Monday, July 10, 2006


By: Kassim Ahmad

3 July, 2006.

Allow me to comment on IKIM’s Md. Asham Ahmad’s above article in your Tuesday column (See The Star, 4 July, p. 30).

For the Muslim community today, there seems to be an intractable problem with both the ulama and the secularists. Is this a real problem, or is it some misunderstanding?

No Muslim denies the necessity for the existence of an intellectual group called scholars, including religious scholars, in society. The role of these scholars is to study, teach and develop the branches of knowledge they are interested in. Being humans, however, they are not free from making errors in their work. How does human society remove these errors? It is through free scientific debates. This much is clear and accepted by every reasonable person.

What is not acceptable is Md. Asham’s statement that “The ulama must be allowed to decide”, because otherwise, according to him, “The ignorant will decide.” Now, according to Islamic principles, those who decide are those whom society puts in position of authority. (See Quran, 4: 59). A scholar cannot be in position of state authority (with power to decide) unless he is put there by the society. The problem is that there have been times in history when a religious class put itself up as state-governing power, presuming to govern in God’s name – a theocracy, as the Muslims now have in Iran, since the so-called Islamic Revolution in 1979. This is in direct contravention to true Islamic teachings, as there is no priesthood in Islam.

Those who reject mortality and religion – the true secularists – have no right to talk about any moral government. But there are those who believe in God and in morality, but who wish to separate religion (in the narrow sense) from politics. These are not secularists, because they believe in God and in morality. They wish the separation from a practical point of view. Md. Asham Ahmad would probably know that both the Quran and Prophet Muhammad’s famous Medina Charter provide for this separation. (See Quran, 22: 67)

There is no need for us to go into abstruse arguments about religion, truth and the verification of truth.

We probably also would not want to be so pompous as to legislate as to who should or should not talk about religion, “for fear of confusing the masses” (as if the scholars are free from confusion!), because of “confusion and error in knowledge”. Let error be corrected by knowledge in free scientific debate where everyone can participate, and not pontificated by some pope, grand mufti or grand ayatollah.

Kassim Ahmad is a Malaysian free-lance writer, based in Penang. He can be contacted at His website is at

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