In New York City recently, the Malaysian Prime Minister YAB Dato’ Seri Mohd Najib Bin Tun Abdul Razak has shown clever timing in proposing a worldwide confederation of the more civilized Muslim countries to present the “real”, as opposed to “extreme”, form of Islam. His call for a “Global Movement of the Moderates” was aimed at rallying leaders and intellectuals of the Islamic world to come forward and state their stand openly and firmly against extremism. Certainly, this is an idea whose time has come. The next question is, can the Muslim majority agree as to what “moderate Islam” really means?
There are several matters in Islam that can never be compromised, not even to present a “moderate” face. One of these is the major sin of bowing down to any statue or other representation of the Deity, regardless of the sophistication of the worshipper’s explanation about why and how he or she is doing that.
After having returned in triumph to Mecca for Hajj, the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) visited Taif, whose stubborn leaders still tried to bargain with him regarding the displacement of their local god. This god was, of course, a statue. They offered to swear allegiance to him if he would only allow them a few more years to worship this ancestral god. Prophet (s.a.w.) replied, “Not one more minute”.
So we cannot really enter into discussions of statues in temples as “aids to contemplation” or meditation. Tolerance for these statues, whether they are Hindu, Catholic, or Buddhist, or even the usual “Christ on the Cross” as seen in Protestant churches, is simply not negotiable as any part of “moderate” Islam.
Another such matter is any compromise on the matter of “equal but separate” gender rights and behavior. The Prophet (s.a.w.) teaches that when men and women begin to adopt appearances and styles of clothing that resemble one another, the End of Time is near. When the modern “gospel of human rights” allows same-sex marriages, and Muslim college students refer to their deviant friends as “soft brothers”, we must protest.
Another such matter is the uniquely uncorrupted nature of the Muslim Holy scripture, particularly as compared to what the Christians call the “Word of God”, namely, their Bible in its present form. We can moderate our stand on this issue by capitalizing the “B” in “Bible”, but not in much else. We certainly cannot even discuss any brainwashed “divinity of Jesus”.
Most certainly we cannot “moderate” one of our greatest miracles, the Call to Prayer, so as to meet the convenience of non-Muslims living nearby. This “call” has moved men’s souls for generations and will continue to do so. It was revealed in a dream to one of the Prophet’s companions, and will exist for all time to come. How many converts have been attracted in their initial exposure to Islam by the ineffable beauty of this call?
We cannot moderate our regular fasting, whether during Ramadhan or on Mondays and Thursdays, particularly as the evidence from such fasting is overwhelmingly persuasive of the order of the Divine will in our daily lives, as well as His power over the devil and his minions. Again we may ask, how many non-Muslims have been converted by the direct personal evidence gained from the Ramadhan fast?
So what is the Prime Minister talking about? Without debating articles of faith, he seems to be saying what many of us have been saying already for some time, that those public acts that are obviously and incontestably deviant should be universally and vociferously condemned by the Muslim leadership and intellectuals. Of course, we are talking about that renegade bin Laden’s unleashing of the heresy that suicide can lead to martyrdom, from which it follows that the 9/11 disaster was NOT a good thing, and certainly NOT in the service of the Islamic agenda.
But to re-educate the vast numbers of Muslims who still idolize bin Laden (since they seem to hate America even more than they love true Islam) will require money to bring educational contents and systems into considerably better condition than that of Pakistani and Afghanistan government schools, or the school systems of many, many other newly emerging Muslim countries.
But then, even with such educational upgrading, we will still need leaders who are unafraid to stand up and condemn extremism, corrupt practices, suicide bombings, domestic violence, hand phone divorces, and so on. And we had best not simply assume that Malay Muslims, or any other special group, are the most qualified to go abroad to teach this concept of “moderate Islam”.
All this said and done, we can acknowledge that the Muslim community longs only to raise their families in the peace and harmony of an economic atmosphere of equity and justice for all. How can such Muslims differ in any way from similar believers of the Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, or even atheistic ideologies?
However, for such peaceable possibilities to even exist, we must adopt a “convergence” model of our Islamic cultures with the greater modern world which now surrounds us so completely. There may be no possibility or even necessity of dialogue among the various faiths in this world, most of which sanction praying to statues or other practices forbidden to Muslims. Yet at the same time, we must “agree to disagree” without killing each other or our own selves in public places. We must agree, as Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak is proposing, to converge rather than clash.
The task of forging a common voice among Muslims willing to subscribe to these ideals should not be as forbidding as it seems. Samuel Huntington may have had a point when he pointed to so many Muslim borders that are “bloody”, so we must make them less bloody, even if by changing them as the Sudan is about to do in Africa, or as Timor L’este has done in the eastern Indonesian archipelago.
As one of George Bush’s supporters in the middle of Texas once commented, Malaysia is the only truly viable Muslim country in the world. With a reputation like this, it seems appropriate for the voice of “moderate Islam” to originate from this small yet vibrant county. We must continually applaud Malaysia for taking the lead in forging a voice of real convergence among Muslims everywhere.
Azril Mohd Amin is Vice President, Muslim Lawyers Association of Malaysia