The inexorable pursuit of an Islamic State

If there is anything unmistakably clear from the recent muktamar or general assembly of the Islamic Party of Malaysia – PAS – is that despite the acceptance of the concept of tahalluf siyasi or political consensus among the three major components of the opposition front – Pakatan Rakyat – PAS’ ambition in establishing an Islamic State and implementing hudud laws is unwavering, if not more resolute.

It appears rather incongruous that despite the acceptance of Buku Jingga or Orange Book as a comprehensive framework of the opposition front on how to govern the country when they come to power, PAS seems to have a higher agenda – to transform the multiracial and multi-religious country into a full-fledged Islamic state with Islamic laws.

Islamic laws and hudud were never mentioned in Buku Jingga and neither was the establishment of Islamic State. PAS even came out with its own manifesto “Nation of Care and Opportunity”. However this concept of a benevolent state is not well received by many PAS members themselves. Reason being, the so-called Erdoganists in PAS mainly mooted it. Recent spate of debate about the concept of Islamist Democrat – a term popularised by the Erdoganists – between the ulama faction and the young Turks clearly proved that they are considered contaminants in the “pure and pristine” PAS struggle.

The changing trend

While PAS has been in existent since 1951, it has remarkably shown to be very consistent in its struggle ever since, no matter how insensible it could have been to many. PAS has tried to restore Islam’s place as a central reference point for all social, cultural, economic and political life in Muslim society. In the words of Bobby Said in his book “A Fundamental Fear: Eurocentrism and the Emergence of Islamism”, he said: Islamism is a project that attempts to transform Islam from a nodal point in the discourse of Muslim communities to a master signifier. In particular, the Islamist project is an attempt to make Islam the master signifier of the political order.

However this project of political Islam has taken a new turn after what is known as the Arab Spring or the Arab Awakening. The discourse now is not about establishing an Islamic State or implementing hudud laws. The aspiration now is to nurture pious Muslims within a democratic polity. Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of en-Nahdha in Tunisia has categorically rejected Islamic State in favour of parliamentary democracy. His party en-Nahdhah is committed to social justice, multiparty democracy and religious pluralism.

A Professor of Sociology at the University of Illinois, Asef Bayat termed this shift as post-Islamism. There was a clear shift from the age-old slogan of al-Islam huwa al-hal – Islam is the solution to all problems – to a more practical approach and solution.

As put forward by Rachid Ghannouchi in interpreting the saying of the Prophet: “You are the best people to know what is beneficial for you in your worldly affairs” meaning to say that it is not the duty of religion to teach us agriculture, industrial or even governing techniques. Reason is qualified to teach this truth through the accumulation of experiences. The role of religion, however, is to answer the big question for us, those relating to our existence, origins, destiny and the purpose for which we were created. It is to provide us with a system of values and principles that would guide our thinking, behavior and the regulation of the state to which we aspire.

Same old rhetoric

For those who followed closely the recent Muktamar, it is evident that PAS is still trapped in the age-old agenda. Implementing hudud laws still remain a priority in its struggle. Obviously this is a clear contradiction to the mutually agreed Buku Jingga. Whether they are aware of the repercussion or not, it definitely provides ammunition to the ruling party that PAS has an ulterior motive to change this country into an Islamic State.

The patronising speech by Head of Dewan Ulama or the Religious Council in saying in a jest that hudud will create more job opportunities since training is needed in order to chop off hands and that training is also needed for caning of alcohol drinkers only showed that they are not serious about the current economic problems faced by the nation. It is as though by simply implementing hudud, all the economic woes and social ills of the society will be solved.

Nothing serious was discussed about the idea of nation of care and opportunity. PAS seems to have lost interest in pursuing the welfare state agenda. The main tone that vibrates especially among the Islamic scholars was nothing more than hudud and their unyielding push for this agenda and not in the least worried about going public about it.

Little Napoleons

One of the most worrying trends during the Muktamar is the voices of little Napoleons who tried to silence Harakah and the online Harakahdaily who had been accused to give more space to progressive figures in PAS and sidelining conservative forces.

Harakah is accused to have strayed away from its original intent and aspiration of PAS. Such an act would have been seen by many who understand freedom of the press as stifling with the most fundamental foundation of freedom of speech.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression: this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.

Now this act by the little Napoleons only showed how much they understand and respect human rights and what the future may hold if they come to power. There will not be any room left for dissension and differing opinions than what is being held by them.

The political reality

Perhaps the most important thing that PAS should appreciate and understand is that the appeal for hudud and Islamic State is not there anymore in the post-Islamism period. PAS should not misunderstand the votes they received as amounting to the support for their Islamic agenda.

More than a hundred thousand went to the street for demonstration during Bersih 3.0 recently. The demand was not to implement hudud or establishing an Islamic state. People of various races and religions from all walks of life marched together for a better democracy. They wanted a clean and fair election and a government free of corruption. It was an act of defiance to the draconian and unconstitutional Act that prevented people from any peaceful assembly.

It must be heard loud and clear that the people want a truly democratic state. Not a state ruled by a group of Mullahs who considered themselves to be above the law. The precedent was already set when one state under PAS passed an enactment that a fatwa or religious verdict from a Mufti cannot be challenged in the court of law.

It has to be understood that the state is not something from God but from the people. The state has to serve the benefit of the people and not just a certain group based on their faith. The state has to be neutral in all aspects. It must also be made clear that a state is a human product and managing a state requires human endeavor and not divine inspiration. The governance of a state falls under the realm of political and is not in the realm of revelation.

Any observance of religious values must never be through coercion. A state should respect personal beliefs and moral values and not imposed itself on its citizens. Unfortunately, the current situation in states under PAS rule failed to prevent this obtrusion of the state into private sphere. A state should not dictate how we should wear in public as this falls under personal affairs. However to regulate how women should dress seemed to be the first agenda under many Islamic governments; PAS not excluded.

Matters of the heart such as faith should be left to individuals. It is not the state to meddle in matters of the heart. There is no value in observing a faith that was made through coercion. Coercing people to believe in a faith they have no believe anymore through state’s coercive tools only turn them into hypocrites. People are created free and any effort of the state to coerce people from embracing or leaving a faith is worthless and futile.

The road forward

As a concluding remark, it must be re-emphasised that Islam in one way or another has always influenced a state under Muslim rule throughout history. Islam has not known a separation between state and religion in the sense of excluding religion altogether from public life. However a clear demarcation must be made between what belongs to the realm of ad-deeni or religious and those that fall under as-siyasi or political.

Great Islamic jurists like ash-Shatibi and Ibnu Ashur have agreed that the highest objective of all divine messages is to establish justice and attaining maslahah by realizing people’s interest. The pursuit of justice and public interest is done merely through the exercise of reason. And religion only provides values and guidelines in this pursuit.

Hence it is wrong to envisage that governing a state must follow a fixed manual and that manual is none other than the Qur’an. The domain of state governance falls under as-siyasi – the political – that will require human intellect to establish justice and equality.

Thus justice cannot be achieved unless human rights are secured for every individual and group in this country. And primary among human rights are rights to belief and to express one’s belief.

In a country that has achieved independence since 1957, the sovereign nation was founded upon the principles of justice and freedom as stated in the Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately, the principles of justice and freedom were forgotten and the provisions of fundamental liberties enshrined in the constitution were progressively compromised and eroded by the ruling elite.

Our aim now is to recover the lost hope, of justice and freedom, and not to turn this country into another repressive state that claims to rule with a mandate from God.

Dr. Ahmad Farouk Musa is a director at Islamic Renaissance Front.

About Ahmad Farouk Musa, Guest Contributor