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Amman Message a solution to our religious tensions – Sam Sensible

I recently came across something known as the Amman Message and the Three Points and was pleasantly surprised by them.

The Amman Message was endorsed by Tun Abdullah Badawi when he was the prime minister.

It was also signed by current opposition leader, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, and other prominent leaders, including one Khayri Jamal Al-Din, the Umno Youth chief (yes, I believe that would be KJ, his name fancily spelt).

On reading the Amman Message, it made me wonder why aren’t the beautiful message, reminder, principles and commands being utilised in Malaysia?

In this article, I’ll be looking at the Amman Message and the current crisis engulfing Malaysia and how the reminders of the Amman Message are vital.

It’s also a “corrective position” concerning a controversial article I wrote about Shias not too long ago (link here).

The Amman Message & its three points

The Amman Message is a unique and wonderful document, yet oddly and unfortunately, many Malaysians (and Muslims generally) do not know of it.

The Amman Message started as statement released on the eve of the 27th of Ramadan 1425ah (November 9, 2004) by King Abdullah II in Amman, Jordan.

It sought to declare what Islam is and what it is not, and what actions represent it and what actions do not.

“Its goal was to clarify to the modern world the true nature of Islam and the nature of true Islam.”

In order to give this statement more religious authority, King Abdullah II then sent the following three questions to 24 of the most senior religious scholars from all around the world representing all the branches and schools of Islam:

(1)Who is a Muslim?

(2)Is it permissible to declare someone an apostate (takfir)?

(3)Who has the right to undertake issuing fatwas (legal rulings)?

These 24 senior scholars (including Shaykh Al-Azhar, Ayatollah Sistani, and Sheikh Qaradawi) provided fatwas to the questions above. In July 2005, an international Islamic conference of 200 of the world’s leading Islamic scholars (ulama) from 50 countries convened in Amman, and unanimously issued a ruling on three fundamental issues (which became known as the “Three Points of the Amman Message”). The Three Points are:    

(1)    Recognition of the validity of all eight Mazhabs (legal schools) of Sunni, Shia and Ibadhi Islam, of traditional Islamic Theology (Ash’arism), of Islamic Mysticism (Sufism), and of true Salafi thought, and came to a precise definition of who is a Muslim;

(2)    They forbade takfir (declaration of apostasy) between Muslims; and,

(3)    Based on the Mazhabs, they set subjective and objective preconditions for the issuance of fatwas, thereby exposing ignorant and illegitimate edicts in the name of Islam.

To date, more than 500 leading Muslim scholars have unanimously endorsed the Amman Message and its Three Points – Sunni and Shia political leaders included.

The significance of the Amman Message and Three Points is that it is the first time in more than 1,000 years that the ummah has formally and specifically come to such a pluralistic mutual inter-recognition, and for those familiar with sources of Islamic Law, “ijma” (a.k.a. consensus) is the third most important source after the Quran and Sunnah.

In 1,000 years? Ijma reached by Muslims? That’s huge! So, why isn’t it a bigger deal in Malaysia?

Lessons from the Amman Message and Malaysia’s religio-racial relations today

Why the Amman Message and Three Points don’t play a more prominent role in our policy, religious teachings and race-relation efforts is anyone’s guess.

Regardless, the Amman Message contains many reminders relevant to Malaysia today.

On our belief system and commonality with Christians and other religions, the Amman Message reminds us that “the origin of divine religions is one, and Muslims believe in all Messengers of God and do not differentiate between any of them. Denying the message of any of them is a deviation from Islam”.

This sets the tone for believers of different faiths to find common ground, for the service of human society.

Don’t wanna wish your neighbour Merry Christmas? You might just be going against your faith, buddy.  

In relation to respecting others, the Amman Message states that “Islam honours every human being, regardless of his colour, race or religion”.

Some Malaysians somehow don’t seem to feel that way – both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

There’s a perverse race elitisms from all sides, but more profoundly so by the majority (strength in numbers and historical origins?). This needs to be undone. Islamic leadership is about fulfilling the amanah (trust) to Allah – treating non-Muslims properly is part of that.

(Good job Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir and friends. What you did just feels right.) Islam shuns cruelty and violence.

The Amman Message cites the Quran which states “It is by some Mercy of God that you were gentle to them. Were you severe – cruel hearted – they would have broken away from you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult with them in the conduct of affairs. And when you are resolved, put your trust in God; truly God loves those who trust [in Him].” (Chapter 3, verse 159).

Dear Jais (Selangor Islamic Religious Department), please read paragraph 19. Not only have you shown cruelty to Christians, you’ve hurt the conscience of many good Muslims in Malaysia.

Not saying that Jais couldn’t have done what it did – but it could have been done so much better.

Some of us get it – Jais has a job to do. It has laws to uphold, court orders to enforce, and there are Muslims who supported the raid. But do it properly.

The Amman Message continues to remind us that Islam confirms the principle of justice in interacting with others, safeguarding their rights, and confirms that one must not deny people their possessions (including their Bibles?).

“And let not hatred of others make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just; that is closer to piety (5:8).”

True Islam means respect for the rule of law, not “forgetting” to inform the proper authority (seriously, Jais? This isn't the first time), protecting due process and not wrongfully denying people their possessions.

In the Amman Message, mention is made that (everyone comes together) ”without encroaching upon creedal distinctions or upon intellectual freedom”.

How I read this is that regardless of what God is called, that should be secondary. Affirmation of faith has to be the primary focus, and substance takes precedence over form.

On a final note, one of the Three Points declares the following: “Whosoever is an adherent to one of the four Sunni schools (Mazhabs) of Islamic jurisprudence (Habafi, Maliki, Hanbali and Shafie – the last being what the majority of Malaysians are), the two Shia schools of Islamic Jurisprudence (Ja’fari and Zaydi)... is a Muslim. Declaring that person an apostate is impossible and impermissible”.

Just based on that, I am willing accept that my article on Shias earlier was wrong. Accepting the Amman Message, I am guided by those wiser and more qualified than me. This was an important correction to make, and I am glad that I have.

Finally, Ghandi once said, “you can judge a society by how they treat their weakest members”. This isn’t about how the state treats non-Muslims, it’s about how the state treats the Malay-Muslims, whom at the moment are being labelled as “weak” (lemah iman) and “easily confused”.

It is about time to trust them and their faith, and build towards a stronger ummah – one that isn’t insecure, and one that would make others worried to use the word “Allah”, for it may confuse them instead.

Here’s to the Amman Message and the reminders that we should heed from it. – January 9, 2014.

* Sam Sensible reads The Malaysian Insider.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

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