Hijrah — in reverse

Yes, “hijrah” is the beginning of the new year of the people of the Islamic faith but my questions were these: has the Islamic intellectual paradigm evolve since the 1900s? Has religion courted philosophy? What is still ailing the “Muslim mind” and what fundamental shifts need to be engineered?


Dr Azly Rahman

I took time today to reflect upon the story of Prophet Muhammad’s (Peace be upon Him) exodus/migration from Mekkah to Madinah in 622 AD, signifying the beginning /Year One of the Islamic calendar.

I posted notes on my Facebook page; a forum I utilise primarily as a tool for intellectual engagement, somewhat like a digital/electronic platonic cave or as a virtual salon of the French Revolutionary period, to discuss anything under the sun with view of deconstructing dominant ideas of the day.

islam religion muslim mosque 1Yes, “hijrah” is the beginning of the new year of the people of the Islamic faith but my questions were these: has the Islamic intellectual paradigm evolve since the 1900s? Has religion courted philosophy? What is still ailing the “Muslim mind” and what fundamental shifts need to be engineered?

These are questions that came to me spontaneously that asked to be posted for members of my Facebook forum I now call the Trishakti salon.

I posted a thought: perhaps the Quran is too personal and personalising of a text to be transformed into a hegemonising and universalising text for an “Islamic state”; perhaps an Islamic state exists in its impossibility, still an “imagined community” ruled by perfect people over perfect people they govern.

Perhaps the Quran is too vague of a grand narrative for political philosophy and that any interpretation of it as one, will run into the unresolvable problem of getting entangled into the complexity of praxis (ideology to practice) of the various “mazhabs/schools of thought”, each competing with each other on what truth is.

And we have not yet talked about the nagging problems of the use and abuse of the sayings of the prophet (the hadiths)

Sense and meaning

I thought perhaps the Quran is meant only for personal reading, best done hermeneutically, in that as many as there are souls in this world, therein lies the number of possible ways to make sense and meaning of how one ought to live his/her life as a “Muslim” or a “person at peace” or have submitted to a life of peace and peace-making.

I don’t know … as Socrates would say … the world of Islam is at best, politically messy, grounded in the triumph of the disabling influences of culture.

I thought, ala the Jeffersonian (American philosopher-statesman) ideal, had the Malaysian constitution clearly separated religion and the state, Malaysians would probably have a less complicated scenario of race-religious relations and class. Rather, race issues would predominate, making resolutions easier.

Countries claiming to be Islamic states are either ruled by dictators or despots, prone to perpetual revolutions due to its internal contradictions.

Like an evolving self and an evolving soul, liberal democracy may still be a useful political philosophy better than theocracy, as Man essentially are not born-sinners to be cleansed by the pepper spray of the state nor born to suffer to be robbed of his rights and be happy suffering,

islam malaysia muslim men in  prayer makmum 070207Rather, I thought, man is neither – the sacred and the profane in him requires a gentle, evolving government that respects his natural rights as man; rights he has surrendered to the state, in place of his happiness perhaps living nobly in the forest or in the paradise he had refused to be banished from.

It is the lethal combination of state and religion that, in the course of history, made killing each other in the name of this or that god legitimate, in holy wars to ascertain who was “holier than thou” and masking the real interest of kings and warriors be they Charlemagne, Chandragupta Maurya, Ashoka, or even Saladdin Ayyubi.

Still, the decade-old question circa 9/11 remains: which god would allow such atrocity as well as the bombing of millions of innocents in Iraq?

Unfamiliar practices

I had another thought as well: in my lifetime i have seen and read about all too often “atrocities” committed in the name of Islam; a child beaten with a hard long cane for failing to memorise a chapter from the Quran, an Islamic religious teacher taking advantage of girls in a marhaban group, Islamic teachers telling students how dangerous the ideas of Socrates are, a band of Islamic teachers sabotaging the teaching of English language, syariah lawyers lying through their teeth and taking advantage of women, imams involved in get-rich-quick schemes, honor killings, female genital mutilation, the religious-criminalisation of rape victims,

NONETaliban with concubines, Tabligh wandering preachers spewing incomprehensibles where a little learning is dangerous, fatwa-making as frenzy and fiesta, the 5,000-strong Million Malay-Muslim rally, and of course men saluting the formation of the cult group Al Arqam’s Obedient Wives Clubs.

Those I have mentioned above are practices of Islam not familiar to me and in fact more of these happenings are making the religion strange to what I know it ought to be.

Maybe it is a postmodern phenomena of the coming of age of a religion. Or maybe, this is a consequence of a failed marriage between religion and philosophy.

In all these, my heart still pays tribute to only the Islam brought by Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him). May Muslims in this age of high speed hyper-modernity and Arab Spring ideology, engineer their exodus wisely.

DR AZLY RAHMAN, who was born in Singapore and grew up in Johor Baru, holds a Columbia University (New York) doctorate in International Education Development and Master’s degrees in the fields of Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies and Communication. He has taught more than 40 courses in six different departments and has written more than 300 analyses on Malaysia. His teaching experience spans Malaysia and the United States, over a wide range of subjects from elementary to graduate education. He currently resides in the United States.