Non-Malays should never again dispute the special rights of the Malays and the position of the rulers, Khairy Jamaluddin said today, adding that Malays themselves never questioned vernacular schools and the citizenship of non-Malays.
The UMNO Youth Chief said in his policy speech at the party’s general assembly that the Malays had “accepted and they had never questioned” the social contract they agreed upon during the formation of Malaysia.
“If the Malays can accept it by not raising the matter of citizenship and acknowledging that we cannot shut down vernacular schools, why are there those among non-Malays who refuse to honour what they have previously agreed upon? Why are there those who ask for the Malay special privileges to be stopped, those who dispute the position of the Malay rulers and even those who cannot speak a word of the national language? If the Malay people are steadfast in their principles of upholding the agreement, we want to demand that they uphold their end of the bargain. Never again dispute what has been agreed upon,” said Khairy.
Khairy said it was a huge sacrifice for the Malays to allow other races to be a part of the country, so non-Malays must keep their end of the bargain and not question Malay rights.
“The demography of the nation changed drastically when the Malays opened the doors of the land to other races to build the nation together. We cannot imagine how big a sacrifice this is.So great were the sacrifices of the Malay people, and all that we ask in return is for the non-Malays to accept several of those matters which I just brought up as the other end of the bargain”, he added.
Khairy also defended the existence of vernacular schools, saying that they were allowed as part of the “status quo” which had “existed pre-Independence, and which will continue to exist”.
Despite Khairy’s statement, some UMNO grassroots leaders have in the past few months demanded that Chinese and Indian schools be shut down for the sake of national unity.
Last Sunday, a coalition of 58 Malay-rights groups repeated the call, and even urged Putrajaya to silence “radical” education organisations like Dong Zhong with the threat of de-registration.
Khairy conceded today that there were “fringe voices” questioning the existence of vernacular schools, but stressed that the UMNO leadership has long accepted the current education system.
“It is already forged in the laws of the land and not even the Minister of Education can change the fate of the vernacular schools.If we do not want to bring up these matters of the things that have been given, do not question the special rights and privileges of the natives,” he said. – November 26, 2014.
A Message to Khairy and his Cohorts from Tariq Ismail
Tariq Ismail is the grandson of the late former Deputy Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Ismail Abdul Rahman. He is from Aura Merdeka – Ikatan Sejagat (AMIS) group on Facebook. Tariq was brought up by the grandfather and his late wife, Toh Puan Norashikin, and is related to PM Najib and Home Affairs Minister, Hishamuddin Hussein. He has something to say about UMNO-Baru (below).
And I wonder why this diversion from Khairy Jamaluddin, the UMNO Youth Leader. The real issue is endemic corruption and UMNO Baru’s politics of patronage, race and religion, which Khairy chose not to mention. The Special Position of the Malays and Sovereignty of our Malay Rulers was never an issue. UMNO Baru played this card because it is under seige.Unless there is a serious attempt at reform, it will be a rough road ahead for the party.–Din Merican
Here is why from Tariq Ismail.
Malaysia for Malaysians without bigotry or intolerance.
“MY FAMILY is all UMNO and I was raised in the UMNO mould. However, my family had instilled into me a sense of Bushido, which included passion and fair play. Always uphold your religion as it is a personal matter and treat others with equality.
I had tried to join UMNO in 2002 with my grandmother pulling my ears after she found the application form and her words were – I raised you and over my dead body will you join the very party that will eat you inside. Moreover, in 15 years time you will be part of a machine that your very soul will diminish.
In 2008, I did try to join UMNO because I thought the wind of change that were apparently blowing then would lead the party to progress. However, no cawangan in Johor or KL would accept me. I scouted around from one UMNO division to another with no result. The Special Branch spooks that looked after Southern Johor told me UMNO will never accept a true blue blood like me.
Just before my grandmother passed away in 2010, she made me promise her to never join the party. I never understood why until I received a call from Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim (DSAI) to lead the Johor siege in 2013. I refused DSAI ‘s request for me to join as I knew I would be a scapegoat if PR had lost.
I still have an affinity with UMNO, but the pragmatic and secular UMNO of old, in which they worked together with all races to ensure this nation was prosperous and united in spirit via tolerance, compassion and recognising and accepting each other’s diversity.
Today’s UMNO is a cesspool of bigoted nouveau riche that has split the Malays and encourage the Malay siege mentality. Mahathir gave the Malays a cosmetic makeover but over looked the Malay inner soul. The Malay soul is lost. Will it be recovered? Yes. Will it be from UMNO…No!
Would I support Anwar Ibrahim to be Prime Minister? No, as he was part of that UMNO Baru sheananigans. However, if DSAI were to retire and promise the public that he will not fight for “justice” and the PM seat, and if Azmin were to take the lead, I may consider joining PKR.
My strategy is such that I shall follow the winds, and forecast the tide. The ship will be steered in one direction – a Malaysia for Malaysians without bigotry or intolerance. A first step is AMIS. Show that a united Malaysian movement of social moderates can steer the nation without playing into anyone’s cards.”–Tariq Ismail
The so-called “Malay moderate” leaders normally expound their sugar-coated liberal ideas in international forums and always in English because they know that the Malay-Muslim audience at home will miss it completely.
Two of a Kind?
This is true of both Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and the Leader of the Opposition Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Their actions are, however, diametrically opposite to what they profess to believe.
Let’s see how they handle the issues of “liberalism” and “pluralism”:The state religious authorities have labelled Muslims deemed “liberal” and “pluralistic” in outlook as “deviants” (i.e. those who have strayed from the true path of Islam). This accusation is cruel and totally unjustified. It should not have been made by the state religious authorities and certainly not by those who claim to be religious and pious men.
Muslims the world over take pride in the fact that their religion is “simple” and has no clergy that act as intermediaries with God.This is not the case in Malaysia. Here, there are religious authorities who have usurped the power of God and pass judgement on Muslims long before they die and long before The Day of Judgement.
Forty years ago it was PAS that labelled UMNO “infidels” but today this is no longer merely a game of political point-scoring. Now it goes to the core of religious belief: if you do not follow the rulings of the state religious authorities, you are not a Muslim.
What do the religious authorities teach? Liberalism and pluralism are sinful. That’s why the authorities have effectively banned Sisters in Islam by labelling the group “deviants”.
But what is so wrong about being liberal? A liberal is merely someone who has forward-looking and progressive ideas. Being liberal means just being “open minded” about things.
When the Prime Minister said that UMNO Selangor had to think outside the box and come up with new ideas to retake the state, he was being liberal and progressive. You can also say that, in the context of UMNO, Najib, Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein and Khairy Jamaluddin are liberals and progressives while Utusan Malaysia, Dr Ridhuan Tee Abdullah, Datuk Ibrahim Ali and ISMA are conservatives.
There is nothing “sinful” about this classification. But another dirty and sinful word is “pluralism”. The religious authorities seem to think that it means all religions are the same and that Islam is on par with other religions in Malaysia—Muslims are therefore prohibited from being pluralistic because Islam is the only true religion.
The religious authorities should learn to relax a little.In the context of our country, pluralism does not mean what they think it means. We use “pluralism” as a way of saying all religions have the right to exist in this land. It’s not a measure of which one is truer than the other. It’s not a judgement about which religion is better.
As Muslims, we believe of course that Islam is better—but no one is preventing us from believing this. Equally, Hindus (for example) are entitled to their own set of religious beliefs in what constitutes the path to salvation.
This pluralism this is not merely “permitted” in our country, it is a fundamental characteristic of our nation enshrined in the Federal Constitution. On the other hand, what is certainly not permitted is religious hegemony.
Pluralism means we accept that there are different religious faiths in the country and that our fellow-citizens have the right to practise those faiths freely. It is the idea that we must coexist peacefully. That’s the essence of Article 11 of our Constitution and the religious authorities really should not be afraid of the word.We are a democracy. Furthermore, we have recently been elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. We should have the courage to lead by example.
But what are our political leaders doing about this?Instead of calling up the religious authorities to explain to them the dangers of their rulings and how they violate our constitutional freedoms—and how Muslims will be adversely affected by such rulings—our political leaders have done nothing.
Recently, Anwar was at his usual charismatic best when delivering a talk at a posh hotel to some “Muslim democrats”. He said there was nothing wrong with pluralism and liberal ideas but also that he would not change the decision of the religious authority in Selangor where his party is in Government.
Najib, on the other hand, has been acting as he has always been, expressing an “elegant silence” on everything important happening in the country.
What is abundantly clear to Malaysians who care to see is that Malay political leaders are afraid of the religious authorities.Our leaders are like the Imperial Chinese eunuchs who would always obey the Emperor for the privilege of living in the Palace and having control over state finances.
In this matter, there is no difference at all whether UMNO or the Pakatan Rakyat has political power and occupies Putrajaya—today the real power in our lives emanates from the religious authorities.
Published: Sunday November 2, 2014-www.thestar.com.my
Cut out the Charade
by Zainah Anwar
Malaysia can be a ready-made lab to work out God’s message of diversity and plurality if it is translated into deeds.
IN 2002, Sisters in Islam wrote a letter to the editor in The Star, asking why the rights of those who publicly preach hate, injustice, discrimination, intolerance, and extremism are protected while the rights of other citizens who speak out for justice, equality, tolerance, respect, and moderation in Islam are denied?
The question remains as valid today. Why is Ibrahim Ali’s call to burn the Bibles regarded as protecting the sanctity of Islam, while Syed Azmi al Habshi’s effort to help Muslims overcome their fear of dogs is regarded as an insult to Islam?
The latest fatwa from the Selangor Fatwa Committee to declare Sisters in Islam and anyone, organisation or institution that subscribes to “liberalism and pluralism” in Islam as sesat and menyeleweng (deviant) is yet further representation of this headlong descent into a puritanical, extremist, intolerant brand of Islam in this country.
And to be sure, this state-level fatwa has also ordered a federal institution, the Malaysian Multimedia and Communications Commission, to block all social media sites that are “against the teachings of Islam and Hukum Syarak” – howsoever they define. And no course, no reason, justification or any explanation of terminologies used in the fatwa is given. That this violates the rules of fatwa-making in Islamic legal theory and practice escapes the scrutiny of those who should know better.
And this is coming from officialdom of a country that claims to lead a global movement of moderates and that pledged to take its campaign for moderation to the UN Security Council.
The irony is that when Malaysians boast to foreigners about the moderate Islam of Malaysia, it is Sisters in Islam, the civil society organisation declared as sesat and menyeleweng that is regarded internationally as a measure of its moderation. When some years ago the government brought in a procession of western journalists, academics, political aides and congressional staffers to promote better understanding of Malaysia and repair its dented image in the West, everyone of them was sent to visit Sisters in Islam.
Our existence was used as evidence that the Malaysian government was open and democratic and practised moderate Islam. And SIS made quite a bit of money selling our publications, thirsty as the visitors were to learn more about an Islam that is compatible with women’s rights and human rights.
But this Jekyll and Hyde charade the government plays for different audiences in different locations and at different times will eventually fall apart. For there is a runaway train heading towards a crash.
For too long this government has given almost a carte blanche to the religious authorities and the belligerent supremacists to take the lead and define what Islam is and is not in Malaysia and who are the good Muslims and bad Muslims. Malaysia’s moderate Islam is only touted for Western consumption. A discordant tune is played on the home front.
But Malaysians know better. Just look at the chatter on social media and you find increasing numbers of Muslims, speaking out, sick and tired of being told yet again of more categories of Muslims and practices to be denounced, hated and declared deviant. How many more Muslims must be hated to satiate the hunger of the self-appointed puritanical representatives of the faith to construct enemies in order to justify their existence and purpose in life?
I wish those in religious authority realise that life is so much easier and work will be so much more satisfying if they spend their time promoting the beauty, love, kindness, compassion of Islam to draw Muslims closer to the faith. Instead, they are turning many Muslims against this despotic institutionalisation of their faith, and into rejecting the Islam as represented by state authority. It is not rocket science to figure out that love and compassion can help to restore the religious legitimacy our ulama seek, much faster than condemnation and punishment.
I highly recommend that they take a break from seeing threats every which way they turn and spend 30 minutes reading and digesting the new Sultan of Perak’s message on Maal Hijrah. He cited the examples of the early Muslim community that successfully spread the message of Islam by being open-minded, magnanimous, moderate, and self-confident, and by rejecting extremist voices, accepting diversity and respecting differences.
He listed the overwhelming change that has taken place in the world over the centuries, not least the new values of transparency and openness, human rights, freedom of expression and political participation. The Muslim mind needs to embark on its own journey of Hijrah to deal with the challenges of today’s worlds as the old governing order has lost its legitimacy.
Can I suggest to the religious authorities that instead of issuing more fatwas to silence more Muslims, let’s exercise the mind and be challenged on how best to understand those wonderfully wondrous verses in the Quran about how God has created us into “nations and tribes so that you may come to know each other”, about how God would have made humankind into a “single ummah” if he had so willed, but he wanted us to be diverse. How can this message of the Quran, which sanctions diversity as a primary purpose of creation, be understood and practised in modern-day Malaysia?
Wouldn’t it be a far more spiritually uplifting journey to undertake and put to test those years of studying Islam in madrasahs and Islamic faculties? Malaysia is a ready-made lab to work out God’s message of diversity and plurality which can be translated into deeds amid the realities of the 21st century. What an exciting journey of possibilities!
Is it any wonder then that in the absence of leadership that reflects Islamic values of kindness and compassion, justice and equality, other Muslims have embarked on their own journeys to discover and live the beauty of Islam as they understand it. To find ways to reconcile their faith and their feminism, their faith and their activism, their faith and their everyday realities. For many of us, it is too hard to live a life filled with hatred, conflict and dissonance, forced to make choices between our multiple interests and identities.
The fact that so many Muslims converged to touch a dog and the obvious joy and pleasure on their faces shows what a liberating experience it was to be able to break free from an unnatural constraint on their love for animals and the comfort that hugging household pets brings.
It was as simple and humane as that. The fact that they then did their ritual cleansing showed how much they wanted to remain within the boundaries of their faith. They could exercise their interest in dogs with the teachings of Islam. What Syed Azmi did was to show the kind and compassionate face of Islam.
Just as he did not expect the outpouring of desire among so many Muslims to touch dogs, little did he expect the outpouring of hate from extremist Muslims, and what more the wrath of institutional Islam that befell him.
As many Malaysians have written, the apoplectic response of those in religious authority is really more a reflection of their fear of further loss of power and control over the flock.
If not for anything else, in the interest of self-preservation, really a little love, kindness and compassion could go a long way to bring back the flock.
Sisters in Islam Challenges Fatwa on Liberalism and Pluralism
31 October 2014
Sisters in Islam (SIS) has filed a judicial review on a gazetted fatwa in Selangor declaring SIS as subscribing to “religious liberalism and pluralism”, and therefore deviating from the teachings of Islam. The fatwa allows for any publications deemed “liberal and plural” to be banned and seized. In addition, it calls for any form of social media that go against the “ajaran Islam dan hukum Syarak” to be blocked by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commissions (MCMC).We view with grave concern the allegations made against us and question the basis for this fatwa. Since 2003, SIS has served close to 10,000 Muslim women who turned to us for legal help to seek redress to their marital problems. We have trained over 4,000 women on their legal rights through our popular legal literacy workshops. More than 90% of them stated that the knowledge provided by SIS has empowered them to know their rights in Islam. We teach women how to access the justice system for themselves and for their children, accompany them to court, and recommend lawyers to represent them. These thousands of women we have helped and trained have gone on to help others in their families and communities.
How could such activities that reflect the compassion and kindness of Islam and raise women’s awareness that there can be justice in Islam be pronounced “sesat and menyeleweng”.
In 2002, the former Director General of JAKIM, the late Tuan Haji Shahir Abdullah, asserted that SIS work was in fact a form of “ dakwah”. The impact of SIS work has strengthened the faith of many Muslim women whose experience with their husbands and the religious authorities had led them to believe that Islam was unjust and discriminatory towards women.
It is disturbing that SIS was not informed nor were we called in to explain our work before the fatwa committee pronounced SIS as deviant. Neither does the fatwa contain any justification for its pronouncement. Nor does it explain what the terms “liberalism”, “pluralism” mean and what constitutes going against the “teachings of Islam and hukum Syarak”.
We came across the fatwa by chance while surfing JAKIM’s e-fatwa website on 20 October 2014.
We are challenging the fatwa on several constitutional grounds.
· It clearly violates our fundamental right to freedom of expression, association and religion, as guaranteed by the Federal Constitution.
· It trespasses federal powers as only Parliament has the legislative authority to make laws restricting fundamental liberties.
· It has no authority to direct federal institutions like the Ministry of Home Affairs to ban and seize books and MCMC to block social media sites.
Malaysia is the only Muslim country that enables a fatwa to have the force of law through a mere gazetting process and then criminalises any violations of the fatwa. According to section 13 of the Syariah Criminal Offences (Selangor) Enactment 1995, any person who gives, propagates or disseminates any opinion concerning any issue, Islamic teachings or Islamic Law contrary to any fatwa for the time being in force can be fined up to RM3,000, or jailed for up to 2 years, or both. Any document or other medium [sic] may be seized and destroyed even without any conviction.
These excessive powers exercised by the religious authorities of Malaysia, with the complicity of the executive and legislative bodies are dragging the country down the road to theocratic dictatorship.The criminalisation of non-compliance to a fatwa deviates from Islamic legal theory and practice. A fatwa is merely an advisory opinion to guide Muslims to lead a life according to the teachings of Islam. It is not legally binding and it is optional for the individual to follow it, or seek another fatwa.
A salient principle of governance according to the Qur’an is shura, which requires those in authority to govern through consultations with the community. In Surah al-lmran, 3:159, Allah commanded Prophet Muhammad (saw) to consult the ummah on “all matters of public concern”. This was to a Prophet, so what more to subsequent generations of Muslims.
In Hadith literature, it has been reported that the Prophet (saw), in the context of both private and public affairs, solicited counsel from the Companions and at times gave them preference over his own views.
In Surah Mujadila (58:1) on disputation, the the right of an individual, a woman in this case, to argue her problem with the Prophet (saw) was recognised. If the ummah has the right to engage in debate with the Prophet, what more our right today to have differences of opinion and to raise our issues of concern.
A hadith quoted the Prophet (saw) as saying that “differences of opinion in my community are a blessing”. It is only through such differences and debate that one can strive to find the best opinion and the best solution to meet the public needs.
Sisters in Islam restates its position that if Islam is used as a source of law and public policy, then everyone has a right to engage in a debate on these matters. Public law and policy must be open to public debate. The objective of Islamic law is to ensure that justice is done and the public interest is served, and this can only be achieved through consultations and taking into consideration different points of view.
It is good to remind all our politicians especially those who are in power of their primary duty. For that I chose this message from President Ronald Reagan of the United States. Duty to King and Country. Where in that tagline does it say that personal and sectarian interest comes first? May I also remind religious bodies like MAIS, JAIS, JAWI and the Kedah-born Minister of Religion, Jamil Khir Bin Baharom that they should not act with impunity against those who dare to speak their minds against mindless orthodoxy. Leave Anwar Ibrahim, Adam Adli, Azmi Sharom, Kassim Ahmad, Rosli Dahlan, Sisters in Islam, Islamic Renaissance Front and others alone. –Din Merican
Defending our Fundamental Liberties: The case of MAIS Outlawing Sisters In Islam (SIS)
by Din Merican
On October 17, 2014, I wrote about the need to create a defence fund for Kassim Ahmad. Please READ :here
To me, the inhumane arrest, the abduction from Kedah to Kuala Lumpur and the unlawful charging of Malay Intellectual, Kassim Ahmad, is a sign of the erosion of our democratic principles; the erosion of Rule of Law; and worse still, the erosion of Justice when the civil courts turn a blind eye to the unlawful things being done by the religious authorities.
Of late, the civil Courts seem to abdicate their constitutional duty to check on the religious authorities by conveniently saying that the civil courts cannot interfere with the jurisdiction of the Syariah Courts.
The civil High Courts which are vested with judicial powers in the Federation seemed intimidated by the religious authorities. Is there something happening between the A-GC and the Judiciary that we should know? Judges like Dato Zaleha Yusof who had previously chided JAWI and JAIS are suddenly replaced by hard-line conservative judges to handle Judicial Review cases.
Challenge Kassim Ahmad intellectually
Before I digress, when I appealed that Malaysians should contribute to a fund to defend Kassim Ahmad, I stated that this fund is not exclusive to Kassim Ahmad but also for other similar persecutions that endanger our liberty and freedom; to secure a guarantee of our fundamental liberties.
I am happy to inform you that the fund has raised RM14,982.00. We should applaud the Malaysians who contributed. But I should also inform Malaysians that fighting legal battles with the authorities involve huge sums of money. In that sense, RM14,982 over two weeks is a paltry sum. It is not even enough to pay for the disbursements incurred for Kassim Ahmad, not to mention to pay the professional fees, which lawyers like Rosli Dahlan, Malik Imtiaz, Nizam Bashir , Fahro Azat and other like minded Muslim lawyers are prepared to waive.
Are Rosli Dahlan Malik Imtiaz, Nizam Bashir et.al deviationists ?
In other words, while these lawyers are providing their services Free of Charge, we Malaysians are not doing our part. We do nothing to fight for what we believe in. We are just deluding ourselves when we say that we love this country whereas we can’t even raise RM100,000 in that short time to fight for what we believe in. we want to behave, then this country is going down a very slippery slope…fast!
So, Malaysians, come forth and contribute because recent events have shown that there is clear and present danger that more ominous things will come our way if we are lackadaisical about the ideals that we cherish. This country is going down the slippery road very fast because we do not care enough for those who are being persecuted for dissent (reasoned discourse).
I used the Kassim Ahmad’s case merely to illustrate the surreptitious incursions by our religious authorities who can outlaw freedom of thought and ideas by a simple stroke of passing religious edicts called Fatwas which, when gazetted, suddenly become part of the laws of this country.
We all know that there are only 3 branches of government i.e. the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. We also know that making the laws of this country is the power of the Legislature whether Parliament or the State Assemblies. We also know that when the Executive misapplies the law, the Judiciary will keep them in check as it is the last bastion of justice. That is what we know and that is what we think those who govern us should know too.
Yet, what we didn’t know is that the religious authorities in this country (and there are 14 of them as we have 14 states in the Federation of Malaysia) can exercise all the powers of these 3 different branches of government. And, they do it in a very unique way without following any legal sequence.
The religious authorities of this country can just pass sentence on people with different views as deviationists without notifying them or hearing them out. Then the religious authorities just pronounce this sentence as law in the form of Fatwas. Finally, all they have to do is to just arrest those people whom they have already passed sentence on by arresting them and getting a syariah court to convict them.
Thus, in Kassim Ahmad’s case, MAWI/JAWI which are the religious authorities in Federal Territories outlawed Kassim Ahmad by decreeing that his ideas and thoughts are “sesat dan menyesatkan”. That is how they justified sending their officers to Kedah to abduct him and bring him to Kuala Lumpur to answer religious offence charges. And, soon the Syariah Court will just convict Kassim Ahmad because the civil High Court Judges will not stay JAWI from proceeding in the Syariah Court.
This practice of “outlawing” people and ideas which are different from the ideas and thoughts of the religious establishments has become more serious when recently MAIS (Majlis Agama Islam Selangor) through the Mufti of Selangor gazetted a Fatwa declaring that:
1. SIS (Sisters in Islam) and anyone else that practices Liberalism and Pluralism are deviationists;
2. All their publications are banned and can be confiscated;
3. MCMC are to censor and block their electronic media;
4. These deviationists can be compelled to corrective measures.
Literally speaking, with one stroke of the pen, the religious authorities have “outlawed” the whole SIS Board, members, employees, contributors, supporters etc. They are condemned as deviationists without being duly notified nor to explain themselves. This is a clear violation of the Federal Constitution and the UNHCR Human Rights Declaration (which Malaysia is a signatory of that charter), that no one shall be condemned without the right to be heard.
Is Marina Mahathir is a promoter of LGBT as accused by ISMA?
It is most alarming that without even specifically identifying the persons or publications, MAIS has practically declared every Muslim as potentially a deviationists. So, in effect, is MAIS also declaring that Tun Dr Mahathir and his daughter Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir (and her friends above), Dato Zaid Ibrahim and his son Ezra Zaid, academic Azmi Shahrom and anyone who supports them including the lawyers who act for them like Rosli Dahlan, Malik Imtiaz, Nizam Bashir and Fahri Azzat also as deviationists?
Have they forgotten that it was Tun Dr Mahathir who promulgated Art.121(1A) into the Federal Constitution that gave them the powers that they now wield against him? Have they forgotten that Tun Dr Mahathir established the International Islamic University from which Rosli Dahlan and Malik Imtiaz graduated and are the very lawyers accusing these religious authorities of violating the Constitution? Are they now biting the very hand that created them and those that came from within their own fold?
Dr Mahathir said Jais needed to refer to the Quran to find out how to handle such situations instead of following the interpretations of some…
The Third ban in that Fatwa is also worrisome. You now see a state Mufti directing MCMC to censor and ban internet social sites. Since when can a state Mufti have powers under the Multi Media Act to direct the MCMC to do anything? I suppose the MCMC Chairman Dato Shahril who is a Muslim can be charged by JAIS if he disregards the Mufti’s Fatwa?
The Fourth ban is very dangerous. In effect, it means that a deviationist can be detained in a corrective centre by the religious authorities until he disavows or recants his views, this is similar to being detained in prison indefinitely for contempt until the contempnor purges his contempt.
My Fellow Malaysians, I have written this short piece to wake you up to the dangers that confront us. I appeal to you to come defend your rights. If you can see what I am seeing, then you will contribute to the Defence Fund which will be used not just for Kassim Ahmad, but also for such similar causes. So, please contribute generously to:
Maybank Berhad A/C No 514011895152 Swift code: MBBEMYKL
The popular belief that religion is the cause of the world’s bloodiest conflicts is central to our modern conviction that faith and politics should never mix. But the messy history of their separation suggests it was never so simple.
As we watch the fighters of the Islamic State (Isis) rampaging through the Middle East, tearing apart the modern nation-states of Syria and Iraq created by departing European colonialists, it may be difficult to believe we are living in the 21st century.
The sight of throngs of terrified refugees and the savage and indiscriminate violence is all too reminiscent of barbarian tribes sweeping away the Roman empire, or the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan cutting a swath through China, Anatolia, Russia and eastern Europe, devastating entire cities and massacring their inhabitants.
Only the wearily familiar pictures of bombs falling yet again on Middle Eastern cities and towns – this time dropped by the United States and a few Arab allies – and the gloomy predictions that this may become another Vietnam, remind us that this is indeed a very modern war.
The ferocious cruelty of these jihadist fighters, quoting the Qur’an as they behead their hapless victims, raises another distinctly modern concern: the connection between religion and violence.The atrocities of Isis would seem to prove that Sam Harris, one of the loudest voices of the “New Atheism”, was right to claim that “most Muslims are utterly deranged by their religious faith”, and to conclude that “religion itself produces a perverse solidarity that we must find some way to undercut”.
Many will agree with Richard Dawkins, who wrote in The God Delusion that “only religious faith is a strong enough force to motivate such utter madness in otherwise sane and decent people”. Even those who find these statements too extreme may still believe, instinctively, that there is a violent essence inherent in religion, which inevitably radicalises any conflict – because once combatants are convinced that God is on their side, compromise becomes impossible and cruelty knows no bounds.
Despite the valiant attempts by Barack Obama and David Cameron to insist that the lawless violence of Isis has nothing to do with Islam, many will disagree. They may also feel exasperated. In the west, we learned from bitter experience that the fanatical bigotry which religion seems always to unleash can only be contained by the creation of a liberal state that separates politics and religion.
Never again, we believed, would these intolerant passions be allowed to intrude on political life. But why, oh why, have Muslims found it impossible to arrive at this logical solution to their current problems? Why do they cling with perverse obstinacy to the obviously bad idea of theocracy? Why, in short, have they been unable to enter the modern world? The answer must surely lie in their primitive and atavistic religion. But perhaps we should ask, instead, how it came about that we in the west developed our view of religion as a purely private pursuit, essentially separate from all other human activities, and especially distinct from politics.
After all, warfare and violence have always been a feature of political life, and yet we alone drew the conclusion that separating the church from the state was a prerequisite for peace. Secularism has become so natural to us that we assume it emerged organically, as a necessary condition of any society’s progress into modernity. Yet it was in fact a distinct creation, which arose as a result of a peculiar concatenation of historical circumstances; we may be mistaken to assume that it would evolve in the same fashion in every culture in every part of the world.
We now take the secular state so much for granted that it is hard for us to appreciate its novelty, since before the modern period, there were no “secular” institutions and no “secular” states in our sense of the word. Their creation required the development of an entirely different understanding of religion, one that was unique to the modern west. No other culture has had anything remotely like it, and before the 18th century, it would have been incomprehensible even to European Catholics. The words in other languages that we translate as “religion” invariably refer to something vaguer, larger and more inclusive.
The Arabic word din signifies an entire way of life, and the Sanskrit dharma covers law, politics, and social institutions as well as piety. The Hebrew Bible has no abstract concept of “religion”; and the Talmudic rabbis would have found it impossible to define faith in a single word or formula, because the Talmud was expressly designed to bring the whole of human life into the ambit of the sacred. The Oxford Classical Dictionary firmly states: “No word in either Greek or Latin corresponds to the English ‘religion’ or ‘religious’.” In fact, the only tradition that satisfies the modern western criterion of religion as a purely private pursuit is Protestant Christianity, which, like our western view of “religion”, was also a creation of the early modern period.
Traditional spirituality did not urge people to retreat from political activity. The prophets of Israel had harsh words for those who assiduously observed the temple rituals but neglected the plight of the poor and oppressed. Jesus’s famous maxim to “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” was not a plea for the separation of religion and politics. Nearly all the uprisings against Rome in first-century Palestine were inspired by the conviction that the Land of Israel and its produce belonged to God, so that there was, therefore, precious little to “give back” to Caesar.
When Jesus overturned the money-changers’ tables in the temple, he was not demanding a more spiritualised religion. For 500 years, the temple had been an instrument of imperial control and the tribute for Rome was stored there. Hence for Jesus it was a “den of thieves”. The bedrock message of the Qur’an is that it is wrong to build a private fortune but good to share your wealth in order to create a just, egalitarian and decent society. Gandhi would have agreed that these were matters of sacred import: “Those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.”
The Myth of Religious Violence
Before the modern period, religion was not a separate activity, hermetically sealed off from all others; rather, it permeated all human undertakings, including economics, state-building, politics and warfare. Before 1700, it would have been impossible for people to say where, for example, “politics” ended and “religion” began. The Crusades were certainly inspired by religious passion but they were also deeply political: Pope Urban II let the knights of Christendom loose on the Muslim world to extend the power of the church eastwards and create a papal monarchy that would control Christian Europe.
The Spanish inquisition was a deeply flawed attempt to secure the internal order of Spain after a divisive civil war, at a time when the nation feared an imminent attack by the Ottoman empire. Similarly, the European wars of religion and the thirty years war were certainly exacerbated by the sectarian quarrels of Protestants and Catholics, but their violence reflected the birth pangs of the modern nation-state.
It was these European wars, in the 16th and 17th centuries, that helped create what has been called “the myth of religious violence”. It was said that Protestants and Catholics were so inflamed by the theological passions of the Reformation that they butchered one another in senseless battles that killed 35% of the population of central Europe. Yet while there is no doubt that the participants certainly experienced these wars as a life-and-death religious struggle, this was also a conflict between two sets of state-builders: the princes of Germany and the other kings of Europe were battling against the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and his ambition to establish a trans-European hegemony modelled after the Ottoman empire.
If the wars of religion had been solely motivated by sectarian bigotry, we should not expect to have found Protestants and Catholics fighting on the same side, yet in fact they often did so. Thus Catholic France repeatedly fought the Catholic Habsburgs, who were regularly supported by some of the Protestant princes.
In the French wars of religion (1562–98) and the thirty years war, combatants crossed confessional lines so often that it was impossible to talk about solidly “Catholic” or “Protestant” populations. These wars were neither “all about religion” nor “all about politics”. Nor was it a question of the state simply “using” religion for political ends. There was as yet no coherent way to divide religious causes from social causes.
People were fighting for different visions of society, but they would not, and could not, have distinguished between religious and temporal factors in these conflicts. Until the 18th century, dissociating the two would have been like trying to take the gin out of a cocktail.
These developments required a new understanding of religion. It was provided by Martin Luther, who was the first European to propose the separation of church and state. Medieval Catholicism had been an essentially communal faith; most people experienced the sacred by living in community. But for Luther, the Christian stood alone before his God, relying only upon his Bible.
Luther’s acute sense of human sinfulness led him, in the early 16th century, to advocate the absolute states that would not become a political reality for another hundred years. For Luther, the state’s prime duty was to restrain its wicked subjects by force, “in the same way as a savage wild beast is bound with chains and ropes”. The sovereign, independent state reflected this vision of the independent and sovereign individual. Luther’s view of religion, as an essentially subjective and private quest over which the state had no jurisdiction, would be the foundation of the modern secular ideal.
But Luther’s response to the peasants’ war in Germany in 1525, during the early stages of the wars of religion, suggested that a secularised political theory would not necessarily be a force for peace or democracy. The peasants, who were resisting the centralising policies of the German princes – which deprived them of their traditional rights – were mercilessly slaughtered by the state. Luther believed that they had committed the cardinal sin of mixing religion and politics: suffering was their lot, and they should have turned the other cheek, and accepted the loss of their lives and property.
“A worldly kingdom,” he insisted, “cannot exist without an inequality of persons, some being free, some imprisoned, some lords, some subjects.” So, Luther commanded the princes, “Let everyone who can, smite, slay and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisoned, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel.”
Dawn of the liberal state
By the late 17th century, philosophers had devised a more urbane version of the secular ideal. For John Locke it had become self-evident that “the church itself is a thing absolutely separate and distinct from the commonwealth. The boundaries on both sides are fixed and immovable.” The separation of religion and politics – “perfectly and infinitely different from each other” – was, for Locke, written into the very nature of things. But the liberal state was a radical innovation, just as revolutionary as the market economy that was developing in the west and would shortly transform the world. Because of the violent passions it aroused, Locke insisted that the segregation of “religion” from government was “above all things necessary” for the creation of a peaceful society.
Hence Locke was adamant that the liberal state could tolerate neither Catholics nor Muslims, condemning their confusion of politics and religion as dangerously perverse. Locke was a major advocate of the theory of natural human rights, originally pioneered by the Renaissance humanists and given definition in the first draft of the American Declaration of Independence as life, liberty and property. But secularisation emerged at a time when Europe was beginning to colonise the New World, and it would come to exert considerable influence on the way the west viewed those it had colonised – much as in our own time, the prevailing secular ideology perceives Muslim societies that seem incapable of separating faith from politics to be irredeemably flawed.
This introduced an inconsistency, since for the Renaissance humanists there could be no question of extending these natural rights to the indigenous inhabitants of the New World. Indeed, these peoples could justly be penalised for failing to conform to European norms. In the 16th century, Alberico Gentili, a professor of civil law at Oxford, argued that land that had not been exploited agriculturally, as it was in Europe, was “empty” and that “the seizure of [such] vacant places” should be “regarded as law of nature”.
Locke agreed that the native peoples had no right to life, liberty or property. The “kings” of America, he decreed, had no legal right of ownership to their territory. He also endorsed a master’s “Absolute, arbitrary, despotical power” over a slave, which included “the power to kill him at any time”. The pioneers of secularism seemed to be falling into the same old habits as their religious predecessors.
Secularism was designed to create a peaceful world order, but the church was so intricately involved in the economic, political and cultural structures of society that the secular order could only be established with a measure of violence. In North America, where there was no entrenched aristocratic government, the disestablishment of the various churches could be accomplished with relative ease. But in France, the church could be dismantled only by an outright assault; far from being experienced as a natural and essentially normative arrangement, the separation of religion and politics could be experienced as traumatic and terrifying.
During the French revolution, one of the first acts of the new national assembly on November 2, 1789, was to confiscate all church property to pay off the national debt: secularisation involved dispossession, humiliation and marginalisation. This segued into outright violence during the September massacres of 1792, when the mob fell upon the jails of Paris and slaughtered between two and three thousand prisoners, many of them priests.
Early in 1794, four revolutionary armies were dispatched from Paris to quell an uprising in the Vendée against the anti-Catholic policies of the regime. Their instructions were to spare no one. At the end of the campaign, General François-Joseph Westermann reportedly wrote to his superiors: “The Vendée no longer exists. I have crushed children beneath the hooves of our horses, and massacred the women … The roads are littered with corpses.”
Ironically, no sooner had the revolutionaries rid themselves of one religion, than they invented another. Their new gods were liberty, nature and the French nation, which they worshipped in elaborate festivals choreographed by the artist Jacques Louis David. The same year that the goddess of reason was enthroned on the high altar of Notre Dame cathedral, the reign of terror plunged the new nation into an irrational bloodbath, in which some 17,000 men, women and children were executed by the state.
To die for one’s country
When Napoleon’s armies invaded Prussia in 1807, the philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte similarly urged his countrymen to lay down their lives for the Fatherland – a manifestation of the divine and the repository of the spiritual essence of the Volk. If we define the sacred as that for which we are prepared to die, what Benedict Anderson called the “imagined community” of the nation had come to replace God. It is now considered admirable to die for your country, but not for your religion.
As the nation-state came into its own in the 19th century along with the industrial revolution, its citizens had to be bound tightly together and mobilised for industry. Modern communications enabled governments to create and propagate a national ethos, and allowed states to intrude into the lives of their citizens more than had ever been possible. Even if they spoke a different language from their rulers, subjects now belonged to the “nation,” whether they liked it or not.
John Stuart Mill regarded this forcible integration as progress; it was surely better for a Breton, “the half-savage remnant of past times”, to become a French citizen than “sulk on his own rocks”. But in the late 19th century, the British historian Lord Acton feared that the adulation of the national spirit that laid such emphasis on ethnicity, culture and language, would penalise those who did not fit the national norm: “According, therefore, to the degree of humanity and civilisation in that dominant body which claims all the rights of the community, the inferior races are exterminated or reduced to servitude, or put in a condition of dependence.”
The Enlightenment philosophers had tried to counter the intolerance and bigotry that they associated with “religion” by promoting the equality of all human beings, together with democracy, human rights, and intellectual and political liberty, modern secular versions of ideals which had been promoted in a religious idiom in the past. The structural injustice of the agrarian state, however, had made it impossible to implement these ideals fully. The nation-state made these noble aspirations practical necessities.
More and more people had to be drawn into the productive process and needed at least a modicum of education. Eventually they would demand the right to participate in the decisions of government. It was found by trial and error that those nations that democratised forged ahead economically, while those that confined the benefits of modernity to an elite fell behind.
Innovation was essential to progress, so people had to be allowed to think freely, unconstrained by the constraints of their class, guild or church. Governments needed to exploit all their human resources, so outsiders, such as Jews in Europe and Catholics in England and America, were brought into the mainstream.
Yet this toleration was only skin-deep, and as Lord Acton had predicted, an intolerance of ethnic and cultural minorities would become the achilles heel of the nation-state. Indeed, the ethnic minority would replace the heretic (who had usually been protesting against the social order) as the object of resentment in the new nation-state.
Thomas Jefferson, one of the leading proponents of the Enlightenment in the United States, instructed his secretary of war in 1807 that Native Americans were “backward peoples” who must either be “exterminated” or driven “beyond our reach” to the other side of the Mississippi “with the beasts of the forest”. The following year, Napoleon issued the “infamous decrees”, ordering the Jews of France to take French names, privatise their faith, and ensure that at least one in three marriages per family was with a gentile.
Increasingly, as national feeling became a supreme value, Jews would come to be seen as rootless and cosmopolitan. In the late 19th century, there was an explosion of antisemitism in Europe, which undoubtedly drew upon centuries of Christian prejudice, but gave it a scientific rationale, claiming that Jews did not fit the biological and genetic profile of the Volk, and should be eliminated from the body politic as modern medicine cut out a cancer.
When secularisation was implemented in the developing world, it was experienced as a profound disruption – just as it had originally been in Europe. Because it usually came with colonial rule, it was seen as a foreign import and rejected as profoundly unnatural. In almost every region of the world where secular governments have been established with a goal of separating religion and politics, a counter-cultural movement has developed in response, determined to bring religion back into public life.
What we call “fundamentalism” has always existed in a symbiotic relationship with a secularisation that is experienced as cruel, violent and invasive. All too often an aggressive secularism has pushed religion into a violent riposte. Every fundamentalist movement that I have studied in Judaism, Christianity and Islam is rooted in a profound fear of annihilation, convinced that the liberal or secular establishment is determined to destroy their way of life. This has been tragically apparent in the Middle East.
Very often modernising rulers have embodied secularism at its very worst and have made it unpalatable to their subjects. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the secular republic of Turkey in 1918, is often admired in the west as an enlightened Muslim leader, but for many in the Middle East he epitomised the cruelty of secular nationalism.
He hated Islam, describing it as a “putrefied corpse”, and suppressed it in Turkey by outlawing the Sufi orders and seizing their properties, closing down the madrasas and appropriating their income. He also abolished the beloved institution of the caliphate, which had long been a dead-letter politically but which symbolised a link with the Prophet. For groups such as al-Qaida and Isis, reversing this decision has become a paramount goal.
Ataturk also continued the policy of ethnic cleansing that had been initiated by the last Ottoman sultans; in an attempt to control the rising commercial classes, they systematically deported the Armenian and Greek-speaking Christians, who comprised 90% of the bourgeoisie. The Young Turks, who seized power in 1909, espoused the antireligious positivism associated with August Comte and were also determined to create a purely Turkic state.
During the first world war, approximately one million Armenians were slaughtered in the first genocide of the 20th century: men and youths were killed where they stood, while women, children and the elderly were driven into the desert where they were raped, shot, starved, poisoned, suffocated or burned to death.
Clearly inspired by the new scientific racism, Mehmet Resid, known as the “execution governor”, regarded the Armenians as “dangerous microbes” in “the bosom of the Fatherland”. Ataturk completed this racial purge. For centuries Muslims and Christians had lived together on both sides of the Aegean; Ataturk partitioned the region, deporting Greek Christians living in what is now Turkey to Greece, while Turkish-speaking Muslims in Greece were sent the other way.
The Fundamentalist Reaction
Secularising rulers such as Ataturk often wanted their countries to look modern, that is, European. In Iran in 1928, Reza Shah Pahlavi issued the laws of uniformity of dress: his soldiers tore off women’s veils with bayonets and ripped them to pieces in the street. In 1935, the police were ordered to open fire on a crowd who had staged a peaceful demonstration against the dress laws in one of the holiest shrines of Iran, killing hundreds of unarmed civilians. Policies like this made veiling, which has no Qur’anic endorsement, an emblem of Islamic authenticity in many parts of the Muslim world.
Following the example of the French, Egyptian rulers secularised by disempowering and impoverishing the clergy. Modernisation had begun in the Ottoman period under the governor Muhammad Ali, who starved the Islamic clergy financially, taking away their tax-exempt status, confiscating the religiously endowed properties that were their principal source of income, and systematically robbing them of any shred of power. When the reforming army officer Gamal Abdul Nasser came to power in 1952, he changed tack and turned the clergy into state officials.
For centuries, they had acted as a protective bulwark between the people and the systemic violence of the state. Now Egyptians came to despise them as government lackeys. This policy would ultimately backfire, because it deprived the general population of learned guidance that was aware of the complexity of the Islamic tradition. Self-appointed freelancers, whose knowledge of Islam was limited, would step into the breach, often to disastrous effect.
If some Muslims today fight shy of secularism, it is not because they have been brainwashed by their faith but because they have often experienced efforts at secularisation in a particularly virulent form. Many regard the west’s devotion to the separation of religion and politics as incompatible with admired western ideals such as democracy and freedom. In 1992, a military coup in Algeria ousted a president who had promised democratic reforms, and imprisoned the leaders of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), which seemed certain to gain a majority in the forthcoming elections.
Had the democratic process been thwarted in such an unconstitutional manner in Iran or Pakistan, there would have been worldwide outrage. But because an Islamic government had been blocked by the coup, there was jubilation in some quarters of the western press – as if this undemocratic action had instead made Algeria safe for democracy. In rather the same way, there was an almost audible sigh of relief in the west when the Muslim Brotherhood was ousted from power in Egypt last year. But there has been less attention to the violence of the secular military dictatorship that has replaced it, which has exceeded the abuses of the Mubarak regime.
After a bumpy beginning, secularism has undoubtedly been valuable to the west, but we would be wrong to regard it as a universal law. It emerged as a particular and unique feature of the historical process in Europe; it was an evolutionary adaptation to a very specific set of circumstances. In a different environment, modernity may well take other forms.
Many secular thinkers now regard “religion” as inherently belligerent and intolerant, and an irrational, backward and violent “other” to the peaceable and humane liberal state – an attitude with an unfortunate echo of the colonialist view of indigenous peoples as hopelessly “primitive”, mired in their benighted religious beliefs.
There are consequences to our failure to understand that our secularism, and its understanding of the role of religion, is exceptional. When secularisation has been applied by force, it has provoked a fundamentalist reaction – and history shows that fundamentalist movements which come under attack invariably grow even more extreme. The fruits of this error are on display across the Middle East: when we look with horror upon the travesty of Isis, we would be wise to acknowledge that its barbaric violence may be, at least in part, the offspring of policies guided by our disdain. •
• Karen Armstrong’s Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence is published today by Bodley Head.