ON RELIGIOUS CONFUSION
By: Kassim Ahmad
22 December, 2006
As we are closing 2006 and entering the New Year, we would like, of course, to resolve whatever old problems we have and tackle the new ones with greater vigour and resolve. But this is not to be.
With the Government’s new approach to Islamic teachings, the famous “Islam Hadhari” or “Civilizational Islam” or “Progressive Islam”, which, do not forget, won Pak Lah’s B.N. Government a huge mandate in 2004, one would have thought the young Perlis Mufti’s views on Islam ( Please see NST , 10 December, 2006) would have been welcomed by the UMNO Supreme Council and the Government. As it turned out, a number of State Islamic Religious Councils came out against the young mufti’s reasonable views on raids on hotel rooms suspected of housing unmarried couples committing sins. (Please see SundayStar , 17 December, 2006)
By now the UMNO leadership and the B.N. Government must know that they have left the administration of Islamic religion in the hands of difficult orthodox religious groups under State administrations. The Malays, belonging as they do in religion to the meticulous orthodox Shafi’e legal school, are easy prey to PAS political propaganda. This is PAS’s constituency. Our Prime Minister knows that such things cannot go on forever. UMNO as a whole, not only the top leadership, knows that it cannot go on. I anxiously wait for the day when UMNO takes a resolute stand on this matter. I shall be the first to congratulate it.
What is the matter with Islam? Before the 1980-s we did not see Muslim women covering their heads or Muslim men in government departments wearing their scalp caps in Malaysia. It is a sign, so it is claimed, of the “Re-awakening of Islam”. The process began in Malaysia in the 1970-s with the youth Islamic movement led by ABIM and, in the wider world, it reached its climax with the anti-Shah “Islamic Revolution” in Iran in 1979 when the religious theocratic group took over power.
The matter of Islam in Malaysia is that when Islam reached and secured its foothold in the Malay Archipelago in the 14th and 15th Centuries, it was the Islam that had ossified around a rigid Asha’arite theology and Shafi’ite jurisprudence, including the corpus of Prophetic traditions and exegeses, said to be pronounced closed and perfected by the four Great Imams (Malik, Shafi’e, Hanafi and Ahmad Ibni Hambal). Not to be forgotten is the Shi’ite group, also with its own immamate theology and likewise, Prophetic traditions, jurisprudence and exegeses. It is not precisely known whose idea was it that a way of life can be pronounced closed and perfected. It was not taught by Prophet Muhammad. Neither is it taught in the Quran. Nor is it precisely known how a class of clerics (the custodians of religion), forbidden in Islam, arose to oversee the religion on behalf of the Community.
Thus the matter of Islam is that it has changed from its pure original teachings in the Quran to contain all manner of national customs and traditions, admitted into it especially under the rubric of Prophet traditions or Hadith/Sunnah, as well as under the near sacrosanct teachings of the “Great Scholars”, more than half of which are contrary to the teachings of the Quran. How does this differ from the then teachings of the Jewish and Christian priesthoods that Islam latterly came to correct and rectify?
That being the case, it behoves us to retrace our steps back to the beginning, to the time of Prophet Muhammad, when his only guidance was God’s revelations to him and, of course, his own intellect and discernment. That was what he followed when he promulgated the famous Medina Charter when he and his small band of followers migrated to Medina in 11th Year of Call. So, the question is being posed, can we not just go back to the Quran, the basic source, which Prophet Muhammad himself followed?
At this point, the poser of the question will be bombarded will all types of abuses, starting with “anti-Islam” “modernist”, “Orientalist”, “Liberal Islam”, “anti-Hadith”, “apostate” and he or she will be boycotted by the Muslim community!
In matters of religion, a very, very few people indeed can think and act rationally. Of all religions, Islam (as taught in the Quran, that is) is the most rational. The Quran endlessly appeals to reason. This is because reason is a very important criterion of true knowledge. Inspiration or, for that matter, revelation, is not contrary to reason, as many scientists suppose; it is simply a higher type of reason, accessible, unfortunately, only to a few. God’s existence cannot be proved by sensory evidence, although it can be by a type of logical evidence (“God exists because He creates the world, although He Himself is not created.”) Revelation, being the third higher type of reason, is reason through direct knowledge of Reality without the first and second intermediaries (sensory and logical). The Quran states: “No person can believe without God’s leave. He places uncleanness on those who refuse to use reason.” (Quran, 10: 100) This puts reason on par with revelation.
So the post-Muhammad Muslim community has blocked itself out of the Quran! What a tragedy! The Quran is read melodiously every hour of the day and night throughout the Muslim world, but not principally to understand its meanings or implement its teachings. It is to get spiritual rewards just from mere reading!
Take the four or five cases of tussle over the right of burial of dead bodies by our Muslim religious authorities and their non-Muslim families this year. Apart from the fact that evidence is not completely clear as to the religious status of the dead persons at the time of their death (and this can easily be corrected), Muslim religious authorities hold to their unreasonable view that once a person becomes Muslim, he or she, cannot apostatize, or apostatize only on pain of death, following a so-called Prophetic tradition or hadith. This hadith obviously is weak, because its meaning runs counter to the clear teachings of the Quran that an adult is completely free to choose whether to believe or not to believe. No one should force anyone into any religion. Religion is completely free. (See Quran, 2: 256)
I should mention that this compulsory belief in the Hadith was added later by the teaching of Imam Shafi’e. The hadith stating that Muhammad left two books, instead of one, came with the promulgation of the Official Hadith Collections, 250 years after the Prophet’s death. It should be noted that Ashaarite theology teaches six pillars of faith (Enam Rukun Iman) and belief in Hadith is not one of them!
So, I repeat: Why cannot Muslims go back to the Quran?
Kassim Ahmad is a free-lance writer. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org His website is at