I would like to follow up from the last email I sent earlier. While much of the information in the blog regarding 'Liberal Islam' may appear rather 'unscholarly' or 'journalistic' by academic standards, I feel that some of the points raised may be useful for us to discuss and think through in more detail.
1) What is this thing called 'Liberal Islam'? The blogger has listed some basic tenets of the ideology and from the exchanges we have had in the last few days, it seems to me that we still have divergent ideas about what it really means. This may have contributed to some form misunderstanding among some asatizahs who described 'Liberal Islam' as akin to innovations in Islam. I would like to draw everyone's attention to an article by Charles Kurzman which states that Liberal Islam 'refers to 'interpretations of Islam that have a special concern regarding such issues as democracy, separating religion from political involvement, women's rights, freedom of thought, and promoting human progress.'
If we agree with the definition given and issues raised by Kurzman that Liberal Islam 'will grow more important in the future, perhaps even coming to be the dominant orientation in the years to come', then the anxieties raised by Faris must be taken seriously. This does not mean we go about proscribing persons who subscribe to such beliefs or to promote only one dominant interpretation whilst claiming that all others are erroneous. Rather, what is needed is an open and constructive engagement with such ideas and to show in clear terms how these ideas may prove detrimental to the well-being of Muslims. Faris has highlighted the dangers of Liberal Islam on the aqeedah of the Muslim masses. Are there any other potential problems we can anticipate? As it stands, the internet is so full of such dangers. What do we do then? Ask MUIS to close down some websites? Not possible and I am against such things. Or should we engage in virtual activism to set things aright and to admonish the masses? If so, can we get the support of MUIS and other institutions on this aspect? If not, why?
2) My other concern relates to the allegations that the Reading Group and MUIS are promoting the ideas of 'Liberal Islam'. Is this at all true? No one can actually answer that question well enough than the alleged and Faris who had highlighted this issue to us in the first place. In the spirit of brotherhood and good faith, I would urge Faris to show us clearly any sentences and/or paragraphs in the writings of members of the Reading Group that are somewhat reminiscent of the influence of ‘Liberal Islam’. I hope that members of the Reading Group would respond in kind and that staff members of MUIS clarify this matter fully to all of us in due course. One of the asatizahs highlighted that the Reading Group consists of persons who are of admirable academic credentials. Since this is the case, I believe it would not be too difficult for them to clarify to us where they stand in this issue. We all hope to learn more about them, Insyallah.
More importantly, this whole debate on ‘Liberal Islam’ should bring us closer to the Truths of Islam and closer together as members of a community of faith. There is, however, a prevailing tendency amongst many in our midst to easily label such and such persons ‘Islamists’, ‘Backward’, ‘Mystics’, ‘Fundamentalists’, 'Intolerant', 'Extremists' and so forth. These labels tell us little about our brothers and sisters in Islam than about the people who use and talk about them. They do indicate there are Muslims out there who are bent upon isolating their own brethren for their personal ends. Such efforts must be dealt with swiftly and should be denounced and seen as attempts to create disunity in a community that is already besieged with so many social, educational and religious problems, notwithstanding, media misrepresentations.
Salam Mesra dan Maaf Zahir Batin,
Below the reply which has been trnslated from Malay into English.
Dear Bro Khairudin,
Your suggestion that I should offer more proofs that members of the Reading Group personally accept Liberal Islam is indeed a fair and welcomed one.
Even though I personally believe that given the fact that this group promotes the writings of Nurcholish Madjid and other leading figures of Liberal Islam and provides links to websites spreading that particular brand of virulent ideology, these are enough proof to say that the Reading Group is guilty as charged.
However, admittedly that such proofs may still raise the question whether they are indeed guilty of deliberately spreading a heretical ideology under the guise of Islam or unwittingly promoting it while mistakenly believing it to be a legitimate way of understanding and interpreting Islam ?
Is the Reading Group the mere victim of overzealousness, no matter how well-intentioned ? Or are the alarms being raised about this group truly befit the danger it is said to pose ?
A look at the articles written by members of The Reading Group when they discussed about Liberal Islam allow us to clearly see that they understand what Liberal Islam is, that they truly believe in the legitimacy of Liberal Islam and that they are actively seeking to promote it among Singaporean Muslims.
In other words, no claims can be made for or by The Reading Group that it is unaware of the true nature of the cancer it is attempting to spread. Its members through their articles are both witnesses against themselves and for us who are warning against them and their misguided efforts.
I have chosen today to provide the necessary proofs from four articles written by Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib. My choice of this individual is without a doubt deliberate. The reason is because Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib is both a leading member of the Reading Group and at the same time an executive officer in the Policy Development Strategic Unit of MUIS. This fact has been brought up several times before.
It is important to establish Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib's personal position with regards to Liberal Islam since MUIS has embarked on several questionable endeavours in the last few years, some of which are clearly in support of Liberal Islam.
The questions which must necessarily be asked are - what is his role exactly in these endeavours and just how much influence does he exert within MUIS ? Who exactly does he answer to and does he have comrades or sympathizers within MUIS who are supporting his cause ?
Let it be emphasized that the examples I chose to take from these articles are just a few samples, and even these are actually enough for us to realise just how far Mohamed Taib Mohamed Imran has gone from the truth. The implications from that fact in the context of his role within MUIS need not be spelt out.
First Article -
In this article, Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib echoed the opinions of the late Harun Nasution who was a Muktazilite.
a ) For example, he believes that the failure of the Muktazilites to gain the upper hand over the Asharites ( the Ahlussunah Waljamaah ) in the history of Islam was a fatal blow to rationalism in religious thinking. Similarly mistaken is his belief that the Asharite understanding and interpretation of Islam resulted in fatalism.
Three things can be understood here. Firstly, Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib believes in the religious legitimacy of Muktazilism; secondly, he regards what he believed to be the irrationalism and fatalism of the Asharites as among the reasons to justify the deconstruction and reconstruction of Islam ; and thirdly, the first and second points show just ignorant and misguided he is.
b ) He clearly believes that any deconstruction and reconstruction of Islam must be made in the mold of liberalisme as understood and championed by individuals such as M Dawam Rahardjo, a leading Liberal Islam figure.
In other words, he is espousing an Islam which says, among other things, that Islam is not the only Truth. Indeed Ulil Abshar of Jaringan Islam Liberal, whose group is on the links section of The Reading Group, believes that the way to salvation can be equally obtained through other religions such as Christianity and Hinduism.
Is this what Allah meant when He says that Islam is the only religion acceptable to Him ? Why does Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib openly promote an ideology which clearly goes against the Quran ?
c ) Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib believes that any deconstruction and reconstruction of Islam must results also in an Islam which is anthropocentric because Islam according to him is too theocentric. Here he is espousing the idea of Hassan Hanafi who is also a Muktazilite.
Here he says that learning about the sifat and dzat of Allah is " useless for the ordinary masses unless it be for those who wish to dedicate themselves to issues which have no bearing to the urgencies of life of this world. " He regards the learning of this subject matter as an obsession in Islam as understood by the Ahlussunah Waljamaah.
A question needs to be asked - in the new Islam espouses by Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib, where would Allah actually be ?
Second Article -
Here, Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib believes that "the reconstruction of a society destined for success must starts with the reconstruction of its way of thinking." and once again, he believes that these reconstructions must be in the mold of Liberal Islam.
He clearly believes that Liberal Islam is a "form of Islam which is inclusive and comprehensive." He noted how the Liberal Islam as understood and championed by Nurcholish Madjid and Harun Nasution, among others, is progressive enough that Islam has managed to be reconstructed in order to successfully functioned in a pluralistic society such as Indonesia.
This in itself showed just uneducated he is both about what Islam actually is and what Islam has successfully achieved for humanity. One who is well-versed in Islam and history would understand that the teachings of Islam, as they are in the Quran and the authentic Hadiths, leads to tolerance, religious freedom, freedom of speech, rights of minorities etc without the need to deconstruct and reconstruct it inside out.
In other words, he believes that the future success of any Muslim society would depend on that society's way of thinking being reconstructed in the Liberal Islam way.
It's worth emphasizing that this article was published in Berita Harian on the 01 March 2008. This means that Berita Harian has been helping the Reading Group to promote Liberal Islam for quite awhile. Please remember this point when you read examples from the fourth article.
Third Article -
In this article, Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib's misunderstanding of many aspects of Islam is no less astounding.
a ) He believes that any effort to establish Islam as the dominant political force in a Muslim country or otherwise known simply as an Islamic state is an agenda which must be rejected at all cost. He believes that the Islamic political system is one which has unclear principles and is pretty much doomed to failure.
It's quite obvious that he has never heard of the Prophet's Madinah.
Here, he is unabled to differentiate between a genuine Islamic state where Islam is practiced as it should be practiced, and which history has proven to be successful and progressive in various aspects, and an Islamic state which is only Islamic in name.
b ) He gives the impression that tolerance and other progressive qualities exist only in Liberal Islam, as the Islam understood and championed by the likes of Nurcholish Madjid and Ulil Abshar Abdalla.
Again, this shows just how limited his understanding of Islam is.
c ) He disparaged the hudud laws and believes that these laws should be re-interpreted, away from their literal meanings. He also stated that Liberal Islam absolutely rejects the implementation of the hudud laws.
Once again, he comprehends nothing from the wisdom of hudud laws. He understands nothing about the finer details regarding the implementation of hudud laws. It's very apparent that he never heard the golden rule in implementing these laws which is "it's better to free a guilty man rather than to punish an innocent one".
Given that he believes in the deconstruction and reconstruction of Islam in the mold of Liberal Islam, I say that it would not be wrong to argue that Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib therefore rejects the hudud laws even though they are in the Quran, prescribed by Allah Himself and implemented by the Prophet.
Fourth Article -
This article was written and presented by Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib at the Meeting of The Singapore-Indonesia Progressive Youth Activists in 2006 in Bogor, jointly held by The Reading Group and The Religious and Cultural Research Centre of UIN Syarif Hidayatullah.
a ) Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib loudly and clearly said that Islam Liberal must "take root and established itself among Singaporean Muslims " because only this type of Islam which can solve " social problems, evolves Islam with universal and humanistic values and one which will contribute towards humanity in the future ".
Without a doubt, he believes that the Islam as received by the Prophet Muhammad is incapable of providing the solutions to the problems of the modern human being. This is because the true Islam, he argues, does not offer anything substantial to alleviate the spiritual and intellectual hunger of humanity.
b ) As a long term strategy, he suggested that Liberal Islam's proponents be invited to Singapore in order to hold seminars and workshops with local Muslim leaders, and that Liberal Islam must be spread to Singaporean Muslims through articles, books and other writings.
c ) He also said that there need to be an initiative to send " our future Muslim religious teachers and scholars to established Liberal Islam educational institutions such as Universitas Islam Negeri (UIN ) Syarif Hidayatullah " where these Singaporean asatizah will be under the tutelage of Liberal Islam scholars such as seperti Khaled Abou El Fadl, who is a Muktazilite " which in the long run will cultivate an intellectual tradition " in the mold of Liberal Islam.
d ) Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib made a statement that Berita Harian " being a powerful media " will be used also to spread Liberal Islam.
And with the fourth and last article, it is absolutely clear, without a tinge of a doubt, that Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib has a vision and mission to bring Liberal Islam to Singapore. Am I wrong then to say that he is someone who can be held accountable for this effort to bring the Singaporean Muslim comminity out of Islam under the guise of promoting a new vibrant way of rethinking Islam ?
I hope insha allah that today we have learnt a bit more what Liberal Islam is about, the dangers it represent and why we should reject it, wholly and wholeheartedly. The program between MUIS and UIN Syarif Hidayatullah must end, and so must any other endeavours already in the planning to spread Liberal Islam here.
May Allah guides us to the straight path.
Faris Osman Abdat
* A qualification:
Dear Ustaz Zhul,
This is my translated response to Khairudin.
As you can see, it differs in parts from the Malay version. I chose not to translate verbatim because otherwise it may not make sense. In parts, I've to translate according to the essence of what I meant to say.
My English, is of course, all over the place. Feel free to correct any grammatical mistakes.
May Allah gives us success and guides us through this challenging time.