Classical Muslim scholars never created an arm of government that policed Muslim behaviour. Religious authorities are not originally Muslim but imported from the West.

Classical Muslim scholars never created an arm of government that policed Muslim behaviour.
Religious authorities are not originally Muslim but imported from the Christian and Western political system.

Attacks against pluralism bad for Islam, say scholars

Professor James Piscatori says classical Muslim scholars and rulers have never bureaucratised Islam. – The Malaysian Insider pic, December 14, 2014.

More prominent scholars on Islam have criticised the attacks on pluralism by Malaysian religious authorities, saying that such a trend was dangerous for Muslims as a whole.

At the same time, they also said that the whole concept of having religious authorities, such as the Islamic Affairs Department, is not originally Muslim.

The concept is actually part of a Western political system where the powers of the state were fused with the Christian church.

Islam, said Professor James Piscatori of Durham University, endorses diversity in different religions and differences within the faith itself when it comes to interpretation of the Quran.
Piscatori added that classical Muslim scholars and rulers – who the religious authorities looked up to – have never “bureaucratised” Islam by creating an arm of government that policed Muslim behaviour.

“The question is, who gives them the right to speak on behalf of Islam? They argue that there is a standard of Islam and this is very dangerous,” Piscatori told a forum on political Islam yesterday.

“Regimes that promote the bureaucratisation of Islam actually undermine the larger Muslim community,” said Piscatori, whose field of expertise is political Islam.

Piscatori’s comments follow that of another eminent Muslim scholar Professor Ebrahim Moosa, who spoke up against a recent trend by religious authorities to demonise pluralism and liberalism.

This trend was seen in how Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had on November 25 said that both ideologies posed the most current threat to Islam and Muslims.

Muhyiddin’s comments were echoed by Minister in charge of Islamic Affairs Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom who said that insults against Islam were the result of views that saw Islam in a liberal, plural sense.

In a 2006 decree against liberalism, the National Fatwa Council ruled that liberalism was deviant because, among others, it promoted pluralism or the belief that all religions are equal.

In his response to this, Ebrahim had argued that Malaysia’s constitution had already enshrined pluralism and a form of liberalism by protecting the rights and interests of all faiths and communities.

“If you want to get away from liberalism, you need to tear up the Malaysian constitution and begin knocking down the foundations of what society is about,” Ebrahim had said at a forum in Penang on December 9.

Yesterday, Piscatori also argued that it was near impossible in this day and age to impose one standard view of Islam, which the religious authorities have tried to do.

This is because the whole idea of “authority” in Islam is now fragmented, where political parties, non-governmental organisations and individual scholars themselves can challenge a state-sanctioned view of Islam.

Should they (religious authorities) have a monopoly on Islam? If you look at scripture it clearly states that Muslims are given the ability to interpret the Quran.

“It’s clear cut that Muslims should not be robbed of this ability to reason within these broad parameters.”

The forum, called “Rethinking Political Islam”, was organised by the Islamic Renaissance Front.

Also present were PAS research director Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, Hulu Klang state assemblyman Saari Sungib and IRF executive director Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa.

Another scholar at the forum, Professor Yahya M. Michot, said Muslim sultans and kings of old were not allowed to interfere or make rules on how Muslims should think and worship.

Those who had power were not responsible for religion. Unlike today, those powers (over religion) did not belong to the ruler,” said Yahya, a professor of Islamic thought and Christian-Muslim relations at Hartford Seminary.

The merging of power over religion with political power, Yahya said, started in Muslim countries in the modern era after they were colonised by European powers.

“It was a modern import into Muslim societies by the Christian West through the idea of the nation-state.” – December 14, 2014.

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