I do not know Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa, whom I believe is a medical doctor who lives in Kuala Lumpur. I do know that he is a Muslim who is being belittled and mocked by some others who also speak for Islam in Malaysia. I say this because soon after his 2,000-word piece “Arguing for a secular state” appeared, a 5,000-word piece was loosed upon him by two writers from Himpunan Keilmuan Muslim.
What I find egregious about the attack on Dr Farouk by Imran Mustafa and Wan Mohd Aimran Wan Mohd Kamil in “The bankruptcy of the Islamic vs secular state debate” is their insinuation that they are “learned scholars and men and women of spiritual discernment and of pure and upright character; scholars and saints,” while Dr Farouk is ignorant, superficial, devilish, pretentious, brazen, blind, debilitated, obeisant, simplistic, unreasonable, unfair, futile, inflexible, hypocritical, schizophrenic (I may have missed a few).
When respondents resort to name calling, we know the author of the original paper has either exposed a glaring weakness, or has proposed something which could displace the entrenched. Thus my interest in what Dr Farouk has to say. His is a wide-ranging article. In the interest of brevity, I’ll restrict myself to six themes.
Hudud. Dr Farouk feels compelled to write about the Islamic/secular state at this time because the Islamic state, especially in its manifestation as hudud, is often raised in the build-up to the general election. I note that hudud is the rod the MCA repeatedly uses to beat the DAP for the latter’s willingness to work together with PAS, the Islamist party in Malaysia.
Dr Farouk indicates that PAS is divided over whether the hudud penal code (which to me means cane those who consume alcohol, cut off the hands of those who steal and stone women who commit adultery) should be implemented. He labels those who support such penalties “medievalists,” and labels those who do not support such penalties “Erdoganists.” He highlights an alternative view of hudud which space does not permit me to discuss here.
Dhimmi. Dr Farouk says many Islamists think an Islamic state is comprised of three groups of people: Muslims, Dhimmis and Harbis. Dhimmis are those who agree to submit to Muslims by paying a special tax called jizyah which buys them the protection of the state; Harbis are people who are hostile to Islam. He even points out that well-known, centuries-old Islamic laws prohibit Dhimmis from riding animals within city limits and require Dhimmis to wear distinctive clothing and even bells so that it will be clear to all that they are Dhimmis.
Tolerance. Dr Farouk’s purpose in pointing out those features is to state the obvious: those “medieval” laws are now common knowledge for most Malaysians. I have known about those laws for many years — thanks to the extensive coverage of Islam after 9/11. Dr Farouk is challenging Malaysian Muslim scholars and leaders to recognise that there is a diversity of opinion amongst Muslims about these matters. He’s pointing out that large numbers of Malaysian Muslims are also eager to recognise the rights and aspirations of non-Muslims, who are equally citizens of Malaysia. He’s pleading for tolerance.
Diversity. Dr Farouk brings up the very practical question of “who interprets”? I think immediately of the practice of various difference forms of government in “Islamic” countries, for instance, in Indonesia, Jordan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the various expressions of Islam, e.g. Ahmadiyyas, Ismailis, Shiites, Sunnis, Wahhabis, etc. He points out that there is no one person whom Muslims can claim is the final authority, not even the Grand Syeikh of al Azhar and the Saudi mufti. Further, he points out the difficulty of arguing against those who say “it’s mandated by the divine will of God.” I recall that this is why churches often caution Christians not to say “God says”.
Citizenship. Dr Farouk explicitly mentions citizenship. His critique of “medievalism” is not that it’s old (which his attackers obtusely say is what he is claiming). His critique of medievalism is that it doesn’t have room for present-day realities — which include the constitution of Malaysia, the understanding of citizenship and universal human rights. It’s easier to attack Dr Farouk for his purported ignorance and deprecation of history than to face his challenge and answer how the proposed “Islamic state” will work with modern realities.
Piety. One of the most compelling of Dr Farouk’s passages concerns true piety. He says:
“Any regime that imposes piety because of the belief that it is part of the doctrine ‘commanding the good and preventing the wrong’ like Saudi Arabia, for instance, is basically creating a community of hypocrites [rather] than genuine piety.
“Genuine piety only arises through personal choice. And that choice only becomes possible when there is freedom. In other words freedom to sin is a necessary medium to be sincerely pious.”
That made me think immediately of the hypocrisy in the current regime in Malaysia after 55 years, so eloquently expressed by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah:
“[Tengku Abdul Rahman] called a press conference and had a beer with his stewards when his horse won at the Melbourne Cup. He had nothing to hide because his great integrity in service was clear to all. Now we have religious and moral hypocrites who cheat, lie and steal in office but never have a drink, who propagate an ideologically shackled education system for all Malaysians while they send their own kids to elite academies in the West.”
Imran and Aimran’s bitter attack caused me to study Dr Farouk’s paper carefully. They flaunt their ability to quote stellar Muslims from the history of Islam; they think they show they’re “cool” by making reference to the RSA; they choose to ignore the history of Malaya and Malaysia and current realities.
I am repelled by their response. I am attracted to Dr Farouk’s thought. I respect Dr Farouk for thinking deeply about 20th-century realities in our ethnically-fractured Malaysia, for taking seriously his neighbours and digging deep into his heritage to unearth and courageously promote such views.
You’ve probably heard the saying “as proud as a peacock,” and you may have seen peacocks displaying their feathers, preening, showing off. Do you know that peacocks are worthless and that they can barely fly? They can fly about six metres, but they can’t land. They can only crash.