Bringing back the discourse on gender wisdom — Muhammad Husni Mohd Amin
JUNE 1 — The week opened with the news of Lady Gaga canceLling her concert tour in Jakarta amidst protest by our Indonesian Muslim brothers and sisters for cultural invasion. Before that, in her Twitter she openly supported institutionalised so-called gay rights saying, “Obama, congratulations on being the first sitting President to support marriage equality!” after the latter stated, “At a certain point I’ve concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.”
Recently, controversial figure and gay-rights advocate Irshad Manji launched her book “Allah, Liberty and Love” in Kuala Lumpur despite protests by large number of Muslims who are concerned with her distortions of Islam and painting a bad picture about its adherents.
Her overt friendliness is betrayed by her arrogance when she tweeted her Malaysian hosts to keep on the fight for freedom, as if the rest of us ever needed advice on moral courage from a sexually confused person who is least knowledgeable about freedom, much less about Islam.
From her discourses one can surmise she is ignorant about what the Sufi termed as hurriyat, which is freeing from the shackles of animal desires so that one can concentrate on worshipping God, which includes doing good to others as He commanded. Yet, what is often meant by freedom by the secular liberals is thereby only limited to doing as one pleases even if it means doing injustice to oneself.
Islam conceives freedom as ikhtiyar, which derives from the word khayr, meaning “good”, implying true freedom is choosing the good instead of the bad, the better over the worse or the best between two alternatives. A person who is presented with a choice between what is good and what is bad and proceeds to choose the bad is not exercising real freedom. In truth, the person is trapped within his own ignorance, thus unable to make the right choice in choosing for the better, and in doing so, has committed a grave injustice to his or her own self and others.
The reason why a troubled and confused person such as Irshad Manji is being celebrated is precisely the downside of democracy that it is often found guilty of levelling the learned together with the ignorant, where sophistry is mistaken for erudition, thereby causing the loudest of voices to drown the voice of knowledge and reason in the cacophony of the confused. Such a condition only allows for fertile breeding ground for the rise of false leaders who perpetuate the vicious cycle of ignorance, and this also explains the sorry state of political discourse as we see today.
To borrow the words of libertarian philosopher Thomas Sowell: “It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.” The inherent weakness of democracy aggravates this; it is easy to imagine the disastrous consequences of putting decisions in the hands of largely ignorant people.
The sincerity of those who claim to be fighting for Manji’s freedom of expression comes into question based on their trampling upon the freedom of various groups and individual citizens who are not only against her patronising the Muslims and their belief, but also her unwarranted judgment against Islam that is made based on personal childhood experiences, unscholarly attitude towards it and holier-than-thou attitude typical of Western imperialist in gauging the level of democratic freedom in this country.
Manji and the so-called liberal movement’s hypocrisy becomes even more apparent when we are only expected to swallow every word — hook, line, and sinker — while none of their programme allows for the opportunity of genuine learned authority to engage them intellectually.
What is clearly lacking in Manji’s claim, “I am a faithful Muslim” despite being openly lesbian which is against Islamic law (shariah), is her understanding of the religion itself. This is plain obvious when reading through her website, we find her justification in “reforming” Islam is based on her own painful personal experiences including the time in which she asked during her teenage years questions such as, “Why can’t girls lead prayer?” or “If the Quran came to Prophet Muhammad as a message of compassion, why did he command his army to banish an entire Jewish tribe?” which are easily answered by proper scholarly authority.
However, the case being called to question here is the inability of her madrasah teacher to do just that which, according to Manji, is what drove to her to the point of frustration. Admittedly, this is an adverse effect of de-Islamisation e.g. by reducing everything to just problems in jurisprudence (fiqh) and resorting to “relativism of values” rather than considering its epistemic framework by proper Islamisation.
Being a faithful Muslim, Islam as a religion requires both belief and submission from its believers. Faith (iman) is only realised when its three conditions are present; assent by the heart, verbal declaration and action in accordance with the tenets of Islam (tasdiq bi ‘l-qalb wa iqrar bi ‘l-lisan wa ‘l-`amal bi ‘l-arkan). Therefore, it is misleading to say that all that is demanded from a Muslim is simply for him to have correct intentions as though good intentions alone are sufficient to secure his commitment to the religion.
Indeed, there has been a lot of misunderstanding over this particular point about the importance of intention and intentionality, especially with regards to religion in general and Islam in particular. No doubt intention is important insofar as it is the starting point of any purposive action. But it does not follow that intention alone is enough. It is presumptuous to believe that one can simply will to be good, therefore one is good, and consequently, one ought to be recognised by others as being good.
Rather, intention — as important as it is — is not a substitute for action that conforms and makes manifest that intention. In other words, it is through correct action that one’s intention is verified, actualised and acknowledged.
To take a simple example, if a person were to make a claim that he or she loves the mother, if his or her actions are not in conformity with that claim, then the claim is disproved. Furthermore, it is not enough for that person to simply set an intention that “I love my mother” if that is not followed up by correct and proper words or actions that verifies that intention.
“Moral courage” has become Manji’s catchphrase but do we really understand what it is meant? What is its meaning in the West now? What is the message that she wishes to convey by her notion of “moral courage” when there is hardly anything moral in the lifestyle she is promoting. By “moral courage” Manji wants Muslims to be liberated from the law of Islam in the sense that there is nothing wrong with being lesbian and homosexual. Everybody should be given the freedom to be anything and do anything. This is in fact against morality (akhlaq) in Islam.
For Manji, following the liberal Muslim thinkers, Islamic law (shariah) is the creation of the ulama’ and this is sheer distortion of Islam. Injustices do happen in our society but they do not justify liberalisation of Islam. We do reject injustices but our solution lies not in liberalisation but Islamisation. The object of liberalisation is Islam but the object of Islamisation is the human mind. Therefore, Islam in which the concept of Dīn aims at producing good people should not be held responsible for the wrongdoings of Muslims. Instead, in the absence of worldview of Islam in the minds of many Muslims, they become advocates of unbridled freedom of speech even if it is to insult their own religion and God.
Liberal values are at odds with religious values; something that is considered praiseworthy in liberal society is not necessarily good for the religious community, especially Muslims. Values uprooted from religion are left at the caprices of society, which then begins to trap itself in moral quandary whereas in Islam it is ontologically permanently established in Reality, for example, mercy is good because “He (Allah) has decreed upon Himself mercy” [Quran, 6:12]. The liberal notion of individual freedom i.e. freedom to act as one pleases as long as it does not infringe or negatively impact upon somebody else’s rights or privacy, is stark contrast with the concept of ukhuwwah (brotherhood) in Islam; one can even point out the fact that even the liberal notion of individual freedom does not believe in Hobbesian “bellum omnium contra omnes”, instead presupposes that one’s livelihood and well-being are built upon the support and care provided by the rest of the society, especially family and friends. It follows therefore that whether one likes it or not, one is born into this world already with obligations to those who came before us, to those who are closest to us, to those whose help enabled us to grow and flourish, in which case the question is not so much between societal versus individual freedom, but whether or not we recognise and acknowledge the obligations we have towards others, more so towards God who has granted us the gift of existence. In the extreme case, we can say that we do not deserve what we often take to be our sacred rights for we do not even choose how we came into this world. If these are not taken into consideration seriously, then how else do we explain the unabated corruption in our society despite numerous attempts at reforming the present political, economic and social systems?
If this society really wants a liberal and secular state then there should be a room for Manji to propagate her ideas of liberalism, however the Muslim communities here want a state that is based on Islam, and for this very reason Manji and her likes have to respect the virtues and the principles held by the locals. A true Muslim is against all efforts to liberalise Islam and the Muslims. All Muslims must stand together in this opposition including those in political and social outfits.
This article is also partly written to address also some empathy that arises from a famous ustaz who runs a training consultancy, towards Manji by asserting that in order to better understand her based on her painful personal experiences thereby hoping to solve the problem by giving her the freedom to articulate her opinion on Islam.
The proof of Islam, Imam al-Ghazali (may Allah sanctify his secrets) has formulated that a preacher calling to Islam must have the intention and method to lead people from worldly concerns to the hereafter, recalcitrance to obedience, acquisitiveness to renunciation, stinginess to generosity, doubt to certainty, indifference to vigilance, and from illusion to being conscious of God. He stressed the point that none of these is achievable by the sort of preaching that will only incite people to say the wrong kind of things, what more supporting what is clearly immoral.
Muslims who empathise with Manji do not realise that it is not the freedom of expression that she and her ilk are fighting for, rather it is the right to misguide people and that by giving empathy to a person like Manji serves only to increase her audacity to spread further her confusion. Therefore, the ustaz must realise this is exactly what Imam al-Ghazali warned about the worst kind of preacher who opens the doorways to harm and wreak havoc upon religion in ways even Satan himself cannot, and that it may come to a point where it is incumbent to prevent him from sermonising as part of enjoining good and forbidding evil.
With this in mind, Muslim movements stand in greater need of an authentic intellectual framework in doing service for Islam, and for that they need to be equipped with knowledge and the works of great scholars, otherwise all that remains is groping in the dark and lifting up as their teachers those detached from tradition among the ranks of so-called Muslim Modernists and Neo-Modernists.
If we can represent Manji as someone who is running amok, it is not enough for us to just say, “She is mentally ill, therefore she needs sympathy from all of us” namely for two reasons; (i) On the observation that she is acting in such a manner because of a troubled soul is not an observation that requires sharp intellectual inspection, rather an obsolete conclusion that need no longer to be served as platitude. For instance, it is widely known for a bad-tempered person to be in a tumultuous state of mind, but just to oft-repeat the observation does not assist in showing the steps to solving the problem in order to curtail that individual’s irascibility. That statement is of a hopeless descriptive nature in its ability to move the society into action (ii) A person who is running amok not only risks injury to himself but his actions can result in chaos and threaten the peace of people around him, whether it be in respect to emotional disturbance and distress amongst the community members, damage to property or worse, the loss of innocent lives.
In that situation, it is naïve for us to just repeat the words that such person is “mentally ill”, therefore “needs our sympathy”, while at the same time, that person’s doing is a potential threat to safety of our society and ourselves!
If we think about it carefully, our enemies in the battlefield or terrorists can even be labelled as “mentally ill” as result of their dangerous actions, but we just do not simply sit down or do nothing in order to defend or stem the harm that can come from both these groups.
In short, we are not just going to stand idle when confusion, chaos and harm run rampantly in the midst of our society; indeed, the parties that spread confusion and cause chaos need us to be merciful so that they will eventually realise the injustices that they inflict upon themselves and upon the society.
Yet at the same time, we must also be conscious and vigilant of doubt and confusion that are spread with neither decency nor sense of respect by these perpetrators in our society. This arrogance cannot just only be fought with unwarranted sympathy that is not rooted in knowledge, but must be challenged with courage that is accompanied by knowledge and wisdom.
If something that so valuable to the meaning of our own selves is challenged and threatened without prohibition, then we as people who are awake and able must rise up to the occasion and meet the threat.
If our own selves possess neither knowledge nor courage to become warriors, then we must strive against our own utterances so as not to prevent others who have it in their calling to uphold and defend the truth.
“If you cannot be part of the solution, try not to be part of the problem.”
* Muhammad Husni Mohd Amin is a lecturer at Kolej Universiti Islam Antarabangsa Selangor (KUIS).
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.