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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Hadi Awang is not the problem



“I put people before gods. I respect believers of all kinds and work to promote interfaith dialogue, but my whole life I've seen religion used as a weapon, and I'm putting all weapons down.”
- Zak Ebrahim, ‘The Terrorist's Son: A Story of Choice’
COMMENT | I have written my share of screeds against PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang that the title of this piece vexes me. It does so because what I write about Hadi is not about his religious beliefs but of his anti-constitution stances.
In the previous article, I made the claim that Stephen Ng’s piece and the two pieces by Rais Hussin were part of the problem why there is a disconnect in the religious discourse in this country.
In my last piece, I argued that it is pointless raging against the excesses of Islam in this country when there is no alternative to the state’s hegemony of this particular religion. What exactly are we talking about when we talk of peaceful co-existence when there is no alternatives either in policies or narratives between political alliances in this country?
I read every article that Rais writes here and on other sites, and I think that he is on to something. The problem, of course, is that what Rais writes is what non-Muslim/Malays want to hear, and I have no idea if he continues this dialectic within the Malay community with similar provocative articles. When it comes to religion and interpretation of religion, it is best left to people who actually practice the faith and when it comes to running a government, people of faith should leave their faith at the door.
Rais’ two articles about Hadi is problematic for a variety of reasons and adds to the disconnect in the religious discourse of this country. The first problem is that as an opposition Muslim political operative, he is contextualising his opposition to the ideas of Hadi as a religious conflict.
That is, he is using religion as the basis of his critique against Hadi’s position. The fact that Hadi is a hypocritical Muslim is not the issue. Most public personalities who wear their religion on their sleeves are hypocritical. It is pointless using religion as a weapon against Hadi because when you use religion, you inevitably have to demonstrate that you are religious in your policy-making decisions. This, of course, is anathema to politicians who claim to want a secular state and worry of how Islam is promulgated in this country.
If you are waffling on your commitment to a secular state, then you have to make your case for an Islamic state and this is where the trouble begins and ends. If oppositional Muslim political operatives and their allies would just stop using religion as the basis of critique and concentrate on furthering the agenda of the secular state, oppositional Muslims MPs would not have to worry about attempting to out Islam their rivals because this would not be the grounds on which they battle for votes.
I have referred to this true Muslim meme in various articles. Here is my definition of it:
“What exactly is a ‘true’ Muslim or ‘true’ Christian for that matter? Someone who believes that religion should not be politicised? Someone who believes that you should not mock another's religion? Someone who believes that religion should not intrude in the private lives of members in any given society? Someone who believes that there should be a separation of church/mosque and state?
“These are not ‘true’ religious values but rather true secular values, or secular humanist values if you like. It is pointless and disingenuous to attempt to define what a ‘true’ Muslim is considering the fact that said values are in fact anathema to traditional Islamic thought and especially by non-Muslims, who project their own agendas as to the qualities that make a good or true Muslim.
“In other words, a ‘true’ Muslim as defined by those who have been on the receiving end of Umno-influenced Islam all these years, is a Muslim who conforms to the political and social conventions of the so-called moderate stance espoused by Pakatan Rakyat.”
No secular alternative
So Hadi and PAS are not what is wrong with Islam in this country. PAS is a religious political party and as such their agenda is to Islamise this country. What is wrong with Islam in this country is that Muslims don’t have a secular alternative to Umno’s and PAS' interpretation of Islam. An alternative is not merely alternative interpretations of Islamic dogma and history but a real secular alternative in terms of policies to what is offered by the major Islamic political entities in this country.
As far as I can tell, there has been no mainstream Muslim political entity which has advocated secularism as an alternative to the state’s interpretation of Islam or has the support of an authentic secular alliance which supports the idea that there should be a clear demarcation between mosque and state.
The funny thing is - well, not funny but humorous in a tragic way, like a Wim Wenders flick - is that Rais hits on but misinterprets the answer in his second piece about Hadi. Rais claims, “Where Muslims were weakest was the time when they abandoned truth seeking, and got themselves consumed by petty conflicts and wars, often between themselves.”
What does this mean? Even if you do not buy Rais’ interpretation of that golden moment in Islamic civilisation, what is clear is that secular ideas and non-interference by the religion into matters of sciences, public policy and public spaces were of benefit to the Muslim community more than anything the dogma had to offer.
While Rais may think that Umno and PAS ganging up is the problem, the real problem is that by using religion against Umno and PAS, the political parties that Rais supports becomes part of the problem. In other words, he and his allies are contributing to Muslims becoming weak.
Instead, what Rais should be doing is not offering up different interpretations of Islam but concentrating on providing a secular framework in which opposition political parties can change the Islamic narrative to a secular one.
Hadi is not incoherent because he is supporting Umno using dodgy arguments. Hadi is just another hypocritical politician like many in the establishment and the opposition. What is incoherent is attempting to use religion to stem the tide of religious fundamentalism.
Attempting to interpret dogma to fit the Islamic narrative you want to propagate is not the answer. When it comes to religion, Hadi's interpretation of Islam, while not as nuanced, is just as powerful as what Rais advocates. That's is the problem with faith. However, if you make the argument that the state is not in the business of interpreting religion and people are free to decide which interpretation they subscribe to, this would be a much more effective way to ensure that people know they can have a choice and still be true to their faith.
People make the mistake of thinking that a secular state protects different religious beliefs. This is inaccurate. A secular state protects people from the religious beliefs of others, especially the majority.
There is a reason why Umno and PAS do not want to change the narrative, which I can understand. What I find disheartening is that Muslims will always be at their weakest because no Muslim oppositional politicians with the support of the non-Muslim allies want to change the narrative.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.- Mkini

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