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Birth of a Generation of the Liberal Muslim

(This writings appear on Ismaweb and TheMalayMailOnline)

Sept 11th 2001. It was suppose to be a normal day for me at the University of Melbourne. It was not. Everywhere I went; there was a strange feeling, filled with anxiety and nervousness. The city, if not the entire world is in a state of shock. All available news channel kept repeating the same images; planes crashing into the World Trade Center.

The following days are full of uncertainties as more information is made available to the media. The image of the US President announcing that the US is facing a terrorist attack that had never been seen on the US soil and all the security measures that follow. Soon, the war on terror witnessed US intervention worldwide. The event changed the world in its entirety.

In the midst of the anxiety and insecurity, Muslims especially those whom are living in the western society are suffering from backlash; be it physical, verbal and mere stares that cause uneasiness and caution. It was in those situations that things started to change bit by bit.

Muslims whom are living in the non-muslim society, out of the need to be part of the society and to survive as a community tried their best to explain that those terrorist acts are not in line with the true teachings of their religion. Indeed those acts are not and the those whom acted in such ways are misguided. Some of the people I know started to disassociate themselves away from the religion, to the extend that some muslim women gave up their sacred headscarves.

The polarised world that followed September 11th soon becomes more and more polarised. The ultimatum given by then US President divided the world into “those who are with us or with them”.  There seems to be nobody and no country that can just stay somewhere in between.

The polarity also affected the Muslims in general. Many tried their best to disassociate themselves from those who were called extremists or fundamentalists. Many try to don new colours, new images and names like ‘the moderates’, ‘the modernist’, ‘the civilised’ and ‘the liberals’. The fact that those names never got their meaning carefully defined was never in question. Association with those names seems to be more important than what those names really means.

The Question of Survival

The tense environment that those Muslims lived in have also affected the way they live with their religion. This is quite understandable since the pressure is not only in terms of mere public perception. The surveillance programmes that follow; the various raids by the intelligence community; the questioning of their imams and community leaders; the extra scrutiny of the funds and expense of the Muslim organisations, mosques, Islamic schools and welfare organisations, and detention of suspected terrorist elements pushed the Muslim community to ask questions about their long term survival in the western world whom many of them have called home for generations.

The need to survive and be accepted in the western society seems to be so crucial. Some Muslim organisations changed their approach, re-align their focus, redefine certain terms that deemed to be extreme like the word ‘jihad’. Even the text of the weekly sermon on every Friday is tailored and some of the usually recited prayers that asked for the victory of Islam and Muslim over the non-believers are dropped. The theme of the programmes are changed to show more moderation, tolerance and to adapt the universal western values. The stories of the bravery and courage of the companions of the Prophet in the face of non-believers during struggles were silenced while highlights and emphasize is given more to the stories of how loving, merciful and compassionate the Prophets are. Interfaith talks no longer question the truth, but merely to create contact and discussion between the various religions; meaning Islam is placed on the same level as other religions.

The Justification of the Approach

Some of the changes are proven to be fruitful and answered their quest for survival. In some cases those measures even resulted in more acceptance and sometimes conversions of non-muslim into Islam. Some organisations are even being recognised by the state or the country they operated in, receiving grants for their centers, programmes, mosques and activities. The newly built trust and the support received convinced those involved that these are the way to go. They can live as Muslims in a peaceful manner in the western society.

This new ‘success’ also gave rise to a new generation of leaders and scholars. The temporary measures that were means of survival becomes as a new interpretation of Islam. Some of the words that were dropped from their vocabulary earlier now seems to be very foreign. Where is the place for Jihad, the shari’a law, the needs to live Islam as a complete way of life, the need to have a supreme leader, a khilafa? There is no place for such words.

Furthermore, every aspect of Islamic teachings now needs to be redefined to be in line with the so-called the universal values such as absolute freedom and human rights. These redefinition and justification exercise happens in many ways, sometime based purely on logical reasoning and in some other instances using the original text of the Quran and hadith albeit in different interpretation.

Soon, these liberal, so-called moderate scholars become the source for reference in any issues. Some of the interpretations of the teachings of Islam departed from its core values, source and discipline.  The new interpretations have no place for the difference between the male and female, where any difference will be called discriminatory. These new interpretations of Islam have no place for any laws that deemed to infringe upon the rights of an individual in any forms. What is left of the religion are a set of personal choices that any individual can choose to agree or not. No state shall interfere in those choices and nobody can claim to be more knowledgeable about the religion than anyone else, since everybody can be able to use their mind to interpret any religious text according to their whims and fancies.

This is the background of some of the Muslim leaders and scholars that we see are speaking in the name of Islam today. The events that resulted in the birth of this generation seem to continue to be played in the mainstream media. The idea that has been widely accepted now is that Muslims need to be liberalized, to be moderate or else they will become extremists or fundamentalists.

Back to the first principle

The truth is completely the opposite. In any other matters in our world, we are taught that whenever we faced any issues, we need to go back to the first principle. At least, this is what I learned in my engineering courses. In resolving any issues concerning the Muslims, we need to go back to the first principle, the fundamentals, the true teachings of Islam that have given solution not only to Muslims, but whole of mankind. Leaving any parts of these teachings is an act of extremism. Adding foreign ideas into Islam that do not belong to it are also a form of extremism.

In other words, those so-called liberals and moderates are just as extreme and misguided as those whom they have tried to dissociate themselves from,  those terrorist whom had committed the act of terror, whoever they are.

Zaizul Azizi Zaman
Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia

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