Thursday, July 2, 2009


Thursday, 25 June 2009 11:34
Of late the debate on who should or should not speak about Islam continues to be an interesting topic especially in Malaysia.
Dr. Azly Rahman

Non-Muslims are also joining the bandwagon in presenting ways on how to speak about Islam. This is a good beginning to a dialogue with the assurance that we speak well of ANY religion.

I suppose, like the topic of "jihad" that became popular on American prime time television since the early 1980s, the question of "Islam and feminism" in Malaysia is gaining popularity as the country continues to move from one phase of liberalization to another.

"Islam" which means "submission to the will of one God" has now become an adjective to linguistically violent words created by those who wish to destroy the essence of the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH); teaching that validated the message of other prophets in Islam - from Adam, Idris, Noh, Hud, Salleh to Musa, Daud, Zakariya, and Isa (peace be upon them).

The struggle for the hearts and minds of Muslims continues in all countries that have evolved in their various unique cultural moulds while Islam as a way of life offers its ideas on human and national development.

Instead of arguing over this one particular aspect of Islamic law or ritual or even philosophical dimension, one needs to go back to the basics and explore the complexity of the faith before joining the bandwagon of public debaters.

For non-Muslims wishing to understand the debate, I do think a course of study on the Holy Quran and the Hadiths (traditions) is necessary to appreciate the gist of any dialogue on Islam.

We must be fair to any religion; to withhold judgment and to explore each of them with an open mind.

The beauty of appreciating how each human being strives to live a good and ethical life, lies in a scholarly pursuit of the ways various people achieve this.

Thus, to understand Hinduism, I began reading translations of the Vedas (Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, Atharva Veda) and the Ramayan and the Mahabharatta.

I have used the Bhagavad Gita in my classes on Cultural Perspectives. To understand Buddhism I studied the life story of Siddharta Gautama and read the main idea of his teachings as well as how he arrived at the juncture of breaking away from Hinduism.

And to understand the Judeo-Christian tradition, I read the Jewish and the Christian bibles.

For basic Chinese philosophy, I read the Daodejing (Tao Te Chng) and the Analects of Kung Fu Tze.

Understanding other faiths
Essentially, I would then explore the sacred texts of the religion or cultural philosophy I wish to understand and appreciate.

I would approach the study of each religion not only from its historical, philosophical, and sociological point of view, but also from the hermeneutics and phenomenological aspects. In this sense it is useful to have a good grasp of the English language as most texts are translated.

In appreciating Islam in all its complexities and simplicity I would encourage my non-Muslim friends to consider the following course of action:

Study the origins, content, and meaning of the primary sacred text of Islam, the Koran (Qur'an). Discuss the relationship between the Koran and the Hadith (a record of the sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad).

Discussions on the relationship between the scripture, the self, spirituality, and social relations of production can form the basis of this study. Approach the reading of the Quran hermeneutically (in text and context) and phenomenologically (process of revelation and the psycho-social relations).

I suggest ten basic themes below as a framework of study:

1. understand the historical, cultural, and religious background and development of Islam;

2. understand the major teachings and themes in the Koran and Hadith and explain their historical and theological significance;

3. understand the various Islamic traditions and understand the differences between them;

4. understand the major differences between Islam and other major religions;

5. understand the ways in which Islam has shaped the development of social, political, literary, and cultural institutions in the Islamic world; and

6. study the life and work of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him)

7. understand the history of the formation of the Koran

8. understand the major themes and teachings in the Koran

9. understand the formation of the Hadith and their relationship to the Koran

10. study the institutional and legal development of Islamic society

It will be indeed a daunting task yet intellectually rewarding for one to begin the study before proceeding with any form of criticism against this or that aspect of the religion.

The message
Muslims believe in the concept of siddiq, amanah, tabligh, and fatanah which basically means that the message received from the teaching of Muhammad and the Quran is the truth (siddiq) and one must strive to guard this message from being adulterated (amanah), and teach others what Islam is (tabligh) but teach with wisdom nonetheless (fatanah).

These are also the attributes of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in that the message of Islam is spread with the utmost wisdom, befitting what Muslims believe as the prophet's role as not only the last but the seal of the prophets (khattamul anbiya)

Speaking about Islam and any religion for that matter need not be a confrontational act if we begin with the fundamentals -- with the help of those who devote their entire life studying the holy texts.

For Muslims, the teaching of the Koran and the guidance given by the Prophet Muhammad is to be preserved/guarded as a basis for the foundation of a society based on intelligence, faith, reason, social justice, and most of all for the evolution of a classless, caste-less, and corrupt-less society that elevates the soul of human beings - from the levels of animal, vegetative, rational, to the one that "knows".
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