Wednesday, February 22, 2006



Kassim Ahmad is a remarkable man, a poet and an intellectual unfazed by allegations of apostasy.
[Publisehd in The New Straits Tomes January 16, 2002.]

Writes of Passage
By Rosihan Zain

Part Two of Two Parts)

RZ: You were once detained under ISA, and later described your harrowing experiences during detention in a book. How has the experience affected you down the years?

KA: Man has to learn through trial and error. Was it wrong for me to have joined the socialist party? Yes and no! I don't think I would have learnt what I did learn if I had not. Yet I lost many years there, many years that I could use to better things, perhaps? I don’t know. But I am glad and grateful that I was able to distil the essential meaning of life from those experiences.

RZ: And your thoughts on the need for ISA?

KA: Believe it or not, I re-read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and found in its last articles (29 & 30) that those individual rights are not to be deemed absolute. They have to be taken in the context in the rights of the community. But what made me change was what I found in the Quran in the experiences of Moses when he asked to follow and learn from a spiritual teacher in Egypt. (See Quran, 18: 60-82) This account proves that a greater good must prevail over a smaller good, if the two collide.

RZ: But the argument is that such powers are abused for political advantages...

KA: Of course, they have been abused. They should not be. One must distinguish between the necessity of a law and its abuse by the executive.

RZ: And going on to Islam, an issue that has seen some controversy between you and the religious authorities. You deny accusations of being anti-hadith, and have even answered such accusations. Why do you think some parties are still labelling you as such? May I quote a published 1995 newsreport regarding some statements made by the director of the Islamic affairs division in the Prime Ministers's Department Brig-Jen (R) Datuk Abdul Hamid Zainal Abidin:

On Kassim's position that he was not anti-hadith as alleged, Abdul Hamid said it was expected of Kassim to deny it. "The problem with him is that he says something and does something else. "This is not an issue between Kassim and Co versus the Islamic Centre, but Kassim and Co versus the whole ummah," Abdul Hamid said. Comment please.

KA: Of course, what the good Abdul Hamid says is not true. This is not a game I am playing. It is a very serious matter. I am answerable to God for what I wrote in that book.

I think, firstly, they misread my first book. That book was polemical and written in strong language. But had they read carefully and taken the book as a whole, as they should have done, they would have understood my point. My point was very simple. Put the Quran on the top of every teaching, including the Hadith. What goes through is acceptable; what gets stuck is obviously to be rejected.

Secondly, the religious authorities are scared to death of having to overhaul some of their dear teachings that they have inherited over many generations. Remember the Pope in 1661 decreeing how the heavens should behave and outlawing Copernicanism, which stated that the planets orbited the sun, and not vice-versa! Do they want a repeat of European history in Islam?

They are of course afraid of losing their credibility and their jobs. At least, that is what they imagine the danger to be! But they should realize that by holding on to obsolete medieval teachings, they are endangering the very structure of collective Muslim life. In a real sense, this has been destroyed already. Can’t they see that? We are actually collecting the scattered pieces to rebuild anew!

RZ: Your request for a dialogue has also been denied on several grounds. Care to elaborate your thoughts on the refusal of the religious authorities to meet you for a discussion?

KA: Apart from religious prejudices, there were powerful political forces that were against such a dialogue for the reasons stated above. However, I am happy to say that JAKIM has agreed to meet and dialogue with us. The dialogue, the first of which was held on 13 March this year, is in progress. On my part and on my organization's part, we want to make this dialogue fruitful and a success, and we have a plan to achieve that. I hope the religious authorities would cooperate and bear with us.

RZ: That is certainly quite heartening to know, that our religious guardians are slowly engaging in discussion. But there is of course the question of sincerity on the part of Islamic authorities. No truth nor good can be derived if there is little sincerity in such dialogue...

KA: Enough of our intelligentsia must stand up to voice the truth and expose falsehood and take active part in the movement for Muslim regeneration. Although I think quite a number has done so, many more should. We should realize that it is everyone’s fight. Otherwise, the lot of Muslims will not improve and they will continue to suffer. Look at the mess and the helplessness the Muslim world is in now.

RZ: After the expulsion of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from Umno, you wrote an article on DSAI which appeared in the NST. You said that he was influencing decisions to ban your book, Hadis: Satu Penilaian Semula. You also accused him of other things. What do you believe had really transpired behind the events of the time? Would you care to share with us some of your experiences with Anwar?

KA: Anwar is an extremely unfortunate episode in our political history. He was a man who promised much at the beginning, but who had not the moral and intellectual stamina to fulfil that promise. He therefore fell on the way. If I were in Dr. Mahathir's shoes, I would have removed him long before. I wrote not one but three articles on him. I know too much about him, but let me have some reserves for my forthcoming book.

RZ: How do you feel about scholarly pursuit in Islam when you lack academic credentials in Islamic Studies. Your critics have been using this to de-base your theories. Also as a writer—writers handle a variety of subjects and areas in their work, it is always contentious about what makes them an authority to talk about matters they have no qualifications on. So, what is the greatest virtue here, for the scholar and writer?

KA: It is only pedants who insist on academic qualifications and a strings of degrees. Of what use are these if you are not committed to truth and justice? I am not altogether ignorant of Arabic grammar and I have studied (on my own) Islamic history, theology, jurisprudence and philosophy and Quranic exegeses. Apart from that, I make it my business to study political science and political economy. So what does that make me compared to my critics? I am far above them, am I not?

RZ: Finally, which author/book/work of art do you count as your greater influences?

A 14. Many lives, authors and books have had great influence on me. On the literary level, Wordsworth, Keats, Shakespeare, Thomas Mann, Dostoyevsky, Hemingway, Yeats, T.S. Elliot, Keris Mas, Tongkat Warrant, Chairil Anwar and Pramudia. On the philosophical-intellectual level, Prophet Muhammad’s life, the writings and thoughts of of Mulla Sadra, Iqbal, Ali Shariati, Ibni Sina, Plato, Hamka, Abdullah Munshi, Malek Bennabi, Hassan Hanafi, Robert Briffault (who wrote the The Making of Humanity, a profound book) Rashad Khalifa, Saddam Hussein, our own Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and the American philosopher, economist and writer, Lyndon LaRouche, Jr. Above all, the Quran has had a great continuing influence in the development of my thinking. I am a voracious reader. I want to read and re-read more books, but now I haven’t the time.

RZ: Rashad Khalifa? Why him? This is me being unnecessarily picky, but I thought his theories on the Quranic numerical code was said to be a fraud? Correct me if I’m wrong...

KA: Rashad’s translation of the Quran and his writings clarify for me many things that were not clear before. His call for Muslims to return to the Quran is essentially correct. I myself do not agree with him all the way, but, tell me, of a scholar or leader who is perfect! We should be grateful for a scholar or leader who has given us something good. Of his errors, we should be forgiving enough to overlook.

RZ: By the way Dr Kassim, I’m going to get a lot of flak from people by doing this: Based on the fact that you’re still tenacious in your search despite the numerous obstacles you had faced, I’m thinking of grandly labelling you as ‘Intelektual Melayu Terakhir’—well at least where 20th century Malaysia is concerned. What do you say to that?

KA: Please don't. Don't draw unnecessary antagonism towards youself. You have done enough to ask those question that you have asked me to enlighten interested readers. Very many people misunderstand me, simply because they prefer the easy way out. They do not bother to read what I write; they prefer to listen to coffee-shop talk. But sooner or later, they will know the truth. In my case, I go to great trouble before I form a definite view on scholars and leaders, as in the case of the late Dr. Rashad Khalifa, President Saddam Hussein and Lyndon H. LaRouche. I read their biograhies and their major works before I form my views.

I am not too concerned with what people think of me. I am concerned about God's judgement. If I were concerned with what people think of me, I wouldn't have done many of the things that I have done. I am satisfied with what I have done, God be praised for that! As soon as I finish what I am doing, I am ready to meet my Creator. I should say I am ready even now!

Let me end by quoting from W. S. Landor: "/I strove with none, for none was worth my strife/ Nature I love and, next to Nature, Art:/ I warm'd both hands before the fire of life;/ It sinks, and I am ready to depart./"

* This interview was done by Literary Page editor, Rosihan Zain, and published on 16 January, 2002.


Kassim Ahmad is a remarkable man, a poet and an intellectual unfazed by allegations of apostasy.
[Publisehd in The New Straits Times, January 16, 2002.]

Writes of Passage
By Rosihan Zain

(Part One of Two Parts)

The mention of Kassim Ahmad evokes an amazingly consistent if somewhat impulsive reaction from local Muslims. “You mean the anti-hadith guy?” If Muslims in the country agreed to other things in life as unanimously, things would be a lot mre pleasant.

Kassim is perhaps Malaysia’s most politically-charged poet. For 16 years, he was chairman of Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM). He resigned in 1984 and joined UMNO, of which he is still a member till today. He is equally driven by intellectual pursuits into Islamic and Malay consciousness, the socio-religious fabric that forms much of the country today. There is, of course, the fact that Kassim was one an ISA detainee. With the entire Islamic civilization under severe world scrutiny, his mixed bag of credentials makes him a particularly interesting figure to talk to right now.

Politics pervades poetry, the pulpit, Parliament and in our case, even the pasar malam . Yet, as Kassim would attest, it was not so much disagreement that threatens the downfall of the ummah (community), but rather society’s inability to tolerate differing views.

What many Muslims fail to see is that above the fatwas of halal or haram is the need to build a strong tradition of mature and tolerant intellectualism, more so when God and Truth are monopolized for political advantage.

We caught up with Kassim to see beyond the coffee-shop rumours about him being an apostate, his reformist ideas which apparently threaten the ummah’s stability, and of course, to find out more about his current literary pursuits.

Purely by coincidence, we held this interview with one of Malaysia’s most controversial Islamic thinkers during a time when Yasser Arafat was barred from attending midnight mass in Bethlehem, Newsweek was coimg out with yet another special issue tirelessly glorifying America, and 19 members of Al-Ma’aunah were convicted for treason.

For Muslims, there is a war happening on all fronts, but Kassim believes that the real war is not waged on the frontlines – it is waged in the hearts and minds of the Muslim world.

RZ: Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Just to start the discussion, might we ask whether you are currently working to publish another work? If so, what is it all about?

KA: Firstly, thank you for giving me this rare opportunity to speak my mind on my work. Currently, I am working on several things. But two are major. One is a translation of the Quran into Malay. I know enough Arabic and other ancillary disciplines to enable me to do this, but most important of all, I have the deep and compelling interest to undertake this difficult task.

Two reasons why I am doing this. I am not satisfied with the existing translations from the literary point of view. I consider the Quran a great literary composition and I want to do justice to that in Malay.

Secondly, the existing translations put much extraneous matter (the opinions of the translators) into the text. This confuses and covers up its real meanings. Moreover, the Quran contains flashes of deep insight into the nature of God, Man and the Universe that are mostly not understood and therefore not shown in the translations. I hope to remedy these shortcomings, even if a little!

RZ: This translation of yours sounds like it’s going to attract some attention—more controversy from Dr Kassim Ahmad? Do you see dark angry clouds looming ahead on the JAKIM horizon?

KA: I do what I think I should do, not how others would react to it. Anyway, I think in the years to come, the tempo of change will be very rapid. Religious authorities, and not only religious authorities, all of us will have to adapt to these changes. Otherwise, we shall become extinct! Anyway, I hope by then many of my present critics will have made peace with me! So, you see, what an incorrigible optimist I am!

Another work I am doing is my autobiography. Both, God-willing, should be completed before 2005.

RZ: This is definitely something many will look forward to (or dread). Is there a need for this autobiography—a need to explain certain chapters of your life?

KA: Yes, there is a need to explain certain public things, such as my leaving the party that I led for 17 years and my support for Iraq and for President Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War. Also, I like writing. It will be a kind of me interlocuting with myself and with others whose thoughts have attracted or repulsed me.

RZ: Your collection of poetry and short stories Kemarau Di Lembah is still talked about until today. Back then, some said you were an atheist by virtue of some lines in your poems (like “Sidang Ruh”). It caused quite a stir when it appeared. Looking back, from your own viewpoint, what was the reaction from the public like back then?

KA: The reaction was altogether to be expected, given the emotional and psychological make-up of the general Malay-Muslim population. What was disappointing was its continuing exploitation by my political opponents then, even after my clarification.

It should be noted that, the poem, "Sidang Ruh", is quite clear, taken in its entirety. I was far from being an atheist in that poem. I was only criticizing the hypocrisy and gullibility of many people. But, of course, there were still rationalists among us who appreciated that poem. That made life somewhat tolerable, even enjoyable and inspiring!

RZ: What do you mean by ‘given the emotional and psychological make-up of the general Malay-Muslim population’? I know they can be quite close minded conservative bores.

KA: Muslims, Malays included, are known for their strong attachment to the religion of Islam. This is, in fact, good. But the problem is most of them do not read the Quran in the language they understand, and so do not understand the true teachings of Islam. For their knowledge of their religion, they depend on the clergy, who are no better than the Christian priesthood of the European Middle Ages. Muslims must go back to the Quran. Only the Quran can resolve this Muslim dilemma.

RZ: That last verse in Sidang Ruh, ‘nanti akan padamlah dengan sendirinya/lampu dari menara tinggi/karena dibawahnya orang kian mabuk/dan Tuhan sudah mati...’ Was that an attempt at shooting down Nietzschean thought?

KA: I simply used the metaphor to characterize the precarious morality of the present age. It was not aimed at Nietzsche, except if you take it as a double irony.

RZ: Are there any particular poems (that you had written) which you hold in higher regard than others. If this is so, why?

KA: In that collection, I like many of the poems, especially "Sidang Ruh" [Soul Conference], "Jalan Ke Parlimen" [Road to parliament], "Penyairmu", "Iman", "Mimpi" [Dreams], "Pidato" [Oration], and "Dua Catatan" [Two Dreams]. I like them because of their expressions and their insistent immediacy.

RZ: But it’s been a long time since Kemarau Di Lembah. You’re not planning to come out with a new collection?

KA: Yes, I am -- the few-and-far-between verses that I have written since those times. Once a friend asked me about this, and I jokingly replied that I have since written footnotes to my poems.

RZ: Would you care to confirm that your being nominated as Penyair Gapena some years back faced some criticism? That many disagreed with you receiving the award? If so, your comments, please.

KA: Isn't it nice that, in spite of everything, there are still some people courageous enough to speak the truth and to do what is right? I remember what a beautiful speech Baha made at the presentation. Similarly, I remember with fondness Rustam’s academic oration when I was awarded the honourary title of Doctor of Letters by the UKM. This is what makes life meaningful. Praise be to God! I even know from my friends that they proposed me some years ago for the “ Sasterawan Negara" award. That never came. I take it philosophically. I believe that one must do one's duty regardless of material rewards. Not that I reject material rewards, but I do not do things just for them.

RZ. It is clear that from your student years, you were very much into issues of politics and religion. On a more personal note, what experiences which really pulled you into politics and religion?

KA: I came from a poor family and neighbourhood in northern Kedah. My father was religious teacher who doubled as a small padi farmer. My mother made kuih pau in the dead of night to supplement family income and helped my father in the field. I have therefore great sympathy for the poor and I vowed to myself, when very young, that I would fight for them. That drew me into politics and into socialism. My stubbornness I inherit from my father; the gentler part of me from my mother.

As for religion, I have a great passion for truth and my understanding of Islam has always been a religion of truth. As my life testifies, I have tried to live a life of truth and justice, as I see it. God be praised for that!

RZ: Art, Politics and Religion: would you care to comment your thoughts on the relationship between the three.

KA: I approach them at the level of unity. All three, to me, must serve the cause of humanity, the cause of God, in religious language. I am happy that I have found current world leaders, in a position to influence world events, of this mental mould. That is why you find me optimistic in spite of the current universal chaos.

RZ: On your personal political beliefs. You were more known as a socialist then, but these days no longer. Is that view entirely right? And if you consider yourself totally refuting socialism now, what brought about this change?

KA: Socialism was the ideology of the oppressed in those days. I came to realize in the seventies that it was dated and with some serious philosophical flaws. I, in fact, wrote an essay to criticize Marxism around that time (Dewan Bahasa, Disember, 1975). My commitment to social justice is, however, unchanged, which I incorporate into my present Islamic humanism. I also wrote a book (Teori Sosial Moden Islam, [A Islamic Tehory of social Justice] (1984) and a long essay “Bermaknanya Kehidupan” [The Menaing of Life] published in Pemikir (Disember, 1997) to expound this.

Our [former] Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad is among the few modern Muslim leaders who are also thinkers. Over the last few years he has made many important speeches at national as well as international fora on Islam. Most people would remember his excellent speech at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies on April 15, 1996 where he called upon Muslims to go back to the fundamentals of their religion, reject the outdated classical interpretations and reinterpret those fundamentals in the light of modern conditions.

Last week, he spoke in London on the future of Muslims in the new century. Although he has always been critical of present-day Muslims, his London speech shows a gloomy pessimism that was not so obvious before and that will not sit easily with the essential optimistic world-view of Islam. Listen to this : ‘I try very hard to be optimistic about the Muslims in the 21st century of the third millennium of the Christian Era. But I must admit that it is very difficult for me to be optimistic. …I find few Muslims understand reality. They live in a make-believe world where weakness is regarded as strength, where failures are regarded as success…. I am sorry I am unable to see the renaissance of the Muslim Civilisation in the 21st Century…

“We have not yet awakened to the realities of the Industrial Age, much less the Information Age. A few of us have, but we are too few and are not in a position to do much. These few will effectively live in exile. More will be joining them with the passage of time.”

The last paragraph of his speech throws a challenge to those Muslims who think otherwise and lets in an opening of hope. He said : “I hope there are others who can show positively that the 21st Century will see the beginning of the return of the great Muslim Civilisation. I would like to be convinced by them, so I and other Muslims may contribute whatever we can to the revival.” In the limited space here, I would like to take up Dr. Mahathir’s challenge.

The deplorable conditions of the Muslim ummah that he paints are sadly true. His call that Muslims go back to the religion’s fundamentals and interpret them in the light of modern conditions is also correct. What is needed is a methodology whereby this transformation can be carried out. Under the right conditions, I believe this transformation can be carried out within one, or at most two, generations.

Before discussing this, I would like to return to the question of pessimism. It can be seen that gloom presently engulfs not only the Muslim ummah. It embraces the whole modern civilisation. After the collapse of Soviet communism in 1989-90, now it is the turn of the Anglo-American liberalism to go under. Francis Fukuyama was premature in declaring liberalism’s triumph. There is the threat of a general war, including thermo-nuclear war, breaking out from various fire-storms that are raging on all the continents: Middle-East, Europe, Central Asia, South Asia and South America. The Anglo-American financier oligarchy is gripped by panic at the looming inevitable collapse of their system that they are prepared to risk a Third World War to stop the collapse.

Yet, as Muslims, we are told by God not to despair. Surah 12, Verse 87 states “Do not despair of God’s mercy, None despairs of God’s mercy except the disbelieving people.” Again : “Say, ‘O My servants who have exceeded limits, never despair of God’s mercy. God forgives all sins. He is the Forgiver, Most Merciful.’” (Quran, 39:53) Being the best group of people ever to be raised among mankind, as God describes believers in Him to be (see Quran, 3:110), we should work very, very hard to build a new civilisation from the ruins of multiple civilisations of the old world: the materialist civilisation of liberalism and communism and the ascetic civilisation of clerical Islam. As we know, the brilliant Muslim civilisation of the 7th through to 13th centuries was brought down by the class of theologian-clerics, who taught Muslims to disregard the present world and concentrate on the Hereafter, who took over the religion from that time onwards.

In his brave speech at Oxford, Dr. Mahathir correctly diagnosed the disease. He had said: “The people who are usually described as fundamentalists are far from following the fundamentals of the Islamic religion. On the contrary, they are people who reject the teachings of Islam or who deviate from them. Most of them have seemingly reverted to the pre-Islamic Jahilliah ways of extreme loyalty to their group, to fanaticism or ta’asub.”

In his London speech, Dr. Mahathir points out that the class of theologian-clerics are currently advancing in Malaysia. Lest we think that they will last, we should remember one thing that the theologian-clerics do not have is the truth. The religion that they are preaching is based on myth and falsehood. The myth is that they are the heirs of the Prophet and they are infallible. The falsehood is that those who support them will go to heaven. Both myth and falsehood will be cleared up soon by the emergence of truth, and truth, God has assured us, will triumph over falsehood. (See Quran, 17:81)

We must debunk their propaganda that it is only they who can speak about religion. In Islam there is no priesthood, as in Christianity. Everyone has the right to speak and every concerned one must speak up. We must uphold only the truth. Falsehood must be totally rejected. The Islam that all prophets from Adam to Muhammad taught us is simple: “Believe in God and do good.” Numerous verses of the Quran declare this. (See for instance 2:25, 82:112, 46:13 and 98:7-8)

The Quran also details for us the good that is to be done, and the bad that is to be avoided, and they are not very many. The theologian-clerics have invented a new religion that is almost impossible to practise and that has nothing to do with the true Islam. That is why their brand of Islam is not progressing. A futuristic dialogue reported in the Quran goes like this: “The day they are thrown into hell, they will say, “Oh, we wished we had obeyed God and we had obeyed the messenger.” They will also say, “ Our Lord, we had obeyed our masters and leaders, but they had led us astray.” (33:66-67)
Those among us who care for the true Islam must stand up and expose these hawkers of religion so that our people can be saved from the divine destruction that awaits us, if we do not.

The new world system that must emerge from the ruins cannot but be other than the system of truth. That is what true Islam is: the truth, embodied in God’s Word. The Quran has declared, “He it is Who sent His messenger with guidance and the religion of truth that he may cause it to prevail over all religions, though the idolaters are averse.” (9:33) It also states, “God speaks the truth and He shows the way.” (33:4) Belief in God also means belief in the truth of Islam and in the truth of God’s word.

As Dr Mahathir has also pointed out, the Quran is not as easy to understand as it seems at first. This has led to differing classical interpretations. One of the verses that has been misinterpreted to favour the theologians is the famous verse on the question of loyalty.
The verse (without interpolation) goes: ‘O you who believe, you shall obey God and you shall obey the messenger and those in charge among you. If you dispute in any matter, you shall refer it to God and the messenger, if you believe in God and the Last Day. This is better for you and provides you with the best solution.” (4:59).

Traditional interpretation points to three authorities, i.e. God, meaning the Quran, the messenger, meaning the Sunnah/Hadith of the Prophet, (note that this is an interpolation) and ulil-amr, meaning the religious authority (note that this is an arbitrary subjective interpretation). The real meaning of the verse, taking Quranic teachings as a whole, is that basic loyalty is due to God and His messenger (i.e. the Quran) and secondary loyalty is due to whoever is in authority in the particular text. In the national context, it refers to the Government. This secondary authority can make additional laws to carry out God’s commands, but no law can countermand God’s commands.

The difficulties in understanding the Quran is not so much due to its Arabic language, but rather to its multi-layered contexts. The Quran is both historical and universal. It is also meant for people of differing levels of social and moral development. The Quran is also couched in metaphor and in allegorical language, which can only be understood in reference to the Quran’s total teachings as well as in reference to many branches of knowledge. The classifical interpreters naturally interpreted the Quran according to the knowledge of their times and in accordance with their historically-bound understanding. We cannot blame them for the mistakes they may have made. Being human and historically-bound, they probably had no choice but to act the way they did. The blame is on those who came after and followed them blindly.

We are today a thousand or seven hundred years away from them. It is only natural and logical that we should review their interpretations so as to keep abreast with the development of knowledge, social development and the development of moral consciousness. It is the failure to do so (due to the so-called closing of the door of ijtihad) that Muslims now find themselves left behind, confused and lost.
To solve this problem of interpretation, we have to work out, from the teachings of the Quran itself, a scientific method of Quranic interpretation. The Egyptian scholar and reformer, Muhammad Abduh, was the first to point out to the principle of self-interpretation of the Quran. This writer has tried to work out such a methology in his 1992 book, Hadis – Jawapan Kepada Pengkritik.

Let us go to Prophet Muhammad’s example to gain some insight as to how to run a Muslim administration. As we know, he promulgated the Medina Charter to run the city-state of Medina. He in fact set up the first nation-state in history, structured as a federation with a central government with himself as head, with equal rights for its plural society citizens, consisting of Muslims, Jews and pagans, with complete religious freedom, with religion rites and customary matters administered by each autonomous province, but with questions of war and peace, security and justice directly under the central government. It should be noted that he separated religion, interpreted as rites of worship, from state matters. Thus his concept of government is secular in the sense that religion, as rights of worship, are regarded as particular to a community, not in the sense of politics being divorced from morality.

This is in line with Quranic taching enshrined in 22:67 which states : “For each community, We institute rites of worship which they follow. Do not let yourself be drawn into dispute in this matter. Call to your Lord, for surely you are on the right path.”

Muhammad completed his mission of transforming pagan Arabia into a united submitting people, who were swiftly to conquer the then world, in 23 years ! The miracle can, of course, be repeated, but it has to be done by believers who are capable of acting as masters of their own destiny (being vicegerents of God on Earth), striving hard to bring about a just world, fearing none, and submitting only to God.

* New Straits Times , 12 October, 2002.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


By: Kassim Ahmad
1 June, 2002

As we go through this extremely dangerous period in mankind's history, and as Muslims in Malaysia just celebrated the Prophet's birthday, let us not forget an important fact. Muhammad was a human being like any other, the difference being that he was the last of a long series of God's prophets to mankind and a messenger who delivered God's last message to the world. I especially want to draw attention to this fact, because it is a human tendency to idolize such a personality. No less than the Quran states the following: "The majority of those who believe in God do not do so without committing idol-worship." (12:106)

When Muhammad was lying dead in his wife Aisyah's home, Umar Ibn Khattab, a Companian, one of his father's-in-law and a future (second) Caliph of the early Muslim community, was so agitated that he stood up before the assembled people to deny that Muhammad was dead and to threatened anyone who said so with death! It was the more calm and rational Abu Bakr, also a father-in-law of Muhammad and the first Caliph, who cautioned Umar and said: "O men, if anyone worships Muhammad, Muhammad is dead; if anyone worships God, God is alive, immortal." Then he recited the simple, innocent but stunning verse: "Muhammad is nothing but an apostle. Apostles have passed away before him. Can it be that if he were to die or be killed, you would turn back on your heals? He who turns back does no harm to God in the least. God will reward the grateful." (3: 114)

So, while there is no harm for the Muslim community to celebrate his birthday, in the light of what Umar Ibn Khattab did and in the light of what other religious communities did to their spiritual leaders, they must be extra careful in the matter of idolizing Muhammad. In some meetings, including with religious scholars, I have been criticized for not calling upon the blessing of God to the Prophet whenever I mention his name. They claim that this is commanded by God in verse 56 of Surah 33.

This seems to be a very sensitive matter with Muslims nowadays. I answered them that I have a dilemma between according to the Prophet due respect and honour and idolizing him by the ritual of calling upon the blessings of God on him every time his name is mentioned. I respect and honour Prophet Muhammad by firmly upholding his teachings, which is essentially the Quran, and following his example, which is to be steadfast is upholding the Quran. Moreover, those who propagate that one should call those blessings on the Prophet only knows the Quran partially. They forget or are ignorant of the fact that in the same Surah in verse 43, God tells us that He and His angels also bless the believers in order to lead them out of darkness into light. This puts the matter in a more logical light: both the believers and their leader are equally blessed by God and His angels. It is also understandable that his followers should call upon God's blessing on him while he was leading them, as he himself was commanded by God to also bless his followers. (See Quran, 9:103). Such a mistake cannot occur if Muslims have a proper understanding of monotheism.

A few months before Muhammad died, he received the famous verse that proclaimed the completion of his message. This verse is from Surah Al-Ma`idah ("The Feast"), verse 3, which states: "Today I have completed your religion for you, perfected My blessings upon you and decreed Islam as religion for you." This verse taken together with those questioning Muslims using another book for guidance (65: 35-38) and the earth-shaking verses 30-31 of Surah Al-Furqan containing Muhammad's complaint to God that his people had abandoned the Quran are enough to settle for ever the question of the status of the Hadith.

Let us write down these verses. The verses referring to another book of guidance, other than the Quran, go as follows: " Shall We treat Muslims like criminals? What is wrong with your logic? Do you have another book that you uphold and that gives you what you want?" The two verses, containing Muhammad's famous complaint, are shattering in their implications. They go: "The messenger said, 'My Lord, my people have deserted this Quran.' Thus We have set up against every prophet enemies from among the guilty. Your Lord suffices as guide and helper."

At some times, I have been criticized as anti-Hadith. This is not right, as my book ("Hadis -- Satu Penilaian Semula") only calls for a re-evaluation of the Hadith. My studies have shown that many traditions in the collections of Bukhari and Muslim, two revered Hadith collections among the Sunnis, are in clear contradictions with the teachings of the Quran.

The true purpose of celebrating Prophet Muhammad's birthday must be to remember, study and uphold the teachings that he brought to us from God Almighty. The strict monotheism of Islam and the clear, wise and enlightened teachings contained in Islam's scripture, the Quran, are the very things that our benighted world stand is sore need of. All believers in God, Muslims and non-Muslims, should rush to it to seek answers for our problems.

The United States, so-called only superpower, have unleashed an international war on terror that knows no bounds. But what the world needs is peace, not more wars. Already we have still several unconcluded wars -- the Korean War, the Arab-Israeli War, and the Anglo-American Gulf War against Iraq. Why has peace eluded us for more than a century?

Islam means peace. It is a way of life that is peaceful internally and externally. Muhammad was a man of peace, although he fought several wars in self-defence. Now, of course, Muslims even fight among themsleves. The Iran-Iraq War is a clear example. Algeria has been in a state of civil war for several years. In many Muslim countries today, there exists two warring factions -- the so-called religious and the so-called secular factions.

What is wrong with the Muslims?

A good question. As we have pointed out, it has been answered in the Quran. But many Muslims would rather ignore or side-step it. They are embarrassed to admit that they have abandoned the Quran for other teachings, as Muhammad has complained in that earth-shaking verse that we have quoted. The other teachings that they have opted for, in order of occurrence, are the religious teachings of their theologians and the secular teachings of Western materialism, both of which are foreign importations into Islam.

Unless I am very much mistaken, we are at the end of that period when we are finding that these other teachings have failed us. Both the liberal and communist materialisms of the West have collapsed. So have the earlier European and later Eastern theocracies. So what are we left with?

We are left with the teachings of the Golden Mean. Islam, as propounded in the Quran, and as implemented by Muhammad in his historically-bound city-state of Medina and nation-state of the Peninsular Arabia in the first half of 7th century, is the new philosophico-political paradigm that we must adopt to resolve the world's problems . This teaching preaches the unity of mankind, absolute freedom of religion, peaceful co-existence of various religions and cultures, a firm struggle to promote good and forbid evil, friendly relations with all peoples, and cooperation among all peoples to build a just world.

It advocates the setting up of nation-states based on just law and administration, government and policy to be based on the principle of consultation, a fair and just economic system, leadership of society to be given to those who are competent and morally upright, religious worship to be administered autonomously by the each religious community and cooperation among citizens to build the good society. Its foreign policy is to secure world peace, security and justice against colonialism, imperialism and any other form of oppression and exploitation.

These principles are to be found in the Quran as well as in the Medina Charter that Muhammad promulgated for the city-state of Medina when he and his followers migrated there twelve years into his Call.

The post-Cold War period, instead of removing the fear of Big-Power nuclear confrontations between the Eastern Russian bloc and the Western Anglo-American bloc, has brought us to a worse state -- a state of perpetual war! This is because the Anglo-American oligarchy now controlling the world is, in its essence, imperialistic. It is embarking on wars to re-draw the map of the world. This will only lead to a new Dark Age.

The hope for the world now is for the truly Islamic philosophy of life, as taught in the Quran, to take over. This can only come about if enough courageous and enlightened Muslim leaders step forward to lead the Muslim masses out of their night and unite with humanist leaders of other nations, especially European, Russian, Chinese and Indian, to prevent the slide to Anglo-American-Zionist push for wars, reform the world financial and monetary system and revive the world economy. The American people themselves, and nearly every other people, will respond to this initiative with wild joy.

Such is the philosophical requirements of our times. Such is the meaning and significance of Muhammad, God's messenger to the world, and a mercy to mankind. (Quran, 21:107)

* Not published.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Laporan Diskusi dengan Professor Mohamed Arkoun Di ISIS
Kassim Ahmad

Tarikh: 13 Februari, 2006.
Tempat: Pejabat ISIS di Jalan Parlimen KL.
Masa: 10.0 pagi.
Hadir: Sarjana undangan: (1). Prof Mohamed Arkoun, Professor Emeritus Sejarah Pemikiran Islam di Universiti Sorbonne, (2) Prof. Abdelmajid Charfi, professor Emeritus Tamadun Arab dan Pemikiran Islam di Fakulti Sastera Universiti Tunis, dan (3) Prof. Mohamed Charfi, profesor Emeritus di Fakulti Undang-undang Universiti Tunis.
Turut hadir Ketua Pengarah ISIS Dato’ Jawhar Hassan dan Dr. Chandra Muzaffar dari Pertubuhan Gerakan Antarabangsa untuk Sebuah Dunia Adil, yang mempengerusikan sidang itu.

Kira-kira 20 orang ahli akademik dan cerdik-pandai tempatan yang diundang ikut serta.

Bercakap dalam bahasa Inggeris, Prof Arkoun menekan soal perbezaan epistimologi (teori pegetahuan) antara Dunia Islam dan Dunia Barat. Dunia Islam mengendalikan wacana mereka berdasarkan kepercayaan, sedangkan Barat mengkaji agama sebagai suatu fenomena. Dalam masa satu dekad yang lalu, wacana Islam berkisar kepada undang-undang atau Syariah. Perbedaan pendekatan epistimologi ini perbedaan pokok di antara dunia Islam dan dunia Barat yang mengasingkan mereka sekarang yang harus diselesaikan dengan wacana Islam menyesuaikan dirinya dengan pemikiran saintifik moden.

Prof Abdelmajid, bercakap dalam bahasa Arab, menyebut beberapa perkara yang menarik. Beliau berkata wacana Islam tidak berubah dari dulu hingga sekarang, kecuali dalam abad-abad awal, wacana itu bersifat demokratik dan mempunyai banyak aliran dan berlaku perbahasan-perbahasan yang bagus sehingga Khalifah Al-Mutawakkil ( perintah 847-861) mengharamkan aliran Mu’tazilah. Beliau juga menyebut tentang kaedah fekah yang diperkenalkan oleh Imam Shafi’e yang mengakibatkan penyempitkan pemikiran Islam. Hanya 10% daripada syariah, kata beliau, yang berdasarkan Quran; yang lain berdasarkan Hadis dan tafsiran oleh ulama fekah.

Perkara yang akhir yang penting yang beliau sebut ialah perihal gerakan pembaharuan Islam yang dimulakn oleh Sheikh Muhammad Abduh pada akhir abad ke-19 dan awal abad ke-20 tidak memberi perhatian kepada kaedah fekah Imam Sahfi’e yang menyempitkan fikiran umat Islam. Ini yang menyebabkan gerakan itu gagal mencapai matlamat pembaharuannya.

Pembicara ketiga, Prof Mohamed Charfi, membezakan Islam kepada dua kategori (a) kepercyaan inti, seperti Rukun Islam, yang tidak berubah dan (b) muamalat. Muamalat telah dikembangkan oleh ulama dengan berkomrpomi dengan keadaan-keadaan sosiobudaya yang wujud pada waktu itu dan denga itu tidak universal. Ia mesti disemak semula, dan ini tidak bermakna kita menafikan agama kita. Undang-undang, tegas beliau, berubah-ubah dalam semua masyarakat.

Setelah tiga sarjana undangan ini bercakap, ramai hadirin memberi komen dan membuat soalan dan suatu diskusi yang rancak mengikuti. Di antara yang memberi komen ialah Prof. Syed Hussein al-Attas, Prof Hashim Kamali, Zainah Anwar dari Sisters-in Islam dan Kassim Ahmad dari Forum Iqra’.

Prof. Syed Hussein mensahkan bahwa wacana saintifik telah berlaku dalam Islam dalam zaman moden ini dan tidak harus dibataskan kepada kawasan Asia Barat saja. Kawasan Dunia Melayu juga telah menghasilkan sarjana-sarjana Islam yang progresif. Beliau mengkritik tulisan-tulisan ulama fekah yang yang membicarakan perkara-perkara remeh-temeh yang tidak rasional, termasuk menanggap orang kafir sebagai najis. Namun demikian, beliau berhujah kita boleh menerima kaedah fekah yang telah dirumuskan oleh Imam Shafi’e yang meletakkan Hadis sejajar dengan Quran Beliau mencadangkan supaya sebuah buku fekah baru disusun.

Zainha Anwar dari SIS mempersoalkan kebijaksanaan masyarakat kita memilih suatu mazhab untuk diterima-pakai dalam masyarakat kita yang majmuk. Dalam masyarakat Islam awal terdapat banyak aliran fikiran atau mazhab. Beliau mahu masyarakat Islam di Malaysia mengamalkan demokrasi untuk menyelesaikan banyak masalah yang dihadapinya dan menjadikan Islam lebih diterima oleh generasi muda. Beliau menyebut contoh seorang menteri yang bertukar fikiran tentang Undang-undang Keluarga Islam, setelah bersetuju untuk menyemaknya semula, semata-mata sebagai contoh pemimpin dan cerdik-pandai yang bersedia untuk tunduk kepada tekanan ulama demi untuk mendapat legitimasi!

Prof Hashim Kamali, Rektor baru ISTEC, tidak bersetuju bahawa penekanan wacana Islam dalam dekad-dekad yang lalu bertumpu kepada Syariah. Kita telah mencapai banyak kemenangan dan kita patut berbangga tentan itu, tegas beliau.

Prof. Abdul Muthadhir Abd. Rahim dari ISTEC berkata bahawa sebagai orang Islam, kita tidak boleh berbuat seperti sarjana sekular Barat, yang melihat agama mereka dari segi objektif. Kita juga tidak perlu meminta maaf kepada Barat kerana itu. Berhubung dengan Hadis, beliau menyatakan kita perlu kepada Hadis untuk memahmi Quran, untuk sembahyang dan melakukan ibadah-ibadah lain. Tuhan, kata beliau, memerintah kita dalam Quran supaya menta’ati dan mengikut contoh Nabi Muhammad.

Kassim Ahmad dari Forum Iqra’ menyatakan kegembiraan beliau mendengar kenyataan-kenyataan yang telah dibuat oleh ketiga-tiga sarjana undangan itu, khasnya tentang epistemologi saintifik Islam (yang tidak semestinya sama dengan epistemologi materialis Barat), tentang kaedah perundangan Islam yang berdasarkan tafsiran ayat Quran yang sabjektif dan yang sempit yang dirumuskan oleh Imam Sahfi’e, tentang penyingkiran aliran fikiran rasionalis Islam Mutazilah oleh Khalifah al-Mutawakkil dalam daulah Abbasiah, dan tentang kegagalan gerakan pembaharuan yang dimulakan oleh Sheikh Muhammad Abduh kerana kegagalan mereka mengkritik kaedah perundangan Imam Shafi’e. Beliau menyebut tentang kedudukan mereka yang minoriti dalam masayarakt Islam sekarang, tetapi yang mewakili pihak yang benar yang pasti akan mecapai kebenaran akhirnya. Beliau juga menegur pendapat Prof. Abdul Muthadhir tentang Hadis dan Prof Hashim Kamali tentang keadaan selesa yang, kata beliau, diduduki oleh umat Islam sekarang. Beliau berpendapat umat Islam pasti melakukan perubahan-perubahan dalaman untuk melayakkan diri mereka berfungsi secara dinamik dan kreatif dalam dunia kontemporer.

Nampaknya, tidak ada muafakat tentang apa yang perlu dibuat. Di suatu pihak, terdapat fikiran bahawa wacana Islam sekarang amat jauh terkebelakang, ditinggalkan oleh zaman; di pihak lain, terdapat fikiran bahawa keadaan umat Islam tidaklah seburuk itu dan umat Islam telah mencapai beberapa kemenangan dan mereka tidak perlu meminta maaf tentang keadaan mereka kepada sesiapa.

Majlis tamat pada 1.45 tgh dan diikuti dengan jamuan makan.

Kassim Ahmad

80, Jalan Gajah,
11200 Tg Bunga, P. Pinang,
TEL. 604-8991155/012-4291152
15 Februari, 2006.

Sunday, February 12, 2006


By: Kassim Ahmad

Have you ever visited Shitland? I loath to take you there, but under the present circumstances, visiting it is better than not, because everybody is taking about it, thanks to Shahnon Ahmad’s creative talent.

According to the national laureate’s newest novel, a political satire, by his own claim, we Malaysians are living in Shitland, ruled by an old, corrupt, senile, power-crazy dictator, called Shithead, but, fortunately, by a stroke of Shahnon’s inky genius, we are just leaving it for a better divinely-ordained world of “beauty, faith, justice and purity”, brought about by the hero’s (Wirawan’s) reformasi people’s power movement. Wirawan, by the way, is the erstwhile close collaborater of Shithead, sacked by Shithead for plotting to topple him, but now repentant and cleansed of Shitland’s filth, and enthroned to power to bring about the new Malaysian millennium.

That is the gist of the story. It is a 240-page boring, nauseating (because of the insufferable odour from the filth of Shitland), repetitive narrative, that is typical of Shahnon, and only enlivened by Shahnon’s mastery of the Malay language. As a political satire, it fails on two counts. Firstly, it presents a distorted reality, an outright anti-Mahathir, pro-Anwar propaganda, a reality that exits only in the minds of editorial writers of mainstream Western media, like the Washington Post , and our own PAS’s newspaper, Harakah. That is because both these disparate groups vehemently dislike our Prime Minister: the Western media for his critical attitude towards the West; PAS because of his modernistic approah to Islam. It is good that we stand for independence and national sovereignty against IMF’s neo-colonialism. It is ridiculous that PAS should oppose this policy, but PAS, in upholding its narrow, fanatical, reactionary religious ideology, is really opting for a policy of non-development that chimes in nicely with Anglo-American hegemonic desire to control the world. Hence, they now opportunistically collaborate with each other to bring down Mahathir.

Shahnon’s predilection to distort reality is nothing new. The novel which propelled him to international fame, Ranjau Sepanjang Jalan, published in 1966, began this trend in his writing. In that novel, he overstates and exaggerates the problems faced by Malay peasants in a village in Kedah and sends the whole Lahuma family into limbo, defeated. I wrote a critical review of that novel when it came out and significantly titled that essay “Pesimisme Sepanjang Jalan” (“Pessimism All the Way”) In a few of his novels, Shahnon too easily solves the problem by the method of deus ex machina. He repeats this trick in this novel. The novel is, therefore, falsified, even before it gets off the press!

Neither is the pornographic strain in Shahnon’s writing new. One finds it in almost all his novels. He certainly has a creative impulse for the pornographic expression. On finds it in abundance in his post-Arqam novels, especially Tok Guru, Ummi dan Abang Sheikhul dan Tivi. In this unmentionable novel, he certainly has out-Shahnoned Shahnon himself!

Reading this work, one cannot but be aware of the close correspondence of the events of the story to the so-called Anwar saga, in spite of the normal disclaimer that the story is not connected to anyone dead or living. Shahnon takes a definitely partisan view of the events. The story is unashamedly anti-Mahathir and pro-Anwar, because Mahathir is old, dictatorial, building wastesful mega projects and corrupt, and Anwar is the people’s champion, working quietly and bidding his time to take over and cleanse the filthy system, strangely missing Mahathir’s long anti-colonial and anti-feudal history and Anwar’s short-lived and obvious opportunism. The story is almost a day-to-day journalistic report of the events up to the sacking of Anwar, but after that the writer’s imagination takes over to make the reformasi movement unseat Mahathir and his ministers and enthrone Anwar. This unbalanced and partisan representation of reality is nothing but propaganda and is a major weakness of the novel.

In any work of art, the aesthetic element is important. It is not altogether absent in this novel. In fact, it is the only element that sustains the narrative, however bad the odour is from Shahnon’s Shitland and however propagandistic for Shahnon’s utopian ideology. It is not worth a review. The excitement it has produced is not due to its internal worth, but rather reflective of the acute struggle between the forces of patriotism and reason and neo-colonialism and unreason that is currently going on in our country.

Both the bad odour and the propaganda have done irreparable damage to Shahnon’s reputation as a serious writer.

In his 33-year career as a writer, Shahnon has travelled through the ideological universes of Malay nationalism, culminating in his “Malay power” literary slogan in 1969, then turning to a form of “Islam” in the decades of the 80-s and 90-s, annoucing his conversion in a booklet on Islamic literary theory, entitled Kesusateraan dan Etika Islam in 1981. This witer criticised the booklet when it came out and it led to a major literary polemic between the two of us until Shahnon gave in. It was at at this time that Shahnon joined the missionary organization, Al-Arqam, but later left it and wrote one or two novels to expose it. Now Shahnon has announced himself a life-member of PAS. Following this pattern, one should expect Shahnon to leave PAS and denounce it in the future.

* The Sun, 5 May, 1999.