Whipping the nation into the dark Wonderland

September 22, 2014 by Mahsa Amiri


Every generation faces different circumstances and thus many laws and ways for society cannot be fixed for all time.” [Muhammad Asad]

It is good to talk about the new dimension of politics when it is essentially and naturally new. However new labeling of the old things does not mean a change in policy according to the social demand. The change if it is not a revolution occurs as a result of a twofold traffic as both of a fundamental shift in public attitude and that of the governmental policy.

At times institutionalized system of translating social paradigms serves as an impediment to this positive evolution. Malaysia is yet wonderful in terms that the system still allows people to speak out their ideas that diverged from the governmental lines, unless of course, there are attempts to curb the freedom of speech with Sedition Act.

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On the 13th September 2014, during the colloqium on «A New Political Dimension» (Dimensi Politik Baru) at Grand Riverview Hotel, Kota Bharu, the Islamic Party PAS and the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) adressed to the trending topics of public discussions: national unity – regarding the efforts to replace the Sedition Act with the package of three bills – and the new model of governance.

In comparison to the cries to call PAS to account for its hudud initiative some months ago when the topic was climbing the peak of public outrage, this meeting was held in a peaceful atmosphere – intelligently and moderately. Here, YB Mujahid Yusuf Rawa representing the liberal wing of PAS tempered the image of his more conservative colleague YB Dr Nik Mazian Nik Mohamad in propagation of the Islamist views about the future of the country.

While the first part of the forum attempted to approach the issue of national unity and was in all very critical of the Sedition Act, the second part had a traditionalist shade due to Nik Mazian’s stand on Islamisation. “Probably Chinese or Indians can solve their problems in some other way, but I am sure Malays should be lashed to understand”, he said in support of the PAS plea for hudud.

“I have six children”, he continued, “I lashed them all and they are scared to do something wrong”. We still have some freedom of conscience so the child-rearing practices are basically individual matters. However the extrapolation of this traditionalism into the public sphere to be a public policy would become a problem of common interest instead. Not everyone would like to be treated as a child and being lashed for a matter of a private dialogue between man and God, i.e. a sin but not a crime. Not everyone would like to curb his freedom of choice and his freedom to sin for the sake of someone’s particular interpretation of the truth.

This is to keep in mind even for those who claim to consider a global perspective instead of giving credit to individual rights. As a matter of fact, a powerful creative society does not appear out of a crowd of individuals suppressed by autocratic government with its sole interpretation of religion instead of personal submission to their intrinsic intuition about what is morally right. Creative thinking of individuals as well as responsibility for their actions imply the opportunity of independent choice. Those who do not commit sins only out of fear of punishment, and not out of God’s consciousness, are unlikely to strive for innovations or at least to the self-motivated productive work.

In other words, what is needed is the space to allow people to be Muslim by conviction and free choice, and this is the only way one can be a true Muslim. Genuine piety only arises through personal choice. And that choice only becomes possible when there is freedom. In other words freedom to sin is a necessary medium to be sincerely pious.

So the new dimension of politics should allow a space for intellectual discourse and to respect religious rights and freedom of conscience and expression. For obvious reasons, Islam and true religiosity could thrive better in a state that breaks down the monopoly of religious truth. It is a space needed for a Muslim to live a life based on his own freewill and true conviction and not because of state’s imposition.

For the whole concept of khilafa – human vicegerency – on earth together with independent thinking and freewill is the hallmark of what a democratic government should strive for. When piety is imposed because of the belief that it is part of the doctrine “commanding the good and preventing the wrong” it rather produces a community of hypocrites than genuine piety.

It must be appreciated that God does not seek to regulate all human affairs and instead leaves human being considerable latitude in regulating their own affairs. In the Qur’anic discourse, God commanded the angels to honor man because of the miracle of human intellect – an expression of the abilities of the divine.

So whether the people will decide to choose the path to heaven or hell is a human decision. Whether they will choose Islam or another path, it is a human decision. Whether people will choose to organize their lives based on Islam or not, is a human decision. It can be argued that for making wrong choices in this world, Muslims in particular, might be facing negative consequences in the life hereafter. But, still it is a matter of choice; there is no room for compulsion or imposition.

For one with a broad knowledge of religions in mind gets easily confused with how the all-encompassing concept of tawhid is narrowed down by the traditionalist interpretation where ijtihad does not play an important role. At the colloquium, Director of IRF, Dr Farouk Musa timely quoted Iranian thinker, Dr Ali Shariati who said:

Tawhid as a world view . . . means regarding the whole universe as a unity, instead of dividing it into this world and the here-after . . . spirit and body.”

Here it could be appropriately extended with the dichotomy of “us” and “them” which is an illusion created by human mind and further heated up by some politically motivated groups. That is why it remains a real conundrum why the objection to the repeal of the Sedition Act is a fear that the dignity of Malays will be easily defied. This occurs due to the system of some social institutions were designed to satisfy “divide and rule” instead of “unite and thrive” principle, playing on the primitive instincts of guarding the habitat and packing in bands.

However, as YB Mujahid noticed “people are fed up with the restrictions and the attempts of absolutism of power”, which means that the grass root request for change is palpable now. How long will it take for it to affect the institutional system is not very clear. Most likely the understanding that the movements claiming to possess the real interpretation of axiological truth are fraught with the seeds of extremism will not come soon.

Disregarding the feeling that Malaysia is balancing at the brink of the dark rabbit hole that does not promise any magic Wonderland, there is still time to encourage people and institutions that strive to preserve and multiply the country’s rich God-given diversity for the sake of all, and that would be a real, tawhidic, unity.

The essay was first published by The Malaysian Insider at: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/sideviews/article/whipping-the-nation-into-a-dark-wonderland-mahsa-amiri#sthash.nFPkMWQX.dpuf and The MalayMalayMail Online at http://www.themalaymailonline.com/what-you-think/article/whipping-the-nation-into-the-dark-wonderlandmahsa-amiri