LAST_UPDATEFri, 22 Jun 2018 11am

Islam Is Moderate, But Why Are M’sian Muslims Becoming More Conservative?

In the last couple of weeks, the issue of moderation in practicing Islam became the talk of the town following the uncovering of the Muslim-only launderette in Muar, Johor.

A 2015 video of an Islamic preacher prohibiting Muslim women from getting their hair cut at a non-Muslim owned salon also resurfaced not long after that, which also brought different reactions from people.

Those who hold a more conservative view supported the segregation since it will ensure that Muslims adhere to the teachings of Islam, while others see it as restricting and an impractical way of implementing the religion.

But how did Muslims in Malaysia come to this stage of having differing stances when it comes to practicing Islam?

Conservatives Hold True To The Quran And Sunnah

Holding a more conservative stance when it comes to teaching Islam, independent preacher Datuk Ustaz Hj Md Daud Che Ngah said that while the delivery and manner of some Islamic preachers can sometimes be too forceful, the message itself is not wrong because they back it up with evidence from the Quran and Sunnah (traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)).

However, he said that there are those who sometimes use too much evidence from the Quran and Sunnah to deny others, which is not a right approach.

Datuk Ustaz Hj Md Daud Che Ngah. Pic: UtusanDatuk Ustaz Hj Md Daud Che Ngah. Pic: Utusan“A Muslim is someone from whom other Muslims are safe, both from their actions and their words,” Md Daud quoted a hadith (narration of the Prophet) to support his argument while adding that slandering or bringing others down is not how someone should preach the religion of peace.

Although he is of the thinking that Islam is a simple religion that does not burden its followers, Md Daud does not take Islamic rulings pertaining to some issues lightly as they sometimes come with specific rulings, such as when dealing with najis mughallazah (major impurity).

“But you cannot approach the issue with unrelenting will because if you are too forceful, it will not benefit anyone,” he said.

As several preachers have recently come under fire because of the content that they were disseminating, some would wonder whether preachers are given free rein on what they can say and share. To this, Md Daud enlightens that they are all monitored by religious bodies and are also given guidelines as to what they can and cannot say, especially for those who have been given tauliah (credentials) by state religious departments.

He shared some of the restrictions mentioned in the tauliah guidelines given by the Federal Territories religious department, where preachers are advised NOT TO:

- touch on the issue of Rulers

- touch on politics

- issue opinions that can cause confusion and polemic in society

- insult other religions

- issue fatwa (religious edicts)

There might also be those who would argue that preachers are too hard when it comes to issues such as drinking, gambling and such, but Md Daud is stern when it comes to issues like these. 

“If there are things explicitly prohibited in the Quran, I would say it directly. I do not have the mind to be a celebrity, so the important thing for me is, to tell the truth,” he firmly stated.

Muslims Need To Be Moderate As Islam Is Already A Moderate Religion

“Islam is already a moderate religion that calls for a balance between the management of life here on earth and the Hereafter,” religious scholar Dr Fathul Bari Mat Jahya, said.

The scholar who holds on to the moderate stance on Islamic teaching said that many issues arise when people do not actually understand the issue at hand.

Dr Fathul Bari Mat JahyaDr Fathul Bari Mat Jahya“That is why we need religion to balance the dealings in our daily lives and not make it a second choice.

“When we separate religion from our system of living, that is where fanaticism, obsession and weird behaviour comes in,” he detailed.

He added that since Islam is already moderate, what needs to be done is to moderate the Muslims, which can be tricky because there are either those who are too extreme towards the religion or those who are extreme against the religion that they become liberals.

“To be in between these two spectrums, there needs to be balance in all aspects,” he explained.

A progressive and moderate Islamic studies approach is needed to reach this balance and he said that it can only be achieved if the religious society is more open and accepting of the fact that religious knowledge has widened today.

“The syllabus in any university that offers Islamic Studies teaches openness as they learn about the various mazhab (school of thought), thinking, ideas, and methods in issuing a ruling.

“But when they graduate and want to practice the knowledge they have learnt, they are stuck because they are forced to revert and conform to tradition that has been practiced all this while in Malaysia, which can sometimes be irrelevant today,” he shared, adding that this imbalance in education and implementation is caused by the older preachers fearing that their school of thought will die out.

Moderation in Muslims is also needed to build character as Fathul Bari points out that we do not want to raise people who only chase after profit and become capitalists nor too obsessed with the religion that they become backwards and not accepting development.

Though when asked if moderation would then lead to liberalism, he does not think so because he said that liberals hold on to a different set of ideology altogether.

“For liberals, it all comes down to their intentions. It doesn’t matter what they do, what is important to them is their intention. Their intention permits their actions.

“This brings to the view that they can do whatever they want as long as their intentions are good, even if it does not align with the Quran and Sunnah,” he explained.

So to prevent Muslims in Malaysia from swinging to either extremism or liberalism, Fathul Bari suggested for the state or central administration to support Islamic education and widen the space to implement its knowledge that is open for all.

“They need to accept the fact that Islamic knowledge is really wide and that people are more open with their thinking, so this change needs to start now.

“A campaign for openness in difference of opinion in religion needs to be carried out because fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) is wide and not narrow,” he concluded.

Pragmatism Is Needed To The Understanding Of Religion

As many people hold to different stances on Islamic thought and teaching, Former Dean of International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC) Emeritus Prof Datuk Paduka Dr Mahmood Zuhdi Abdul Majid said that it is actually subjective as to what someone considers conservative, moderate or liberal as people look at it at their own perspectives.

He added that these differing views constitute the diversity in Islam and we should accept it instead of accusing and denying one another.

Emeritus Prof Datuk Paduka Dr Mahmood Zuhdi Abdul MajidEmeritus Prof Datuk Paduka Dr Mahmood Zuhdi Abdul Majid“We cannot control the difference of opinion as it will result in everyone being at fault, and this is also diversity in Islam,” he said.

However, he stressed that Islam is already moderate in Malaysia despite the differing opinions.

“We take a lot of things into consideration like the current issues, the climate, the structure of society, but sometimes we cannot avoid differences in opinions,” he said.

While there are those who would argue that Islam in Malaysia is sliding to be more conservative, Prof Mahmood said it is not the question of conservatism but a higher commitment by the individuals to practice Islam.

And he said that this change can be attributed to the advancement of civilisation and the theory of alternating cycle of civilisation.

“This is a matter of the cycle in civilisation as you can see that civilisations that have fallen such as the Chinese and Islamic civilisation are currently on the rise again.

“Islam is spreading because the civilisation has fallen for so long that we call it a transformation/reformation where Islam is rising again all over the world,” he said.

Coming back to our homeland, he said that when it comes to differing opinions in religion, we should let society grow as it is, as good values will sustain, and bad ones will die out.

“It is difficult to control thoughts and ideas but because of that, pragmatists will be the ones that will last the longest,” he opined.

Pragmatists are those that adapt to a situation so that they will continue to be relevant with the times.

“If we were to control everything, we are not being pragmatic in guiding the people in the country towards transformation.

“And if everyone is pragmatic, there would not be any arguments among the people,” was his resolve to the endless debate of conservative Islamisation in our country.

It would be too soon to say which path Malaysia's Muslim majority will ultimately end up following or be stuck in, as Islam is evolving throughout the years. But in this multiracial country, knowing where to draw the line looks like our best option before we become intolerant to unbelievers and those not conforming to a fundamentalist way of life, and worse, end up being misunderstood by the world that once viewed our nation as a moderate Islamic country.