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Friday, January 31, 2020

Critics of G25 missing the historical contexts of Islam, says grandson of late Kelantan mufti

Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Hassan says critics of G25 often ignore the historical contexts when debating on Islamic matters.
SHAH ALAM: A former academic who has written extensively on contemporary Muslim issues in Malaysia has defended a recent report on Islamic administration commissioned by the G25 movement, after it came under attack from conservative groups for its stand against anti-apostasy laws.
Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Hassan, who is part of G25 which brings together former senior Muslim civil servants to promote moderation, said critics failed to understand the non-theological nature of the report.
“They are implying, through their criticisms, that the book is attacking Islam and its laws. They fail to see the theme of the book,” Nik Abdul Aziz, who comes from a long line of traditional Muslims in Kelantan, told FMT in a recent interview.
The 200-page report launched on Jan 11 – “Administration of Matters Pertaining to Islam” – evaluates the authorities’ handling of Muslim affairs through various laws and agencies.
But its criticism over the application of apostasy laws under state shariah enactments drew strong reaction from some quarters, including PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang who labeled G25 a “dangerous” organisation and its members as ignorant of Islam.
Nik Aziz, who has written papers and books on the history of Islamic scholarship in the Malay region, said the comments were irresponsible as G25 members also comprised of individuals exposed to the works of major Islamic scholars from all parts of the world.
“So to say that we are not Quran-literate is totally wrong and very unfair,” said Nik Aziz, the grandson of the late Wan Musa Abdul Samad, one of the Malay world’s most prominent authorities on Islam, and who served as the mufti of Kelantan between 1909 and 1916.
Some of the books penned by Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Hassan on Islam.
Although considered a traditionalist, Mufti Wan Musa was well known for his reformist views on Islam, and was considered among an early group of progressive ulama.
Nik Aziz said although he was not an ulama himself, he was offended by Hadi’s remarks.
“To say that I am totally ignorant of the Quran, I feel very hurt,” he said.
Nik Aziz said the stand on apostasy is just one part of the larger issues and problems in the administation of Islam in Malaysia over the decades as detailed in the G25 report.
He said many critics of G25 seemed to have no appreciation of Islam’s historical accommodation of diverse views, leading them to resort to name-calling over differences of opinions.
He said the debate on apostasy in Malaysia suffers from an ignorance about the early history of Islam.
He cited as example Perak mufti Harussani Zakaria’s argument that apostasy is a serious crime because the first Muslim caliph Abu Bakr had waged war against those who renounced their faith.
Nik Aziz said such an argument ignores historical contexts.
“Technically, you are clouding the minds of your fellow Muslims, which is ironically what we were accused of.”
He said the caliph’s action was aimed at those who refused to pay tithe to the state of Medina then, an act considered as treason.
“It is in this context that Caliph Abu Bakr had to resort to stern action,” said Nik Aziz, a former lecturer in Islamic history at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
In its report, G25 said implementing apostasy laws under the shariah poses constitutional and bureaucratic problems.
It also said punishing Muslims who leave their faith was against the spirit of Islam of freedom of choice, adding that the topic is still a matter of debate among Muslim jurists.
“Thus, a Muslim may choose to leave Islam. It is not a right as such, but a person exercising their choice. Leaving Islam is something that is regrettable. A Muslim who wants to exercise that choice should be persuaded to remain within the fold.
“However, if he persists to forsake Islam, it is between him and God. There is no earthly punishment provided in the Quran,” said the report.
Nik Aziz said there is a need to put into perspective instances of apostasy in Malaysia in order to gauge whether it warrants punishment.
He said government statistics showed that the bulk of those who left Islam were converts.
“If there is no implication to the state, then let it be. We cannot stop them, especially if they are adamant about leaving the faith after counselling them.”
He said G25 was not questioning the theological stand that apostasy is a grave sin.
But he said forcing people to remain their faith is counter-productive in efforts to promote Islam.
He said a nominally Muslim person could end up sabotaging the faith.
“It’s like retaining a football player who has no interest in playing for a club. He could cost the team the game.” - FMT

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