.
Islam and Muslims are not in this battle. Terrorists and murderers are. And they will continue to kill and maim not just to do battle against freedom of speech but against generally what the free world, including Muslims, want.
While it would be pointless to make sense of these acts of indescribable brutality, it may be instructive to review the underlying basis for excessiveness in religious observances.
This may be attributed to a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of istiqamah, a doctrine of piety grounded in Surah Fussilat: 30:
“Indeed, those who have said, ‘Our Lord is Allah’ and then remained on a right course – the angels will descend upon them, [saying], ‘Do not fear and do not grieve but receive good tidings of Paradise, which you were promised.’”
The term refers to persistence, taking a firm position, remaining steadfast in one’s religious beliefs, views and practices. But it should be pointed out that while istiqamah is enjoined, extremism is forbidden, as in surah Hud: 112:
“So remain on a right course as you have been commanded, [you] and those who have turned back with you [to Allah ], and do not transgress. Indeed, He is Seeing of what you do.”
Indeed, transgressing the limits means taking things to the extreme and that is not permitted. Whilst we cannot deny that jihad is textually ordained, it would be misconceived to equate it only with war and violence. Islam stands for peace founded on equity and justice. While Muslims are told to fight tyranny and oppression, force may only be used as a last resort.
As well pointed out by Esposito:
The two broad meanings of jihad, nonviolent and violent, are contrasted in a well-known prophetic tradition. It is said that when Muhammad returned from battle he told his followers, “We return from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad.” The greater jihad is the more difficult and more important struggle against one’s ego, selfishness, greed, and evil.
Yes, but as following the jihad al asghrar (the lesser jihad) and the jihad al akbar (the greater jihad) is the jihad al kabir or “great jihad” as mentioned in the Surah al Furqan 25:52,
“So do not obey the disbelievers, and strive against them with the Qur’an a great striving.”
This is the intellectual jihad, which is the universal principle that requires respect for knowledge, including freedom of thought, publication, and assembly. This jihad is a permanent effort. It is the responsibility of concerned citizens and those in leadership positions to bring the wisdom of Islam to bear on all issues of conscience.
Even though there is no real textual authority, Jihadi terrorist groups generally and particularly in the case of ISIS fall back on a simplistic but highly appealing interpretation of Islam to provide a moral imperative for martyrdom: fight in the way of Allah to establish an Islamic state ruled under shari’ah law with hudud and die as martyrs.
There is a certain romantic allure for this borne by history if we recall the abolition of the institution of the caliphate under Mustafa Kemal and the bitterness and resentment it caused to those who had felt that this indeed was the final severance of the link with Islam’s glorious past.
Whilst mainstream and moderate Muslims may find the idea laughable, for extremist groups like ISIS and to a slightly lesser extent, al-Qaida, the restoration of a caliphate and dying as martyrs in the process may well be a paramount goal.
This may well be a ploy by the powers that be in the organisation who personally may have more worldly rewards in mind, but to the highly impressionable and idealistic Muslim youth across Europe and other parts of the Muslim world, this could be their clarion call.
Nevertheless, it needs reminding that the state set up by the Prophet Muhammad in Medina after 622AD was not a Caliphate but a community with a constitutional Charter comprising Muslims, Jews, Christians or pagans whose fundamental liberties were protected including the right of all citizens to be free and equal.
This foundational doctrine of Islamic statehood is just lost on these jihadists and their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi with the self-proclaimed title of “Caliph Ibrahim”, arrogating to himself the highest authority in the Muslim world.
They pervert the concept of jihad and among the first acts they do is to force non-Muslims to convert and appropriate women and young girls as war booty.
In their fanatical drive to expand their state, they force into marriage young women and even children or worse, rape them, apart from the other acts of brutality as recounted earlier.
Unfortunately, we see that certain leaders of the Muslim community have chosen to remain coy in their responses to the spread of ISIS as well as to the murder and mayhem committed. They don the cloak of religiosity, pay lip service to upholding the sovereignty of the faith and exploit the ignorance of the masses.
Allah does not forbid you to be kind, uphold ties, return favours and be fair towards non-Muslims. Placed in the present context of ISIS and the manner in which they treat non-Muslims, we can see the gross violation of these zealots who are killing in the name of Islam.
However, the answer to the rise of fundamentalist jihadism is not just more bombs and fire power but more efforts at removing the fundamental reasons for their misguided notions of jihad as well as the factors that tend to disenchantment and alienation.
Military power, indeed, is essential on the battle front in terms of gaining geographical and territorial advantage but without winning the ideological war, jihadist terrorists will continue to sprout like mushrooms.
Justice and Moderation
In surah al-Baqarah:143, Allah enjoins:
And thus we have made you a just community that you will be witnesses over the people and the Messenger will be a witness over you.
Moderation and justice feature in all aspects of Islam.
Islam maintains moderation in faith and enjoins respect for other religions. The true Muslim believes in all the Prophets, Messengers, and in all Allah’s revealed Books.
Hence, controversy over use of ‘Allah’ and Malay translation of the Bible can be resolved once this fundamental principle is understood. The traditional conservative members of the Malay-Muslim community must therefore be actively engaged.
In Malaysia, groups like Perkasa and Isma should also be engaged on account of their truncated views of Islam and their apparent inability to separate religion from ethnicity.
Islam is moderate in the acts of worship it enjoins for it neither commands one to abandon it nor to dedicate oneself totally to it.
Islam strikes a balance between extremes of what are forbidden and extremes of what are permitted. The halal-haram controversy must be dealt with by using a moderate approach without the need for name-calling and hostile posturing.
In the pursuit of knowledge, moderation must be maintained by striking a balance between reason and Revelation. The human intellect (aql) is essential for material progress but without divine guidance, man’s propensity to go astray could take him to excesses.
As between reason and revelation, the raison d’êtrelies in jihad al kabir as mentioned earlier.
“Islam rahmatan lil ‘alamin” will remain just a catch phrase if the umma fails to rise up to the challenges of the globalized world. Jihad in the true sense must begin with the principle that all pursuits are to be actualised by striving for what is beneficial for mankind and preventing what is harmful.
Indiscriminate bandying of terms like ‘Shari’ah’ and ‘hudud’ serves no purpose other than offering a truncated view of Islam and perhaps enabling certain quarters to garner brownie points among the less informed.
To my mind, the generic prescription for the umma to face the challenges of the globalized world lies in the maqasid al-Shari’ah.
It is a manifestation of the miracle of the Qur’an that the more we subject it to our rational intellect, the more meaning it unfolds. This is quite apart from what we know as kashf or ilham, that is, infused knowledge or inspiration which is direct knowledge from Allah, accompanied by sakina (tranquility). In respect of the maqasid al-Shari’ah, it is jihad al-kabir that must prod us to go beyond mere labels. This warrants a sincere and earnest effort to strive intellectually in order to do justice to the true purport of revelation.
“He gives wisdom to whom He wills, and whoever has been given wisdom has certainly been given much good. And none will remember except those of understanding.” Surah al Furqan:32
In this regard, applying the maqasid al-Shari’ah in the economic sphere, the best prescription not just for the Muslim world but for the world at large must be nothing less than the establishment of a humane economy. The central doctrine of balance must be observed in order to achieve equilibrium free market capitalism and social justice.
In quibbling over whether or not hudud is mandatory or that the Shari’ah should be the law of the land, there is the unfortunate neglect of the main issues: socio-economic hardship with rising costs of living and growing unemployment, widening wealth gap, housing and health care problems, and of course rampant corruption and power abuse.
In governance, transparency and accountability cannot be compromised while corruption is shunned.
Again, the maqasid enjoins that the preservation of peace and security requires appropriate laws but this must be balanced by the Qur’anic imperative on justice and the rule of law.
Disconnect with modernity and shallow understanding of Shari’ah
Much of the underlying problem in the discourse about establishing an Islamic state, implementing the criminal punishment of hudud, and the need for Islam to be practiced according to its black letter tradition can be traced to a shallow understanding of the Shari’ah and the failure to consider the maqasid.
For example, in Southeast Asia where there is much clamour by certain groups for the imposition of hudud, much of the discourse on the subject of hudud is simplistic as there is generally neither a serious attempt made to understand a modern theory of criminal justice within the maqasid nor paying sufficient attention to the approaches used by the Prophet SAW.
Views by well-known ulema such as Shaikh Yusuf al-Qhardawi and Shaikh Taha Jabir al-Alwani on the position and priority of hudud are condemned as being apologetic.
In his treatise “Hudud in Present Day Discourse” Sheikh al-Qhardawi gives the basic guidelines on the method of implementation of hudud so as to narrow the gap of diversity and avert further discord and conflict.
Sheikh al-Qardhawi asserts that before the Prophet implemented hudud, the prerequisite was to ensure that the Muslim community must be fully prepared for it by having reached the level of advancement in aspects of faith, religious laws, morals, ethics and values.
He maintains that other laws pertaining to Islam should be implemented first before the implementation of hudud which is not ‘top priority’ especially while other crucial matters pertaining to the umma remain unresolved.
Citing the jurisprudence of Sheikh Abdul Wahhab al-Khallaf, (1998, Ilmu Usul al-Fiqh (The Science of Islamic Jurisprudence), Mansurah: Darul Kalimah, pp.34-35), al-Qardhawi says there are three main categories of the Shari’ah, namely, laws pertaining to faith, (aqidah), laws relating to morality, (akhlak) and laws governing practical affairs (amali).
Within this latter category of practical affairs (amali) there are two sub-divisions, namely, laws pertaining to rituals of worship (ibadat) and laws pertaining to transactions (muamalat).
Under this latter category of transactions, there are another seven sub-divisions of the law, namely, Family Law, Civil Law, Criminal Law comprising hudud, qisas and takzir, Legislation, Constitutional Law, International law, and law pertaining to the economy.
This categorisation clearly shows that hudud law is but one constituent of the vast corpus of the Shari’ah and not, as some parties would suggest, the be-all and end-all of Islamic law. On the contrary, as stated by al-Qardhawi, hudud law occupies the bottom rung in the overall scheme of the implementation of the Shari’ah.
Qardhawi’s view is also shared by Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah al-Khatib, prominent leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and author of Risalah al-Ta’lim, Sharh Usul al-’Isyreen and other important works of Islamic jurisprudence. He has dismissed the claim that the implementation of hudud law is top priority.
In the words of al-Khatib, “hudud in Islam…comes at the end of the process of the Shari’ah because Islam places greater value on the human hand (rather than amputating it because of stealing), honour, property, and the overall quality of life.”
Qardhawi also asserts that Islam is not out to subject people to hudud punishment, as evident in the practice of the Prophet, who made it a point to avoid imposing it, even on those who had approached him with confessions of having transgressed the law.
Jurisprudence of priorities (Fiqh aulawiyat)
It remains to be said that this discourse is not about placing hudud in a less than favourable light but rather that al-Qardhawi’s view is part and parcel of his jurisprudence of priorities (fiqh aulawiyat) where the maqasid al-shari’ah warrant that matters of importance for the community should be ordered according to priorities.
Consequently, the implementation of hudud, being lower in the hierarchy of priorities, cannot supersede the attainment of the higher objectives of the Shari’ah. The principle of balance is therefore crucial to this as ordained in Surah al-Rahman (verses 7-9):
“And the Firmament has He raised high, and He has set up the Balance (of Justice) in order that ye may not transgress (due) balance. So establish weight with justice and fall not short in the balance”.
In taking this position, al-Qardhawi is also supported among others by Taha Jabir al Awani, Hasan Al Turabi and Rashid al-Ghanusi, all luminaries in Islamic scholarship and jurisprudence.
Jihad al kabir and the intellectual tradition
There is nothing wrong with ritualistic observance according to literalist interpretation in matters of dress, eating, food and socialising but a proper approach must take into account Islam’s far richer and more comprehensive moral tradition, one that gave rise to morally conscious intellectuals.
Jihad al kabir therefore warrants that rather than merely mouthing easy prescriptions we should clearly demonstrate our stand on injustice, the abuse of power, and society’s moral duty to uplift the social condition of the weak and oppressed.
The maqasid will also enjoin government by democratic process and the development of civil society and an intellectual culture in which issues can be vigorously debated where there is ample room for diversity of opinion on issues confronting society.
Diversity of views and inclusive engagement
According to one of the most influential public thinkers of our time, Nobel laureate Professor Amartya Sen, “the central issues in a broader understanding of democracy are political participation, dialogue and public interaction.”
The failure to allow for ‘government by discussion’ can be seen for example in the deprivation of a free and independent press. Without this, the advancement of public reasoning is constrained and is forced to find its voice through other channels. The benefits of a free and independent media have been well expounded by leading writers and empirically we know what that is all about.
Muslim leaders and a new discourse
Nevertheless, for much of the Muslim world, the problem of tyranny and corruption of power remains like a malignant cancer with no clear signs of abatement.
Whatever bright prospects that were held out from the Arab Spring have quickly dissipated into the dark and gloomy portents of despair. Egypt, which witnessed the short-lived democracy that gave much hope to the rest of the Middle East, is now under the stranglehold of a dictator said to be even more tyrannical than Mubarak. Yemen and Libya are back in turmoil while Syria’s Bashir al-Asad continues to massacre his own people with impunity.
Meanwhile, the plight of the Palestinians is all but forgotten. It is time for a reminder to the world that the notorious atrocities perpetrated against the Palestinians since 1948 are not about to disappear any time soon. The renewed massacre of thousands of civilians including women and children in July last year in Gaza cannot be anything but state organized terrorism although much of the West would never deign to refer to it as such.
Today, the Muslim world continues to bear the negative manifestations of a civilization in decay. Even in countries not ravaged by war and that are supposedly ‘democratic’, real freedom and democracy remain elusive. Repressive and archaic laws inherited from the colonial masters continue to prevail in addition to new legislation that stifle freedom and tend to lead to injustice.
With the exception of a few, there is no free and independent press. As a result, the people’s voice can only be heard through an alternative media, one which thrives in spite of the constraints imposed by the authorities by using a plethora of laws enforced with the full might of the organs of state power.
Muslim democrats and the umma
Against this backdrop, the World Forum for Muslim Democrats was recently established whose primary role is to provide a common platform for leaders, intellectuals and professionals in the Muslim world to set a new narrative on freedom, democracy and justice.
There will be zero tolerance for the propagation of extremism, fanaticism or the so-called jihadism of the likes of ISIS, al-Shabab or Boko Haram.
We must make it clear that such actions can never be jihad. This is corruption of Islam of the most vulgar and savage kind. They claim they are doing this for Islam and the umma but what they really seek is worldly gain and political power.
In truth, Allah has a perfect description of this subterfuge and hypocrisy:
And when it is said to them, “Do not cause corruption on the earth,” they say, “We are but reformers.” Al-Baqara: 11
Many attempts have been made to engage these extreme groups but it appears all calls for moderation and consultation have fallen on deaf ears. It is as if they are as what Allah has stated:
“Deaf, dumb and blind – so they will not return [to the right path]”. Al-Baqarah:18
To my mind, a new approach has to be articulated on jihad whose true imperative is not to drive wars and conquer new lands but to set the example for inclusive engagement and to drive home the message that differences of views are healthy. The crisis of the umma today is not one of differences of views but of bigotry and intolerance and thus inability to accept the diversity of opinions in a wide spectrum of matters.
In this regard, we must raise the bar in the engagement and go beyond mere tolerance of differing views. While remaining steadfast in our religious convictions, we must do our utmost to foster healthy and vibrant discourses and hold fast to the conviction that allows for freedom of conscience, opinion and expression.
Islam is a blessing and mercy to the entire universe. But Muslims have to make it happen. Muslim leaders can and must set the example for inclusive engagement and to drive home the message that differences of views are healthy.
Justice and moderation should always prevail over injustice and extremism in all its varied guises. The atrocities committed by the extremist groups and terrorists constitute the corruption of Islam of the most vulgar and savage kind.
Islam Rahmatan lil “Alamin must entail that all pursuits are to be actualised by striving for what is beneficial for mankind and preventing what is harmful.
In this new narrative, we must maintain within our moral compass the progressive notions of human rights, freedom of conscience and justice.
These principles will entail the moral duty to protect women and children, the old and the infirm, the rights of minorities. They will drive efforts to establish social justice – to uplift the living standards of the ordinary people, eradicate poverty and democratise access to education at all levels.
Ultimately, these principles will be the bedrock for true democratic governance where transparency and accountability will be virtually written in stone.
That is the true meaning of Islam Rahmatan lil ‘Alamin.