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Thursday, March 31, 2016

IN RESPONSE TO AZIZ BARI ON ARAB CULTURE AND ISLAM

farouk-a-peru
Farouk A. Peru, Malay Mail Online
In recent times, the blurred lines between religion and culture have been much talked about and even analysed and lamented over.
When people denounce or criticise a particular religion, they may be told that practice is merely cultural and not a tenet of that religion itself. Female genital mutilation is a good example of this.
Last week, Aziz Bari, a legal academic formerly of the International Islamic University Malaysia, responded to the Sultan of Johor’s earlier chiding of the Malays. The Sultan told them that they need not become pseudo Arabs.
Aziz Bari said that Islam is inextricable from Arab culture. He even pointed out that the title “sultan” itself originated from the Arabic term.
As much as I used to admire Aziz Bari for his enlightened views, I must say that in this particular instance, he has totally lost the plot.
Consider this analogy: He buys a packet of nasi lemak but instead of eating the food, he admires the banana leaf wrapping! In other words, he is totally missing the point.
He must ask one fundamental question: What is ultimate point of religion?
Why do we bother with religion at all? The logical answer must be the rewards we receive in performing religion. Religion, after all, demands our adherence and therefore time and effort.
I am a Muslim because it promises peace in this life and the next. If we accept this premise, then that gives us a guiding principle in this inquiry. A compass, if you will.
The next question we should ask is, what does God seek of us? For Muslims, the first source of religion is the Quran and there is simply nothing in the Quran which is cultural.
It really is as obvious as that. The problem here is literalism. Take for example the first command in the Quran to rejecters, “Do not do mischief on earth.” This is very clear to English speakers but if I were to recite it in the original Arabic, it would only be meaningless sounds to non-Arabic speakers.
So what does God seek of us? That we recite that command beautifully to bad people who will have no clue what we are chanting? Or to tell them in their own language that their actions are counter-productive?
The obvious answer to this will tell us if Islam can be operationalised without Arabic culture (since language is an aspect of culture).
The third question we need to ask is, did Islam begin with Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)? Muslims generally would answer in the negative. Islam to us is universal.
Prophet Muhammad is traditionally believed to be the last in that long line of messengers. The Quran asserts this as well (Chapter 41, Verse 43). If the message is universal, then how is it ensconced within any particular culture?
Rather it is referring to a human blueprint which will manifest regardless of one’s culture. Notice universal ideas like peace, justice and compassion.
If these ideas were totally different from culture to culture, we would not be able to talk to each other on a global scale. As it happens, humanity understands each other about these ideas. They simply do not practise them much!
The final thing to ask ourselves is, what is the nature of Prophet Muhammad? Was he human or extra-human in some way? The Quran clearly asserts his humanity and that he had to perform human functions. This being the case, he must have adopted cultural norms of his time and space.
Ancient Arabia did not begin with Prophet Muhammad! Rather, he came into it, adopted its norms and when the revelation came to him, he interpreted it according to his culture-based understanding. That’s how humanity interacts with information, regardless of it being divine or otherwise.
Aziz Bari commented that without Arabic, the Sultan of Johor would not be called “sultan.” Maybe he would be called “raja” or “king”: but I would ask Aziz, would this change the nature of his power? Not one bit. I am still puzzled about Aziz Bari’s remark but based on my arguments above, I cannot see how he is right.

1 comment:

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