Speech by Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa, Director and Chairman of Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC) during a Lecture on “Is Liberty an Islamic Value?” by Professor Tariq Ramadan, 12th July 2010.
Madam Chairperson, Prof. Ibrahim Zein, Director, International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC), the esteemed Prof Dato’ Sri Dr Syed Arabi I did, Rector of The International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), our honourable guest, Prof. Tariq Ramadan, your Excellencies, distinguished professors, ladies and gentlemen.
For the past quarter of a century, the absolute number of democracies in the world has almost tripled. However, Muslim countries of the Middle East and North Africa in particular remained indifferent to this wave of change, and have the world’s lowest average levels of freedom. It is not a strange phenomenon then, that our esteemed guest, Prof. Tariq Ramadan is a persona-non-grata to many of these so-called Islamic countries; the self-proclaimed Custodians of the two Haramain not excluded.
The Arab league, with a total population of 300 million, with a land area larger than all of Europe, and plentiful oil and natural resources; today have a GDP lower than that of Belgium plus Holland, produce fewer scientific publications than Israel alone, and translate fewer books than Greece. Throughout most of the region, poverty and human rights abuses are noticeably prevalent.
How did the Muslim lands which a millennium ago were home to one of the most advanced culture in the world, fall so far behind in their cultural, economic and political development? How did this peaceful religion spawn a fundamentalism so extreme that it today is the main threat to international peace and stability? And perhaps more importantly, how can this tide be turned?
Perhaps to initiate the change in tide is first to change the way how Muslims think. It is important first of all to return to the sources and undertake a true clearing of the terminological ground, moving beyond rhetoric and simplistic appositions that are so quickly formulated by some fuqahā’. Concepts such as ‘asy-syari’ah’ (the Law), ‘al-aqīdah’ (Creed), ‘al-ibādah’ (worship), ‘al-mu’amalat’ (social affairs) and ‘al-maqāsid’ (higher objectives) must not only be defined but revisited in the light of the legal tradition, and integrated into a general methodology that enables us to take up the challenges of our time.
We have to realize that while the orders of creed and worship (al-‘aqīdah wa al-‘ibādah) are subjected to the sole and ultimate authority of the revealed texts; the sphere of social affairs (al-mu’amalat) is wide open for human intelligence and its creativity, based on some broad guidelines and general principles laid by the Qur’ān.
It is this freedom or liberty, which has been offered to human intelligence that has enabled Islamic civilization to produce the abundance of scientific and philosophical knowledge in the course of history.
Some intellectuals and thinkers, influenced by debates over “civilizations” find themselves compelled to overemphasize the distinctive features of what is supposed to represent the specificities of their own civilization or culture. One of the most recurrent themes in debates within Western, Liberal and democratic societies is the distinction made between the private and public spheres.
We believe, no public sphere can be wholly neutral culturally or religiously. Each nation has a history, a tradition, a collective psychology that naturally imposes a specific cultural shading to the given nation’s public sphere. The heated debates about the neutrality of public sphere in terms of religion and culture are oversimplified and misleading, because such mythical neutrality simply does not exist.
While pluralism is said to have been accepted by Islamic civilization throughout its history; from medieval Andalusia to the Ottoman experience under Suleyman the Magnificent; the core of the debate avoids the main issue, that is acceptance of cultural and religious diversity does not at all guarantee equality in rights; although this higher objectives ought to be foremost in motivating our reflections. Thus in the West or the East, social and political issues are either displaced to the religious or cultural fields, or replaced within a history that fails to provide clarity about the modalities of social organisation and of rights protection.
We believe, contemporary Muslim thought must approach those issues in the light of the higher objectives (al-maqāsid) inferred from the texts, contexts and history. What in effect, in contemporary societies and apart from confused digressive discourse about religious and cultural pluralism, does the respect of dignity, welfare, freedom, equality, and justice mean for individuals within a given society?
Those are the higher objectives of maqāsid as-Syarī’ah (the higher objectives of Law) and it is in their light and in their respect that, visions of society and the institution of common laws must be considered.
This must begin with a thorough reflection from within about the meaning and outline of a contemporary implementation of syarī’ah understood in terms of norms aiming to fulfill the higher goals of the global message. The issue is complex; and the challenge is formidable.
That is why we have with us today, one of the most prominent Islamic thinkers in our modern age, Prof. Tariq Ramadan to shed us some light in this highly controversial topic. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Prof. Ibrahim Zein and ISTAC for their collaboration in holding this event. I would also like to thank Institute for Policy Research (IKD) for their financial assistance in making this event feasible; to Islamic Book Trust (IBT) for their warm and everlasting support and to all my committee members who have worked days and nights to ensure this event a success.