Islam’s Path to Modernity–The Antithesis of Malaysia’s JAKIM

January 22, 2016

Islam’s Path to Modernity–The Antithesis of Malaysia’s JAKIM

by Mohammad Fazlhashemi

Many in the Muslim community have long taken issue with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The declaration, these critics attest, was created by colonial powers with a long history of gross human-rights violations, and amounts to yet another attempt by a few Western players to impose their will upon Muslim countries. Islamic conservatives and fundamentalists go a step further, as they declare that no human invention can equal – much less supersede – sharia law, which amounts to the word of God.


Malaysia’s  RM 1 Billion Morality Snoopers

This clash between the UN’s secular human-rights standards and Muslim religious doctrine mirrors the broader conflict between Islam and modernity – a conflict that has left some citizens of Muslim countries, including women and non-Muslims, highly vulnerable. Fortunately, an emerging school of Muslim thought addresses the question in a new way, emphasizing that the Quran, like any religious text, must be interpreted – and that those interpretations can change over time.

In fact, the Quran does defend principles like liberty, impartiality, and righteousness, which indicates a fundamental respect for justice and human dignity. The problem, as emphasized by the Iranian theologian Mohsen Kadivar, is that many parts of sharia law are linked to pre-modern social structures, which deny women or non-Muslims the same protections as Muslim men receive.

It does not help that, as George Mason University’s Abdulaziz Sachedina points out, men have been the ones to interpret Islam’s holy texts. This, rather than those texts’ true content, is the root cause of legal discrimination against women in Muslim countries.

The theologian Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Fazel Meybodi points out that Islamic law regarding punishment – which includes brutal practices like stoning and amputation – originates from the Old Testament. Islam did not invent these punishments; they were simply the prevailing practices of the time.

As societies progress and evolve, so must the rules and standards that govern them. As the Iranian theologian Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari of the University of Tehran emphasizes, many of the ideas associated with justice and human rights, as we understand them today, were completely “un-thought” in the pre-modern era. But Muslims cannot simply disregard such ideas on the grounds that humans had not developed them at the time the Quran was written.

With the abandonment of outdated notions of tiered justice and the recognition of the liberty and dignity of all individuals, Shabestari believes that it will become possible to realize the Quran’s message that there should be no compulsion in religion. People’s religious decisions should be driven by their sense of faith, rather than their desire to retain their civil rights.

According to the philosopher Abdolkarim Soroush, this distinction between religious beliefs and civil rights should be obvious. But interpretations of Islamic law have traditionally been so focused on questions about mankind’s various duties that they have failed to recognize it. For Soroush, however, the denial of human rights based on “a person’s beliefs or absence of belief” is undeniably a “crime.”


Malaysia’s Persecuted Muslim Intellectual

The school of Muslim thought promoted by these scholars, who come from both Sunni and Shia backgrounds, offers a way forward for Islam. Its adherents know that key Islamic concepts, beliefs, norms, and values can be harmonized with modern social structures and understandings of justice and human rights. By recommending ways to do so, they are reaffirming the durability of the core Islamic tradition. To use the language of the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, they are creating “saving translations,” whereby a language, conceptual apparatus, and social system is updated to reflect progress in human reason.

Such saving translations in Islam have been emerging for a considerable period of time. Indeed, the late Iranian writer and philosopher Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri fell out with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, after being designated his successor, over policies that he believed infringed on people’s fundamental rights and freedoms. In defending freedom of speech, Montazeri referred to a Quranic verse stating that God taught humans how to express themselves. “How can God, on the one hand, teach humans the ability of expression and, on the other hand, limit it?”, he asked. The obvious conclusion, he declared, was that “no one should be condemned for heresy, libel, or insult just for expressing his or her opinion.”

Montazeri, like today’s innovative Muslim thinkers, chose to remain open to alternate interpretations of the Quran, rather than becoming trapped by accepted tradition. The saving translations that these figures have offered demonstrate that modern global norms like the UDHR are not only compatible with Islam; they are deeply embedded within it. Reinterpreting – or even abandoning – antiquated rules rooted in outdated social structures does not amount to subverting the word of God. On the contrary, it proves the true depth of Islam’s sacred texts.


27 thoughts on “Islam’s Path to Modernity–The Antithesis of Malaysia’s JAKIM

  1. A good piece for correct thinking Muslims. JAKIM is a disaster for Malaysian muslim intellectual discourse. It is a tool used by UMNO leadership to subjugate Malay Muslims and lead them to pursue the path of insularity, mediocrity, xenophobia and warped thinking.

    From the quest for Enlightenment, Malaysian Muslims, especially the UMNO beholden Malays, are heading back to days of camels, wild horses, polygamy, ghostly dressed women, and swords (kerises in our case) 1000+ years ago via Wahhabism of the Arabian desert with the financial help of Saudi Arabia. If that is not regression, what else can it be. Wake up President Obama and gang.

    Please tell me if I am missing something by agreeing with the writer of this article and my fellow Kedahan, the Malaysian Muslim intellectual Kassim Ahmad who is being treated like a heretic. It is best to take Islam out of hypocritical Malay-centric politics.

    Alas, Najib won’t do it since his political life depends on the JAKIM brand of Islamism and the racist BTN’s incantations of Malay supremacy and perverted nationalism.–Din Merican

  2. Faith cannot be & should not be enforced. Anything being enforced is NOT true Faith. If true Faith cannot be enforced, there is no need for Faith enforcement agencies.

  3. Sam Harris said it best, there is no doubt if there is to be a solution in Islamic world, that it must emphasize the spirituality of Islam and any text no matter which part that does not fit, must just be thrown out no matter how old or how traditional..

  4. As long as Muslim intellectuals continue to seek answers from the Quran through interpretation regardless of their good intentions and reject secular sources as a means to join the rest of the world, you will continue to have organizations like Jakim who have a stronger hold on the Muslim masses instead of whatever changes these Muslim intellectuals wish to make.

  5. Get rid of UMNO baru am sure there are still credible members in UMNO who will do the nation proud

  6. An article written by an ivory tower academic who seeks to shed a positive light on Islam. The author citing Islamic scholars who warn against being “trapped by accepted tradition” and urge for “reinterpreting – or even abandoning – antiquated rules rooted in outdated social structures….” He cited a scholar who says that freedom of expression is allowed in Quran and that “no one should be condemned for heresay, libel, or insult just for expressing his or her opinion.” Unfortunately, such Islamic thinkers and academics belong to a tiny minority and have little influence on the hawkish, powerful leaders in the Middle East. The conservatives and fundamentalists are prevailing in the Islamic world.

  7. While you chaps go on and on about ‘modernizing’ Submission, i have a question to ask. Is the crescent and star (no matter how many points) symbol which is found in our beloved “Jalur Gemilang” truly Islamic? That’s why i strongly believe we are secular nation – besides whatever you wanna to imbue in the Constitution and the Rukun Negara. Symbols are as potent as Words.

    You may like refer to wiki here:

    As far as i know you can’t fake “Time” nor Entropy.
    So where does it leave “Conservative Radicalism”?

    Btw, katasayang, leave the Christian God outta this discussion. We (i believe you are also doctrinally orthodox by persuasion?) believe in a Triune Godhead {i.e 1 divided (or multiplied) by 1 divided by 1 = 1}, not an addition or subtraction ‘Mode’ addict as most Unitarians or professors of Monism do – who haven’t discovered simple arithmetic. For me there’s a God. I don’t need to mention No Other Gods, nor any Prophet whom He owns, in a statement of Faith. Faham?

  8. Muslims do not have to change to pander to the whims and fancies of other people.However they do have to return to the right path and be guided by the Quran instead of following blindly debatable sources like the Hadiths,teachings of both modern and medieval scholars,etc.Indeed the bulk of Shariah Laws were formulated in the 12th century based mainly on those later sources.We should only accept from these two sources if they are not contradicting the Quran and and rational and practical and similarly as Condred has said from other secular sources including our civil laws under the same terms.However since we accept that the Quran is from God and is the final scripture,we are limited in our ability to reinterpret it to suit our time otherwise we wre no longer Muslims(i.e those who submit to the will of God)and might as well joint Conred and Richard Dawkins.

    Howeve I do believe by following the above rules we can limit the rule of tyranny of the religous elites like Jakim and cults like Islamic State,al-Qaeda,etc.We can never fully integrate with the present trend of western civilization like same sex marriage for example but at least we can have alot of common values with the dominating western culture.

  9. @clf, @lamoy yes. Amen 😘
    @clf exactly. what i have shared is to suggest christians should have nothing to add to muslims’ search for a just ummah. It saddens me to think that today’s muslims had to embrace their faith in reactionary fashion due to historical events. Yet, i understand the struggle. I seem to be able to emphatize with muslim’s struggle more as i struggle through my own identity as a christian and a chinese. Christians faith in malaysia ought to be a private faith.

    As per symbols, i am orthodox in that i am grateful that i could connect to the essence of 1 throgh the middle 1 in the messy 1.1.x in me (loosely writing the “.” in today’s computer oo lingo). Yet, i am unorthodox as a christian, orthodox as a chinese in that I have to constantly remind myself that the finger that points to the moon is not the moon.

    I hear you @clf.

  10. “..we are limited in our ability to reinterpret it to suit our time otherwise we wre no longer Muslims(i.e those who submit to the will of God) A. Jalil

    I respect your opinion as your Holy Scripture must be understood as the Literal Word of God, and therefore something may be Lost in Translation.

    Most Christians see the Bible as the Inspired Word of God, but there are also Conservative Literalists who can’t distinguish their eyes from their noses. The Old Testament allows us to introspect all the folly and foolishness Man is capable off. God is a vengeful trickster and yet perfectly judgmental/legalistic, even if merciful. He is the Master and His created being is a slave to his Commandments – which is intolerable – for we are all flawed and filled with passions and animal urges..

    The New Testament allows us another Way to reaffirm our relationship with God as Our Father through His Son via the agency of His Holy Spirit. That is why we see God differently from the Master-Slave relationship. No matter how Prodigal, we remain in His Grace, a word not found in primitive religions. All Sins may be Forgiven except blaspheming His Spirit.

    I’m not commenting about Comparative Religions, but in our short time on Earth, it will be good to remember that we should never Create Religion (as Prophet Mohammad himself insisted), but strive to Discover What Faith Means.

    It is about our Heart, Mind and Soul – not mere outward displays of piety and Holier-Than-Thou attitudes – which are the most hypocritical and prideful sins of any religion – the Flesh and Bones, as it were..

    All Institutions of Inquisitors seek mind control, indoctrination and even physical restraints, as a tool of political expediency. But the Spirit must be Free, to truly ‘Submit’ otherwise we are only going through impious ‘motions’ and mundane liturgical exercises.

  11. The Quran was sent down to Prophet Mohammed pbuh over a peiod of more than 20 years. Some verses of the Quran were sent down during the Madinah period while others were sent down during the Mecca period.
    Many of the verses were sent down in response to the circumstances faced by the Prophet pbuh and some were rescinded in later verses. To really understand the Quran, the reader needs to read and cross reference the surah to the circumstances prevailing and whether the verse was sent down during the Medinah or Mecca period. The Quran is a living document right till the death of the Prophet, so any interpretation needs to be carefully considered taking into account the circumstances and period when the verse was sent down.
    Verses cannot be read as a stand alone or on a one line basis which have been the practice of so many Ustaz in Malaysia and thus takes on a new meaning. Versus dealing with matters during the period of war have often been cited as the violent face of Islam but these needs to be considered against verses that were sent down during period of peace which truly reflect the peaceful aspect of Islam.

  12. So the revelation (message) changes from Mecca to Medina, according to the environment and circumstances? Is that consistent with an Eternal Absolute Divinity?

    ‘Open theism’ is an anathema to most Unitarians and Monists.

    At the very root of any religion or theology is the question of Free Will and Predestination. The Muslims, after the Mutazila (aka Kalam) surrendered to the Salafist, have not delved much into the conundrum. But yes, all Holy Scripture must be read with contextual exegesis and verses must not be quoted ad verbatim for political correctness – which is the bugbear of any ‘progressive’ understanding and faith. See here:

    Oops.. my apologies, too much theology and philosophizing, especially from wiki ruins everybody’s day!

  13. /// aliefalfa January 22, 2016 at 11:05 am
    Faith cannot be & should not be enforced. Anything being enforced is NOT true Faith. If true Faith cannot be enforced, there is no need for Faith enforcement agencies. ///

    Let’s go one step further – there is no need for faith. Science will do nicely – thank you.

    To quote Richard Dawkins, “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.”

  14. “Let’s go one step further – there is no need for faith. Science will do nicely – thank you.

    To quote Richard Dawkins, “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.”

    Atheists should not be in the business – and it’s a business for most of these New Atheists (Dawkins et all)- of telling people how to think or what to believe.

    We should concern ourselves with the help of religious people in advocating secularism as the only rational choice of governance.

    Also, as an atheist albeit an outlier one, I would argue that the process of questioning one’s “faith” has done as much for humanity as science has . No doubt this last part will be derided by my fellow atheist brethren.

  15. Islam can never be friendly to humanity because Muslims are not. Let’s get real here. Will Islam exist if there are no Muslims? Therefore, Islam itself becomes the antithesis of humanity.

  16. Vincent Ang

    Will Islam exists without Muslim?Gee what a brilliant question.Where did you get your degree in philosophy ?Brilliant again I would say you got a brilliant mind.

  17. “Islam itself becomes the antithesis of humanity.” Vincent

    Disagree. I can’t be an apologist for Islam, because i’m not a Muslim. But i would agree with the former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council of the CIA. Graham E. Fuller in his informative book “A World Without Islam” (2010). Recommended reading for you.

    I read it on a dreary flight back from London sitting next to an Iranian on his way to Oz, who was not a Raghead – but who puzzled over Malaysia’s recalcitrance wrt Shia and Sufis.

    Islam needs to be ‘reformed’ or undergo a renaissance. And it can only be done if Politicians and Nationstates stop meddling in its Utility for Parochialism and Exceptionalism.

    Din (religion; faith, submission to God) is a Persian, not Arab word – although it’s used frequently in the Quran. The Arab word for religion is Magdhab. How ‘din’ got into the Holy Book is not known. Perhaps Angel Gabriel was bilingual.

  18. Vincent Ang Trump, you trying out as Republican Presidential Nominee? There are over 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide, how many have you interacted with for you to come to such atrocious conclusion about Muslims?
    Watch some old movies such as Ben Hur and Ten Commandments, or watch The History Channel or Natgeoon WWI and WWII, the Korean War, The Vietnam Conflict and the Cold War.

  19. Islam cannot be reformed because Muslims cannot be reformed. Islam exist as a religion because Muslims make use of this ideology to oppress others for political and economic gains. No Muslim ( not Islamic ) country in the world treats their minorities fairly. Sure, you will always find some Muslims who understand the need to share but the are insignificant in the sea of 1.2 billion Muslims.

    If for some reason all Muslims were to disappear overnight will there still be Islam?

  20. The CIA man equates Muslim and Islam. This is a fallacy. The cause of the problem here is how Muslims treat others and not what Islam has done to humanity. Islam on its own is nothing, Muslims give life to the Islamic ideologies we see today. How Muslims should behave according to Islam and how Muslims actually behave according to Islam are two different things. Equating them is another fallacy. The act of Muslims define Islam and since the majority of Muslims today are nothing but bigoted ideologues therefore Islam as a religion is also a bigoted religion. Thus, if all Muslims were to disappear today bigotry in Islam will also disappear.

  21. @vincent i hope u understand urself better. I do not know much about much about muslims and islam. I do not know much about u also. But, just reading those words of urs alone. U are a bigot.

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