Tuesday, February 17, 2004

The moderate face of Islam: Making Islam, politics and democrasy fit

Speech by Nasharudin Mat Isa
Secretary General of PAS

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak to possibly the most influential opinion leaders in Asia. Naturally as a politician, this offer is too hard for me to refuse.

However, be rest assured I am not here to give you a political pitch with all the sound bites, rather I am here to gain your empathy for Islam and how it relates to politics and democracy from the experience of a Malaysian Islamist.

2. My speech will cover several themes: First is the background of Islam in the eyes of the global media today. Before I can explain to you the PAS model, I must first give an explanation of how Islam relates to individuals and state. Thirdly I will explain the Islamists view of politics and democracy. Fourth I will propose why institutions and the media must co-operate with Islamic movements to give space to the rise of a true moderate Islam. Lastly I will draw on the PAS experience of how we are trying to meet the democratic needs of a multi-religious and multi-ethnic society.

3. Firstly, I must address the background to this issue. Post 9-11, how the world views Islam has taken a different perspective. Its bad enough that before this watershed event Islam was already seen in a bad light; post 9-11, many anti-Islam forces began to sense a legitimacy to their pursuit to suppress Islam, ranging from Neo-cons in America, secularists in France and even ultra-feminists here in Malaysia.

4. As a result, Islam, Islamic movements and Muslims in general, have been shed in a rather negative light by the media. Admittedly this is by some measure the result of a combination of Muslim misdeeds and misunderstanding of non Muslims, I fear though that all these have been conveniently politically exploited by powerful quarters in western society who see Islam as a potential global power and civilisational alternative, capable of challenging western hegemony. From several examples from the global media, one finds that there is a campaign to distort the image of Islam and endeavours to equate Islam with imposition and aggression, while justifying imposition and aggression against Muslims.

5. I believe the esteemed members of the Asian News Network is above this political connivance. I also believe that what you aspire to portray to the people is the truth. And as such your empathy of Islam and the political struggle to give it legitimacy is all important for Muslims. I hope I will be able to do my part to further the understanding of Islam and establish a channel with the media for a balanced and sustained dialogue on Islam.

Islam, Individuals and State

6. If we look at Islam, Islam of course is a religion first and foremost, a religion based on the belief of God and absolute divinity of God. The worship of God is the mandate of the Muslim, and the Muslim is there according to the Koran, according to Islam, to worship God and to lead an ethical life, which is the only way in Islam, by which one reaches paradise and stands favourably on the day of judgement.

7. It is an ethical mandate for the Muslims to live an ethical life, and therefore to create around themselves systems of life that are, indeed, ethical; thus, proper ethical behaviour in private life but also in public life; a proper ethical behaviour in the economic world and social realm and the political realm. And to provide for an ethical society is the primary mandate again of the Muslim.

8. One could be a Muslim in a non-Islamic majority area and be fully a Muslim. Muslims can live together as, say, a small tribe or small community in an island and not have a state, and be fully Muslims and abide by the presets of Islam.

9. Conversely, if there is a majority of Muslims, then obviously Islam will demand ethical behaviour on the part of the state - no doubt about it - and the preservations of the rights of individuals. Therefore, does Islam have something to do and say about the state? Indeed, it does, and Muslims will hold their state to be responsible for guaranteeing and providing them the rights that are provided by their own Islamic law, by their own faith. And they will definitely refuse to have a state not allowing them to practice freely their faith and live in accordance to the law.

10. Incidentally, the rights of individuals, according to the Quran, is not restricted to Muslims, but also of course to non-Muslims. Of course, the Quran will make that point very clearly and will refuse absolutely any coercion on non-Muslims--thus the very verse in the Quran - "If your lord had so wished, all his creatures would believe in him, all of them without exception." In actuality Allah has not done this. Therefore it wouldn�t be proper for someone to compel people to believe in Islam. A Muslim would not dare to force people to practice a faith that they do not wish to practice or to believe in, simply because it goes against a divine edict; �There is no compulsion in religion�

11. And so non-Muslims historically in Muslim lands, Islamic lands, have always had their own rights, their own courts, the right to live by their own law, often were themselves participants in the style of government, in Islamic lands, so they would be prime ministers, viziers, ministers and so on. It does not mean that Muslims did not commit, like all other communities, atrocities against certain groups at various times - no doubt about it - they are human beings, and they break the law as surely as Christians break the law, as surely as Jews break the law. But certainly their faith holds them to an ethical behaviour that protects other faiths and by and large they did. And so I would point that we do not witness inquisitions or holocausts in the lands of Islam, or a wholesale colonial effort. We do not find that in the history of Islam, and I think Muslims are very proud of that in their history, and rightly so.

12. In terms of the relationship between Islam and democracy proper, it will all depend on the definition of "democracy," of course. Islamic law in general does hold for, demand elections, rule of law, demands the ruler be bound by law and that that ruler cannot decide on his own what the law is that people will live by. Islamic law does not accept the concept of a theocracy in which a ruler has absolute mandate to determine law. Islamic law is derived by jurists by consensus, and thus the consensus of the community, and respect of Islamic law is something that is mandated by Islam, and, of course, that's what Muslims will demand.

13. Some of these were carried out in history by Muslims; some were not very successfully. For example, Islamic law does mandate elections, and we see that except for the first four caliphs that was not actually carried out in Islamic history. But then I mean we can hardly have proper elections in Florida in the 21st century; I mean, 1,500 years ago it was much harder to hold effective elections throughout an empire. So there are certain historical arguments as to why Muslims failed to always live by what Islamic law demanded that they should have.

The Islamists View of Politics

14. The Islamist's view of politics and state rests on their fundamental premise that Islam is not a "religion" in the sense in which we speak of Christianity and Hinduism today, i.e., a code of religious beliefs and doctrines, a mode of spiritual orientation, or a set of some outward rituals. Islam is a complete way of life; it covers the entire spectrum of human activities. Islam means total commitment and subordination of all aspects of life - individual, social, economic, political, international - to God. Hence, Islam is both religion and politics, mosque or church and state, joined in a single goal of serving God and implementing His commandments.

15. Islamists believe that Islam cannot be implemented in a comprehensive manner without the power of the state; the Quranic obligation for all Muslims to "promote good and eliminate evil" cannot be realised without the legitimacy and resources of the state. Hence, according to Islamists, establishment of an Islamic state is not something recommendatory or optional; it is a fundamental obligation for all Muslims.

16. For the Islamists, democracy is the spirit of the Islamic governmental system. We maintain that the majority's voice can constitute the basis for legitimate exercise of political authority in an Islamic state and it must recognises and remains within the perimeters of God's political and legal sovereignty. God's sovereignty is understood to have been represented in the Shari`ah, a systematic code of moral-legal imperatives derived from the Qur'an and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. Although in the case of non Muslims, as I will explain earlier, they need not be bound to the Shari�ah.

17. Islamists also argue that since the Qur'an commands Muslims to conduct their collective affairs through mutual consultation (shura) and grants the privilege of God's vicegerency (khalifa) to the entire community rather than to a single individual or a specific group or class of people, the selection of a ruler must be based on the free will of the masses.

18. It is important to note at this stage, that in the case of the applicability of Islamic laws on non Muslims, PAS subscribes to the Hanifa school in this instance. That is to say non Muslims are not subject to Islamic laws and continue to be governed by laws of their own or in our case the existing Civil Law. As currently practiced, there is already a dualism, we only need to broaden in to allow Islam to be practiced in full.

19. Several conclusions can be drawn from this formulation of politics by the Islamists. First, Islamists, do not approve theocracy or rule by the clergy, who would exercise political power on behalf of God. In Islam, no one can speak for God; it is the consensus of the community at large as reflected in freely expressed public opinion that will determine how the will of God will be applied in a specific case.

20. Maududi describes the Islamic government as "theodemocracy" and "nomocracy," or the rule of law, rather than as a rule of self-appointed spokesman of God. In Islam, it is the consensus of the community that is the final arbiter in public affairs, and the concept of a veto power exercised by the clergy has no theological and legal basis.

21. Second, Islamists are also of the view that it is not the structure of an Islamic state that should constitute the focal point in constructing an Islamic polity; what really matters is the question of its functions, goals and objectives. The specific structural arrangements and institutional features of one Islamic state may differ from another due to differences in material conditions, but their guiding principles and values must reflect those enunciated in the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet.

22. Third, although the Islamists' concept of an Islamic state remains all-encompassing - they also emphasise that the methods of governance of the state should not be authoritarian and arbitrary. Islamists suggest several institutional and procedural mechanisms to ensure popular participation, accountability of rulers, protection of civil liberties and the rule of law.

23. The head of the state and government would be elected for a fixed term through free elections based on universal adult franchise. Similarly, members of the Shura (parliament) would also be elected by the people. The Islamic state would be based on the principle of the distribution of power among the three branches of the state: the executive, legislature, and judiciary. The Islamic state would ensure the functioning of an independent judiciary and no one, including the head of the state, would be above law.

24. Reflect for a moment of what I have said and compare with the U.S model. If in the U.S we have elected representatives in the legislature such as; Senate, Congress, the Presidency and his Cabinet. They are all held in check by the judiciary; the Supreme Court is the ultimate custodian and protector of the Constitution and applies their discretion accordingly on matters of law. The only difference between the US model and the Islamic model is that in the case of the latter, the jurists are guided by jurisprudence sourced from the Quran and the prophetic traditions, that goes beyond the reasoning and thought of man.

25. The leaders of the Islamic movements in Pakistan, Malaysia, and North Africa define the governmental structure of an Islamic state in terms no different from a Westminster-type parliamentary democracy: universal adult franchise, periodic elections, guaranteed human rights, civil liberties, equal political and religious rights of minorities, an independent judiciary, the rule of law, procedural justice, and multiple political parties. This pluralistic and democratic vision of an Islamic polity has recently found an explicit and profound articulation in the writings and speeches of Rachid Ghannoushi of Tunisia, Professor Khurshid Ahmad of Pakistan Najmuddin Erbakan of Turkey, and Anwar Ibrahim, the unjustly prosecuted former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia.

26. A fundamental difference between the Western and Islamist's concept of democracy relates to the question of the ends of politics. The predominant position in Western thought is that of liberal individualism, according to which politics is the prototype of a free market process - a kind of political version of the "economic man" model. As David Schuman has noted, the Western democratic model considers all outcomes of political struggles as equally legitimate; the definition of "good" keeps changing and whatever comes out of the free clash of competing interests and ideas is good and legitimate.

27. The Islamists obviously cannot and do not subscribe to this view of politics and political process. Since Islamists define our mission in terms of sacred precepts of polity, economy and society, politics for us is a means to establish a just social order as defined by the Qur'an and the traditions of the Prophet. Hence, all outcomes are not equally legitimate; only those outcomes are legitimate which conform to and are sanctioned by Shari`ah or are shown to serve the cause of the Shari`ah.

An Islamist View of Democracy

28. Democracy is a much abused term. The definition of "democracy," depends on which angle we are viewing - are we talking about rule of law? Are we talking about institutions? Are we talking about elections? The fact of the matter is we could have democracy and not have respect of human rights. I would submit to you, and you would agree I think with me, that for the better part of the 200-plus history of American democracy some groups - like Native Americans and African Americans, certainly did not enjoy much in terms of rights. And yet it was a democracy in the U.S. - no doubt about it, it was a democracy from the start.

29. Even here in Malaysia, often touted as a model Islamic state, we find democractic institutions and practice sorely lacking. Yes we can go to elections every 5 years, but is there a level playing field. Of course no! Access to media is all but for negative publicity, freedom of speech and assembly is restricted even the Election Commission is under the Prime Ministers Office. What is worse is that, draconian and repressive laws that allow detention without trial, restrictions on the Press and restrictions on students rights to association continue to be practiced.

30. And so would Islam, for instance, accept that kind of thwarted democracy? No. Would Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism? No. Do Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims sometimes actually abuse what their religions would say or end up with a system that is not proper? Yes, it does happen, but that doesn't mean that in the religion itself there is an endorsement of such practices, as say the enslavement of a whole community.

31. Ultimately, it is the laws and rules that ensures the dignity and rights of individuals, which is what Islamic law will demand, and will hold an Islamic state up to. Ultimately, however, I would submit to you that what really ensures the dignity and the rights of individuals is not so much a political structure. What matters really is for people, in whatever political system they are, to stand up for their rights, for the fundamental dignity that all of the universal religions do mandate and provide them with.

32. Muslim jurists have always maintained the right of Muslims to stand up and call for and demand their rights. The only thing they do not want - and they all unanimously agree on this - is that they don't want these rights to be called for in a chaotic manner or by civil war or by force. They want it to be achieved through a different process, involving peaceful democratic channels; freedom of opinion, the right to association, the freedom to assembly and at most civil disobedience but not more than that. And I think that, ultimately, it is the belief in such ideals that transform society and makes it a great society.

33. Islam has been consistent about the rights of individuals from the very beginning, though many has failed to live up to the demand. Prophet Muhammad p.b.u.h, related; �No obedience is due in sinful matters, behold, obedience is only in the way of righteousness�. In another instance he related; �The highest form of jihad is to speak the truth against a government that has deviated from the right path.� Perhaps this is one jihad where we can all embark upon, without fear or favour.

Allowing for a Moderate Islam

34. Actually Islam does not need a moderating force to change it. Fundamentally it is a religion of peace and tolerance. One does not need to apply democracy to Islam, as I have explained earlier, democracy is already built into Islam. So for the record, I am merely sticking to the terminology in the interest of promoting understanding, for me a true Islam is one that embodies peace, tolerance, respect of human rights and the supremacy of God.

35. Islam is not meant for just Muslims but for all mankind. In the Quran it says that �It is not for any other that we sent you as a Messenger, O� Muhammad, but to be a blessing for all mankind�. This proved true, that as Islam grew from the time of the Prophets passing in the 7th century, to the 13th century, and even later during the earlier part of the Uthmanate empire, it brought forth a enlightenment and renaissance for mankind. The knowledge that came to fruition during this period later became the building block for Europe�s emergence from the Middle Ages.

36. Recollections of Islam�s glorious past does not however change the rather deep mire Islam is in today. What Muslims need to do is to understand the full significance of the tragedy of colonisation and secularisation; and how today, Islam is at the margins when it comes to the advancement of the modern world but seems at the forefront in its worst excesses and failures.

37. Well, one of the problems definitely is that, and throughout the Muslim world, the systems of state that are there, are not structures that have been developed internally. Indeed, practically all of them are secular, whether we are talking about Syria, Egypt, Algeria, Pakistan or Malaysia. All of those have inherited secular systems that have been actually imposed by the colonial forces in the 20th century. And so no doubt about it, if you then associate those secular countries or secular systems with the abuses that have been carried out in their name, Muslims have no positive understanding or acceptance of what secularism is. They have been living under secular states now for over 50 years--actually 100 years--that have not guaranteed their rights. And again, as I said before, having a secular democracy does not guarantee human rights, as was the case in the United States for quite a while in relationship with African Americans, and to some extent still is the case for Native Americans.

38. With the bitter experience of the Muslims in perspective, that is why I urge democratic institutions and the media to fully understand what is the Muslim requirement, not from Western tinted lenses but from a true Islamic perspective. That is what they want, and that is the right thing, and that's what individuals, usually communities, and majorities do want.

39. The point is, you are in a position to help them along and not interfere with that internal system by which they come to these conclusions in that system and impose on them a method that does not necessarily work for them, but helps them work out their issues internally without ending in chaos, civil war, which has been the case in Algeria which is far worse basically than having say a purely secular system imposed or purely an Islamic system imposed. The Muslims have to define that term themselves. That is their prerogative, their right--and define the states in which they want to live. And since Islam does promote individual rights, there is no reason why Muslims cannot have such a structure.

40. It is important for you to hear my plea on behalf of the Muslims. Please be aware that there are 4 clearly identifiable challenges that the Muslims face in the global media:

1. The distortion of Islamic worldviews and practices.
2. Associating practices of radical Muslim groups and individuals with Islam.
3. Presenting Islam as source of threat and menace to Western society.
4. Justifying imposition on, and aggression against Muslims.

41. You are in the position to help us overcome the extremists. Give us the democratic space, the level playing field, the unbiased and unfettered access and you will find that Muslims will be at ease with their space in this world. Demonise them, suppress them and marginalise them only at our own peril, look at what happened in Afghanistan.

42. I hope that in future democratic institutions and media such as that present today will look at Islam from a more broad and inclusive perspective. Don�t let your views be restricted to the limited interpretations of the so called liberals or the radicals, true Islam is in the middle ground. As you will find here in Malaysia, the majority of Muslims believe in having Islamic systems and laws in place but that doesn�t mean that they are radicals or extremists hell-bent on the destruction of the west.

The Malaysian Experience: PAS Model of Islamic State

43. The Islamic Party of Malaysia has presented to the people an Islamic State Document that outline how we will go about in introducing Islamic laws in Malaysia. We also want to assure non-Muslims they would be getting a better deal and that the Federal Constitution would not be compromised and that Parliament and the Senate, and not the clergy, would reign supreme, as many fear would happen if Malaysia turns �Islamic�.

44. Please note that this document is a position paper and it could still incorporate feedback. In all earnestness and honesty, I welcome all feedback and reflective thoughts about the document so as to continuously improve and better its content and presentation.

45. What PAS is proposing would not bypass or contravene the Constitution. I must again emphasise that PAS would continue to work within the ambit and purview of the democratic process of the parliamentary system as enshrined in the Federal Constitution, to get this document and vision of the Islamic State realised and implemented.

46. No one should doubt our commitment to democracy, as our track-record speaks for itself, ever since the inception of the democratic process in this country, we have participated in it. Without ever resorting to riots, violence and militancy.

47. Our commitment to the practice of Syura (consultation) is made clear by our conviction that the current division of the legislative process namely the Dewan Rakyat (Parliament) and Dewan Negara (Senate), would conveniently provide for the embodiment of Syura. Hence this stamps out all allegation of a theocracy and supremacy of the Islamic clergy. Theocracy has never been a part and practice of the Islamic political system since time immemorial. Anyone with any rudimentary understanding of Islamic history would testify to that.

48. We want to assure the non-Muslims their rights would be protected and that they would not end up becoming victims of a harsh or unjust Islamic legal system. The document equally places importance to the rights of the non-Muslim community in the context of an Islamic Government and State.

49. The rights of the non-Muslim community as enshrined in the Federal Constitution, in regard to right to religious beliefs and cultural practices, right to secure business opportunity and private property, right to political association, right to education, and mother-tongue education as also enshrined by the United Nation Declaration of Human Rights are fully secured.

50. It is also not an exaggeration to emphasise hereby that Islam provides for a better security in religious practices as shown by our Islamic history and our current practices in the states that we are now governing.

51. This document similarly places emphasis on the involvement of the non-Muslim community in matters pertaining to the administration and government of the country, namely the executive legislative and judiciary. Our commitment to the political fraternity of the Alternative Front (Barisan Alternatif), provides convincing evidence to allow participation and involvement of the entire citizenry from all religious, ethnic, culture and gender to engage in the reconstruction of a more equitable and just society.

52. In the light of providing a truly genuine democratic space for a healthy and mature democracy, the PAS leadership is fully committed to end or revise all draconian laws, namely the ISA, OSA, University Colleges Act, Printing and Presses Act etc., that stifle democratic freedom.

53. There are several points which underlines our commitment to democracy, human rights and freedom:

1. That the document on Islamic State continues to advocate the provisions as enshrined by the Federal Constitution.
2. That the rights and freedom of the entire citizenry or rakyat are fully secured and guaranteed by the State.
3. That the right and freedom of each citizen and community to practice and express their unique cultural and traditional heritage are secured by the state.
4. There will no compulsion in matter of religious conversion to Islam.
5. That the dual system of laws and judiciary will maintain its current status quo.
6. That there will be no discrimination based on religious, racial and gender. Opportunities and entitlement will be merit and principle based.
7. The democratic rights of each individual in the Islamic State are fully guaranteed by the Federal Constitution.
8. That every ethnic grouping irregardless of ethnicity is entitled to elect and be elected in based on merits into the various position of responsibility be it in the executive, judiciary and legislative domains.
9. That the right to education and mother-tongue education is secured by the State.
10. That the rights of women in regard to education, job-commercial enterprises and the right to human dignity are secured and safeguarded by the Constitution of the State.

54. We are very aware that this document will be inviting numerous comments and perhaps criticisms. PAS is ready to engage in any discourses and forums so as to clarify the numerous questions and inquiries.

55. Finally, I have gone at length to give you the Islamic perspective and the PAS model, I hope this will be the start of a continued engagement and dialogue between Islamists and democratic institutions and media.

56. I thank you for your kind attention and patience. I will end with a verse from the Quran: Oh Mankind, we created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another. Verily, the most honoured of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted with all things.

Email: nasharudin@hotmail.com

(Speech to the Agenda Asia Conference Organised by Asia News Network (ANN) and Konrad Adenauer Foundation. by Nasharudin Mat Isa, Secretary General, Islamic Party of Malaysia 10th February 2003 at Shangri La Hotel.)


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