DEC 11 — I read Zurairi AR’s piece today and agree with him.
While his piece spoke about how the next General Elections will be about the Islamist agenda, the reality is that Malaysian Muslims are becoming more observant, and want Malaysia to practise Shariah law.
I base this observation (not fact) on my dealings with friends and the people I have met over the years, and in recent times, Instant Messenger Group Chats. While the calls supporting Shariah law can be rather basic at its best, and crude, it would seem that young Muslims in this country want hudud law.
However, before we get our knickers in a twist, we must also ask what is their idea of hudud law and an Islamic state.
A good friend who attended the Muktamar PAS, had a revelation. She saw a gathering of not just PAS leaders and politicians, but of men and women who asked questions about the economy, education and public infrastructure. There was little gender segregation, and the women spoke up and made sure everyone heard them. They were not wholly focussed on hudud. They were pragmatic Muslims who wanted change. They were fed up of the religious rhetoric they kept hearing.
“And this is the progressive Muslim we need and desire. Muslims who want real life solutions instead of khutbahs.”
There is little space left for the current power elites who have hogged the headlines for too long, she said. The Islamists are here to stay.
Islam in Malaysia is becoming more diversified in its conversations. Some of the voices can be downright frightening – you will not believe the vitriol hurled against Malays who are considered to not have the “knowledge”, and this is among Malays themselves (!) – and some can be maddening. Are these voices part of The Middle, or splinter groups that have the propensity to influence The Middle?
There are two voices of Islam that appear in our media today, and they belong to a power elite of two extremes.
First of all, because of a word limit and that meanings can take on so many forms and shapes, for this column, let us just define broadly what extremes (extremists) are. As a friend pointed out, what is a liberal and what is a conservative? It could be a bit futile to separate conservatism and liberalism where politics and religion intersect “… because most of us are liberal on some issues and conservative on others.”
So for this essay, perhaps the “Extreme(ists)” are those whose arguments defy each other’s, but basically rule media airtime and the public sphere. And in Malaysia, the argument is among Muslims.
In an increasingly globalised world where barriers are now falling apart, there seems to be more divisions, but the divisions and debates are among the believers themselves.
What concerns me and should worry all of us is the voice of The Middle (for want of a better word). I hesitate to say moderate, for what is a moderate? I see two voices speaking up on Islam’s behalf, do these voices speak for my friends and me? Not really.
The problem with the Voice of The Middle is that they have other things to worry about, such as bread and butter issues. These issues are not unimportant, and for many Muslim Malaysians, religious debates are thought to be the domain of leaders, politicians and activists. They don’t have the time, there’s too much to think about and do. Also, there is the danger of fundamentalism leading the way, which limits the ability of The Middle to speak up. There is great fear in speaking out, and it is also possible they only get airtime in the English-speaking media.
When they do notice what is going on and want to pipe up, the Voice of The Middle is apprehensive. They feel that they are not equipped with the knowledge and communication tools to articulate their thoughts and feelings, and they fear persecution. Many fear the backlash more.
The Voice of The Middle is important, and could be the very Voice of Reason Malaysia needs.
But we need these voices to come out and speak up. We cannot let the engagement be the realm of a few concerned citizens only. We need more Malaysians to say, enough is enough. We must remind ourselves that we do not need to be born into greatness to do great things.
Muslims in Malaysia want an Islamic state.
What version it will be, only God knows.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.