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Keynote Speech by Dr Chandra Muzaffar, President, International Movement for a Just World (JUST) during IRF’s Summer School 2020: Islamic Reform and Critical Muslim Studies
January 23, 2020
Date: Friday, 24th January 2020
Venue: Patio 2 Level 2, Concorde Hotel, Kuala Lumpur
Every religious community on earth has to reflect seriously on what it means to live by the norms and practices, the axioms and the rituals of one’s faith. This is because the changes wrought by science and technology with their far-reaching impact upon principles and rules within a religion demand that we raise fundamental questions about how we understand our faith. For instance what we regard as eternal or perennial in our faith and what we consider ephemeral or transient will have to undergo some transformation. Kindness, compassion and love are eternal values in Islam. But how we express love or kindness will not only vary from culture to culture but also from epoch to epoch within the same culture. There is a great deal which is culture-bound or time bound in the practice of Islam which we mistakenly believe are perennial. The negative attitude of some Muslims towards dogs is a case in point. Likewise, the public demonstration of affection between a father and daughter is not a transgression of Islamic ethics — even if it was frowned upon in certain Muslim societies during certain moments in history.
On inter-gender and inter-ethnic relations, this inability to understand the eternal and distinguish it from the ephemeral is even starker. The fundamental principles on which the Qur’an bases inter-gender relations are love and respect. Anything that subverts this is against Islam. And yet a substantial portion of what appears in Islamic law and its practice ignores this to the detriment of both female and male.
By the same token, relations between Muslims and non-Muslims are supposed to be guided by a profound acknowledgement of their common humanity. It is obvious that this is not happening. Vested interests, political calculations, and distorted notions of majority-minority ties have undermined the nobler principle of our common humanity which is the philosophical kernel of Islam. If our common humanity was the kernel of policy and action in both the public and private sectors, we would ensure that every human being is treated in a just and fair manner.
Some of the other great challenges facing humankind today also require reforms that will bring forth the essence of our faith. Look at the environmental crisis. What is at the root of this crisis between the human being and his physical environment? Isn’t it a product of our failure to live by the norms and values that sustain our environment and help to perpetuate the entire ecological system? Why have we allowed our greed and selfishness to overcome our conscience and consequently sacrifice the future of our grandchildren?
There is yet another global challenge which is not even in the collective consciousness of the human family. This is the challenge of global hegemonic power that a handful of elites from different countries mainly in the West led by the United States have sought to exercise since the end of the Second World War. As a result of this quest for the control of global resources, global strategic routes and global security, the seekers of hegemony have killed and maimed millions of human beings from Korea and Vietnam to Iraq and Syria, to Chile and Bolivia. It is often forgotten that the drive for hegemonic power is the antithesis of the total surrender to a divine, transcendent Reality which is the essence of all faiths.
A third and final challenge that faces us is related to the ever widening gap between the have-a-lot and the have-a-little. It is unconscionable that the total wealth of 8 of the wealthiest men on earth equals that of one-half of the entire human family. Like global hegemonic power and the environmental crisis, widening socio-economic disparities also pose a huge threat to the well-being of humanity. Such huge disparities repudiate the moral teachings of all the religions known to the human being. Acts of charity performed now and then in the name of religion is not the solution. A holistic approach which tackles the root causes of disparities in wealth and creates mechanisms that help to re-distribute social opportunities would be part of the answer.
The challenges confronting humanity and their solutions which underscore the importance of returning to the fundamentals — fundamentals that focus upon the reason why we are here and what the purpose of human existence is — persuade us that reform cannot continue to avoid what is essential. If the human being is the bearer of the divine trust, then the changes we envisage should enable her to play that role. Only then will she succeed in shaping the global environment for the well-being of the whole of creation.
800-805PM: Opening speech by Chairperson, Ehsan Shahwahid
805-815PM: Welcoming remarks by Dato’ Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa, Director, Islamic Renaissance Front
815-915PM: Keynote Lecture by Dr Chandra Muzaffar, President, International Movement for a Just World (JUST): Muslim Societies and Reform within a Changing Global Environment
915-1030PM: Discussion & Session Summary
Organized by Islamic Renaissance Front