catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Pak Lah and Islam Hadhari

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The Malaysian Prime Minister, Abdullah Badawi, is visiting Australia and has been quoted in Perth as follows:

“Terrorism is not a monopoly of the Muslims and neither is it something that is promoted by the Muslims only,” Mr Abdullah said, when asked for his response to Australian Prime Minister John Howard’s recent comment that some Muslims were not assimilating into Australia.

Mr Howard this week reiterated his view that some members of Australia’s Islamic population held extremist, jihadist views and were unwilling to become part of the mainstream community.

Mr Abdullah said extremism in any society was always the work of the minority but unfortunately their voices were sometimes louder than those of the majority.

Now, people have heard this before and may be inclined to dismiss it as the standard riposte of Muslim political leaders when asked embarassing questions about the behaviour of their coreligionists. However, if anyone belongs in this much idealised ‘quiet majority’ of Muslims, it would be Badawi and it would be unkind to dismiss his recent pronouncement as just diplomacy, though it it true that in stark contrast to his predecessor, the mercurial Mahathir, he is very much a natural diplomat.

Though he is lacking in Mahathir’s charisma and ruthlessness and is more likely to take a more ‘softly, softly’ approach to reform, neither should he be dismissed as a potentially important Islamic statesman.

Badawi cuts an avuncular figure in Malaysian politics, and is popularly known as ‘Pak Lah’ (sort of the Malay equivalent of Uncle Lah, ‘Lah’ being an abbreviation of his first name, though Pak literally means ‘father’), and is also far more trusted by the non-Muslims in Malaysia, who hopes that he will eventually do the right thing by them, compared to any of his potential rivals and successors. This was the impression I got while visiting my relatives in my recent holiday in Malaysia, for example. More importantly, he would, despite this, keep a substantial proportion of his fellow Muslims on his side because he is also known as a serious Muslim thinker.

In fact there is one thing in common that is responsible for both the strengths outlined above (i.e. his good reputation among some Muslim intellectuals and his popularity among non-Muslims) , namely the influence of Islam Hadhari. What is Islam Hadahri and what does it have to do with the Malaysian Prime Minister and a famous poem he wrote? A review of a recent biography of Badawi in the Star (incidentally one of the English language dailies my father used to work for) explains in more detail:

… the authors – Dr Syed Ali Tawfik Al-Attas … and Datuk Ng Tieh Chuan, of Pelanduk Publications (M) Sdn Bhd – have proved themselves worthy of the unenviable task of explaining the meaning of Islam Hadhari, and placing this approach against its historical background and its relevance to contemporary society.

In doing so, they have done a service to the country given the fact that the term “Islam Hadhari” is still a pretty fuzzy idea to most Malaysians, when it is likely to have a significant impact on Malaysian society …

Chapter Five sketches the socio-political and intellectual background leading to the emergence of al-Ghazzali al-Tusi (1058-1111), arguably the most influential scholar of Islam, and one who had a deep influence on Abdullah.

The period preceding al-Ghazzali was one of material opulence (as portrayed in stories of the One Thousand and One Nights) and intellectual ferment where Western (Greek) and Islamic ideas flourished and competed.

But by the time al-Ghazzali emerged on the scene, the Arabic world was in turmoil. “The Abbasid caliphate was in a state of abasement and in danger of losing Baghdad (the capital), Spain was in a state of chaotic revolt and the different political alliances and religious sectarianism had limited all intellectual inquiry to the narrow confines of the law and what is halal and haram …

Al-Ghazzali’s great contribution to Islam was his ability to demonstrate the logic and importance of using reason as a tool to deduce from the Quran, the “keys” to all of the sciences.

He expounded this in his great work Ihya ulum ad-din (The Revival of the Religious Sciences) …

According to the authors, the Prime Minister’s Islam Hadhari draws its inspiration from the teachings of al-Ghazzali. Indeed Abdullah’s outlook on life is deeply influenced by al-Ghazzali as reflected in his poem “In search for Everlasting Peace” part of which reads:

“I seek he who is al-Ghazzali

I seek who is al-Shafi

To unravel the secrets of the Holy Book.”

To give readers a better understanding of Islam Hadhari, it’s important here to enumerate the 10 principles.

They are:

(i) Faith and piety in Allah;

(ii) A just and trustworthy government;

(iii) A free and independent people;

(iv) A mastery of knowledge;

(v) A balanced and comprehensive economic development;

(vi) A good quality of life;

(vii) Protection of the rights of minority groups and women;

(viii) Cultural and moral integrity;

(ix) Safeguarding the environment; and

(x) Strong defences.

Islam Hadhari is therefore an approach that is “complete and comprehensive, with an emphasis on the development of the economy and civilisation capable of building Malay competitiveness. The glorious heritage of Islamic civilisation in all aspects must be used as a reference, and become the source of inspiration for the Malay race to prosper,” to quote from Abdullah’s presidential speech at the Umno general assembly last September …

But in order for the Malays to achieve prosperity and be “towering” – be it in material wealth or spiritual happiness – they must change their attitude and rid themselves of those bestial characteristics detrimental to their own wellbeing.

In his Umno general assembly speech, the Prime Minister called on the Malays to undertake a jihad to effect this change.

Now this word jihad had caused some confusion, with some wondering whether it meant a “holy war.”

The authors are at pains to point out there are three levels of jihad; that of a holy war being the lowest; the more noble rank being characterised by the struggle in the pursuit of true knowledge (ilm); and there is the highest rank that represents the struggle against the bestial nature of man.

It is this struggle that the Prime Minister referred to.

Therefore when the Prime Minister talks about Islam Hadhari he is calling for an understanding of the present age in the framework of Islam.

Echoing al-Ghazzali, the Prime Minister told the Umno general assembly that Islam demands the mastery of science and not merely the law.

For more background on Islam Hadhari see this and the links therein. See this on Badawi addressing the critics of Islam Hadhari. Here is a speech on Islam Hadhari that Badawi delivered in New Zealand (!)

And an interesting tidbit about Badawi (if it is true) that may also shed some light on his reformist instincts:

Chinese Muslims integrated easily into Muslim communities in pre-dominantly Islamic Malaysia and Indonesia, marrying local Muslims. Their children identified as Malay or members of other indigenous ethnic groups. Some of these Chinese immigrants were already Muslims in China. The current Prime Minister of Malaysia is the descendent of a Muslim man from China and a local woman. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s maternal grandfather Hassan (Ha Su Chiang) came from China’s Hainan Island to Malaya in the mid 19th century. Badawi’s Chinese relatives lived in the Muslim village of Hainan’s Sanya city, home to descendents of Muslim immigrants from Arabia, Persia and Vietnam who came to China to trade.

Written by Admin

February 22, 2006 at 10:02 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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