WHO could better put forth the argument that Islam is not a medieval religion and the ummah are not “jihadists” ready to pounce on infidels at the slightest provocation but Professor Dr Ali Al’Amin Mazrui, one of the finest minds in contemporary Islam, a scholar with impeccable credentials, respected by both the Muslim world and the West.
It was a lecture series unlike any other, mooted by Datuk Seri Najib Razak when he set foot in Perdana Putra, slightly more than a year ago. Despite the demands of prudent economic management and skillful manouevring of the complexities of the political realm, he believes that for the country to move forward, the people must be intellectually motivated and psychologically liberated. He believes in a nation that encourages healthy debate, and one that allows a vibrant, free press.
It was an assembly of political and religious leaders, scholars, thinkers, heads of non-governmental organisations, diplomats, captains of industry, professionals, opinion leaders and journalists. The spirit of the lecture series, sponsored by Yayasan Albukhary, was to open minds, to embrace ideas and to celebrate views, even dissenting ones. Diversity of ideas is the machine that moves civilisations and history.
The history of ideas is being perceived, interpreted and appropriated in many ways. Scholars and thinkers alike do engage in intellectual swordfights, which is healthy and should be encouraged.
In the foreword sent to those invited, the prime minister, who hosted the event, mentions the need to transcend political, racial and religious differences and to ensure there is one voice and one aspiration. That is in line with his mantra of “1Malaysia: People First, Performance Now” that has galvanised the nation.
Managing perceptions and complexities has been our mainstay in the five decades of our existence as a nation. So, the problems bedevilling the Muslims today are not new to us. We have always aspired to be exemplary. We have always wanted, to quote the prime minister, “to champion the principles and values of Islam in this country” and to ready Muslims “to rise to the next level, that of a truly progressive Islam. An Islam that ensures political stability, national prosperity and a knowledgeable society built on the foundation of openness, fairness and equality for all”.
When “Islam” is mentioned, it conjures a particular image, perception and a different kind of understanding. Islam looms large, sometimes terrifyingly so, in the minds and psyches of the Others, especially those in the West.
As the prime minister rightly pointed out about Muslims today, “the time has come to right the wrongs, to get a clearer perspective of Muslims and the role Islam plays in their lives. Muslims themselves need a platform to rethink their stand on Islam and to understand how non-Muslims perceive them”.
Ali was introduced by one of our most respected scholars, Professor Emeritus Tan Sri Dr Khoo Kay Kim. Picking Khoo His choice as the one to provide the citation for our guest speaker speaks volumes of the lecture series.
He has carved a reputation for himself with balanced and open views on religion, racial integration and civilisational divides.
Ali mesmerised the audience with a lecture entitled “A Muslim Century: Myth or Reality”. He was sincere but critical, yet conciliatory. He did not find fault with history like many others for the sake of demonising the West. He wanted to prove that Islam had always been a religion that embraced tolerance and openness.
He used examples from the West, the Arab nations, Africa and Asia to strengthen his points.
He put forth a compelling argument about the need for Islam to rediscover “the seven pillars of wisdom” and “redefine them in the context of the new imbalances in the world systems”.
He sees them as a global ethic. The first pillar is tolerance, which incidentally gels well with the policies of our founding fathers. The second is the optimising of economic well-being of the people, for the Muslim world has been privileged in having a disproportionate share of theplanet’s oil wealth.
He saw the quest for social justice as the third pillar. The Quran tells Muslims that people have been created into nations and tribes for them to learn from each other.
The fourth pillar of wisdom is basic gender equality. He found it unreasonable for others to blame Islam for not respecting or empowering women. He showed how countries in South Asia had produced three powerful women as prime ministers and later Indonesia, too, had a woman president.
“All these cases of Muslim women at the top have occurred long before the United States had a woman president, or Italy a woman prime minister, or Russia a woman president,” he said.
“Even Germany’s female chancellor was elected long after her Muslim counterparts.”
He also mentioned the environment pillar of wisdom — what he terms “the quest for ecological balance and the protection of Planet Earth against excessive exploitation and devastation”.
He argued for “interfaith relations” — the sixth — where great religions of the world must be given the chance for dialogue and cooperation. Not only that, he pointed out how we should learn from some countries which have discarded the convenience of religious division in their quest for placing the right leaders.
Muslims in Senegal have repeatedly voted for a Christian president.
Tanzania has had presidents rotating between Muslim and Christian candidates. Here’s the catch: “No Western democracy has ever elected either a Jew or a Muslim for president.”
Last but not least, he mentioned the relentless search for greater wisdom as his choice of the seventh pillar of wisdom. He gave the example of Malaysia, which is according to him “the most successful Muslim-led country in the world”.
“The United States may gradually be tamed by Islam as the Muslim century unfolds its remaining decades towards the year 2050,” he said.
“Out of the tensions between the United States and the Muslim world a more humane civilisation may eventually emerge.”
Let us wait for that day.
The full text of his speech in both English and Bahasa Malaysia can be accessed at www.syarahanperdanaputrajaya.com.my
Read more: Dr Ali’s sincere, critical yet conciliatory lecture http://www.nst.com.my/nst/articles/DrAli__8217_ssincere_criticalyetconciliatorylecture/Article/#ixzz0od7kIe2F