Compulsion in Islam?


With all due respect to Associate Professor Dr Ridhuan Tee Abdullah – a well known academic, ulamak and preacher in Malaysia – I must admit of being astounded by his remark at a forum entitled ‘Hudud: Its dilemma and implementation’ organised by Malay-language daily Sinar Harian in Shah Alam on 25th October 2011. (His speech at the said forum can be viewed on YouTube.)

At around the 9th minute of the video, Dr Ridhuan  strongly asserted that Islamic law has to be implemented by force and there is no other way to educate the non-Muslims on Islamic laws than by force. Dr Ridhuan added that the most opportune time for “us” to do so was after the 13th May 1969 incident and lamented the fact that “we” had let that opportunity gone.

During the speech, Dr Ridhuan lamented the fact that non-Muslims, especially the Chinese, have a negative view of Islamic state and hudud generally. Speaking from experience, as a Chinese, Dr Ridhuan insisted that he knows the Chinese’s attitude towards Islam and that that attitude has not changed.

Firstly, I must confess that I am more than a little bit perplexed by Dr Ridhuan’s attempt to connect the racial riot of 13th May 1969 with the idea of an Islamic state and the implementation of hudud or Islamic laws in Malaysia.

The riot of 13th May 1969, as far as I know, had nothing to do with the desire by any particular section of our society, including the Muslims/Malays, for an Islamic state or for the implementation of Islamic laws in Malaysia.

If the mainstream version of the riot were to be believed, that riot was caused by the economic imbalances between the Malays and the non-Malays, giving rise to a deep and seething anger between the two sections of the society culminating in racial hatred. This was sparked by the unprecedented  victory of the DAP in the general election immediately preceding the riot and the subsequent victory march by the DAP. The whole situation was worsen by the election campaigns which were full of racial rhetoric and overtone and the killing of some Chinese suspected to be communists.

Never have I read about the riot being anything about Islam, Islamic state or the implementation of Islamic laws. Even the non-mainstream version of the riot has omitted mentioning anything about those issues being the possible cause of the riot.

As neither Islam, Islamic state  nor Islamic laws was part of the catalyst or cause of the riot, how could Dr Ridhuan surmise that the most “opportune of time” to implement Islamic laws in Malaysia was after the riot? There is an obvious lack of cause, causation and result here. I mean, Dr Ridhuan may very well say that 31st August 1957 would be the most opportune time for all of us to choose Islamic state as the governing model of our nation. I would certainly understand that remark because that was the starting point of Persekutuan Tanah Melayu as an independent state. But to relate the choice of an Islamic state as a model “after” the riot of 13th May 1969 is as perplexing as any suggestion that the most opportune time to implement Islamic laws in Malaysia would be just after the Bersih rally, for example.

Regardless of the lack of any tangible connection between the May 13th riot and the issue of Islamic state, Dr Ridhuan had, by his remark, obviously – or even perhaps, inadvertently – exposed the notion, which could be popular among the neo-right winged-nationalist in contemporary Malaysia that the May 13th riot was “won” by the Malays or Muslims.

Premised on this notion of a “victory” being achieved by the Malays/Muslims during the May 13th riot, Dr Ridhuan quite obviously thought that the Malays/Muslims, as the victors, could have imposed an Islamic state model on Malaysia or implement hudud/Islamic laws as the laws of Malaysia after the said “victory.” Conversely, the non-Muslims, particularly the Chinese, as the “vanquished”, would not have been able to resist such forceful imposition of Islam on them at that point of time.

That, to my mind, would have been the natural conclusion of Dr Ridhuan’s remark.

With all due respect to Dr Ridhuan’s scholarly position, I view that with sadness.

The May 13th riot has no victors. Malaysia as a nation, society and people were all losers on that fateful day and from that dark blot on our history. May 13th 1969 was an absolute failure of all of us as a people. It was a day when we had left our power to reason and rationalise and let our primordial kinship and tribalistic emotions to take over. It was a day when we discarded civility and civilisation and opted for barbarism.

Victory on the May 13th riot and its aftermath, in my opinion, could only be measured by our collective ability and willingness, as a people and a nation, to learn the lessons brought about by the riot and to take measures to address the causes which sparked the riot. Anything else is a failure.

The notion that the Malays/Muslims could have done anything, including imposing an Islamic state model during its aftermath, is a perversion and represents an almost nihilistic view of the riot, its causes and consequences. It is yet another unwelcome addition to the plethora of abuses to which the Malay psyche has been subjected all this while. As a Malay Muslim, I find it absolutely objectionable.

Dr Ridhuan’s lamentation that the Chinese, particularly, has a negative view of Islam and that their negative attitude towards Islam has not changed while at the same time asserting that hudud or Islamic laws must be implemented by force is, with respect, the peak of irony.

It is an irony because one of the main reason why the non-Muslims throughout the world have such a dim view of Islam is answered by Dr Ridhuan himself in his statement that Islamic laws should be implemented by force, regardless of any party’s objection to it.

To many, the attitude of some of our ulamaks and mullahs are reflective of Islam’s supposed intolerance of others, most particularly other faiths and not to mention cultures, breed and creed.

If Dr Ridhuan would stop and think at the repercussion of his assertion as such, he would realise that by making that assertion, he had managed to isolate millions of non-Muslims from the beauty of Islam, a faith that was premised on absolute respect for each other. Dr Ridhuan would do well to realise that the  Kharijite-ist approach towards maintaining Islam as the one and only faith does not bode well with Islam’s core teaching of mutual existence, respect and co-operation.

If we were to force the implementation of Islamic laws in Malaysia, by extension, why don’t we, as Muslims, force everyone to convert to Islam then, if I may ask? The answer is provided by God Himself, when in the Quran He says:-

“Let there be no compulsion in religion.  Truth has been made clear from error.  Whoever rejects false worship and believes in God has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks.  And God hears and knows all things.” (Quran 2:256)

Then He says again:

“If it had been your Lord’s will, all of the people on Earth would have believed.  Would you then compel the people so to have them believe?” (Quran 10:99)

Dr Ridhuan insisted that as a Chinese coming from a family who are staunch non-believers of Islam, he knew how the Chinese feel about Islam. His disdain for the parties whom he always describes as “ultra-kiasu” is well known. Dr Ridhuan may have his own deeply personal reason for that. It is not for me, or for anybody else, to judge him for that. But surely Dr Ridhuan should not let his disdain prevent him from being just. The Quran says:

“O you who believe! Be upright for Allah, bearers of witness with justice, and let not hatred of a people incite you not to act equitably; act equitably, that is nearer to piety, and be careful of (your duty to) Allah; surely Allah is Aware of what you do.” Quran 5:8)

Muslims and non-Muslims must be made to know and realise that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was sent as a “mercy for all the world” (Quran 21:107). He was not sent to force or compel anybody towards Islam or Allah. God says:

“Nothing is (incumbent) on the Messenger but to deliver (the message), and Allah knows what you do openly and what you hide.” (Quran 5:99)

“So if they dispute with you, say ‘I have submitted my whole self to God, and so have those who follow me.’  And say to the People of the Scripture and to the unlearned: ‘Do you also submit yourselves?’  If they do, then they are on right guidance.  But if they turn away, your duty is only to convey the Message.  And in God’s sight are all of His servants.” (Quran 3:20)

Why then do we want to force Islam on anybody? Isn’t that un-Islamic?