JANUARY 7 — We read about the campaign by Isma to gather one million signatures in support of its claim of “Malaysia Negara Islam” or Malaysia an Islamic state. But the main question that begs an answer is whether does it really matter whether this country is an Islamic state or not? Does the name matter as much as the content?

Perhaps to Isma, an Islamic state denotes a State which is governed by the Shariah. Whether Malaysia is termed as an Islamic state, a secular state, or a hybrid state; the most important issue to be resolved is how does the state govern its citizens.

While it is true that Malaysia’s constitution does not define the country as secular nor does it call it Islamic, many have argued that the construction laid down by our founding fathers of the nation was to create a pluralistic and equal society.

It is true as Isma insisted that Article 3(1) of the Constitution clearly spells out about the position of Islam. But this Article was taken to mean that as far as official ceremonial matters are concerned, Islamic forms and rituals are to be used.

And this does not take away the fact that a secular pluralistic system of governance, one that valued fundamental liberties and equality, was the main aim of the Constitution.

We see this on page 73 of the Reid Commission Report of the Federation of Malaya that says “The observance of this principle...shall not imply that the State is not a secular state”.

Furthermore in a landmark case of Che Omar bin Che Soh v Public Prosecutor [MLJ 1988], the former Lord President Tun Salleh Abbas said that the word Islam in Article 3(1) should be given a restrictive meaning based on Article 3(4), which states that nothing in this Article derogates from any other provision of the constitution.

The Supreme Court then held that laws in Malaysia do not have to conform to the Islamic principles, and thereby confirmed the position that Malaysia is not an Islamic state.

But having said all these, the main intent of this writing is not to provide legalistic arguments that Malaysia is a secular state, but to show that such a debate is futile for the growth and progress of the country.

If Isma is truly concerned that Muslims especially that constitute the majority in this country should be truly observant Muslims, then we say that both Islam and true religiosity thrive better in a secular state that breaks down the monopoly of religious truth.

Only in a secular state can a Muslim live a life based on his own freewill and true conviction for the sake of God, not because they are scared of the state apparatus and imposition.

To us, genuine piety only arises through personal choice. And that choice only becomes possible when there is freedom. And this is the freedom that is celebrated by many of those living in secular states.

This idea of freedom, or to use a phrase coined by Mustafa Akyol is his book that was banned by the previous regime, “Islam without Extremes” as “freedom to sin” which is basically a necessary medium for Muslims to be sincerely pious.

The erudite Muhammad Asad has made it very clear when making his commentary in his magnum opus The Message of the Qur’an regarding verse 25 of Surah al-A’raf or the Faculty of Discernment where he commented on the story about Adam and Eve temptation when he said in a concluding remark after an exhaustive exegesis: “by forbidding him (Adam) to “approach the tree”, God made it possible for man to act wrongly, and therefore, to act rightly as well. And so, man became endowed with that moral free will, which will distinguish him from all other sentinel beings.”

What is equally important is how Islamic can an Islamic state be? Apart from creating a truly pious and God-fearing community of Muslims, the true indicator that an Islamic state is a state worth emulating in the modern world, is whether it has all the values that are consistent with Islam.

Since Islam is rahmatan lil ālamin or blessings to the entire universe, then an Islamic state should be able to be a state that has all the values that we cherish in the modern world politically and economically.

But sad to say, none of the Islamic countries in this world has shown to be in the top ten of countries that prosper according to Islamic principles.

In a 2010 research paper published by two Professors at the George Washington University, Scheherazade Rehman and Hossein Askari entitled How Islamic Are Islamic Countries? which looked at the Islamicity Index, the countries that occupy the top five were New Zealand, Luxembourg, Ireland, Iceland, and Finland.

And when the Economic Islamicity Index was calculated based on the degree of their policies, achievements, and whether the realities were in accordance with a set of Islamic economic principles namely, achievement of economic justice and achievement of sustained economic growth, broad-based prosperity and job-creation, and adoption of Islamic economic and financial practices; we also noticed that Islamic countries fell way behind the Western and Scandinavian countries.

The researchers concluded that Islamic countries are not Islamic in their practice as one might expect; instead it appears that Western countries tend to place higher on the Islamicity Index such as respect for human rights, social and economic justice, hard work, equal opportunity for all to develop, absence of corruption, absence of waste and hoarding, ethical business practices, well-functioning markets, and a legitimate political authority. All these factors resulted is flourishing economies that we witnessed in modern secular states.

But Muslim countries lag behind in all these spheres. So what is there to argue on semantics on whether this country is an Islamic state or a secular state? What we feel would be more important are the Islamic values that could result in prosperity and show an example to all the other communities in this world that Islam is truly a blessing for the entire universe.

It should be like the Islamic state during the reign of the Muktazila or the rationalists centuries ago when Islam was at the forefront of science and medicine, mathematics and physics, astronomy and philosophy. When Islam carried the torch of knowledge that paved the way for European’s enlightenment and renaissance.

That was when then where an Islamic state, or more aptly, an Islamic empire, that ruled the world with the idea of scientific progress and innovation. It was the time when we realised that one of the reasons for the Islamic world to flourish was not only about their attitude towards knowledge but also an early emphasis on freedom of speech and expression, which is very rare in any Muslim countries nowadays.

It was reported that al-Hashimi, a cousin of Caliph al-Ma’mun, a Muktazila, once said to his religious opponent:

“Bring forward all the arguments you wish and say whatever you please and speak your mind freely. Now that you are safe and free to say whatever you please, appoint some arbitrator who will impartially judge between us and lean only towards the truth and be free from the slyness of passion and that arbitrator shall be Reason, whereby God makes us responsible for our own rewards and punishments.”

That was a rare occurrence in history. But what do we envisage now when we heard of an Islamic state? The image is that of a poor, destitute, and disorganised state that is ruled by long-bearded turbaned men with fierce-looking faces that are more concerned and obsessed about punishing people rather than anything else. An Islamic state brings all the negative connotation and the burden will be borne by none other but the religion of Islam itself.

As if, Islam is a recipe for disaster. So Isma, just stop this nonsense about an Islamic state agenda and work towards the progress of the nation. For God will not ask us if we have fought for an Islamic state during our lifetime, but he will question us about the good things that we have done to mankind.

* Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa is a Founder and Director of the Islamic Renaissance Front.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.