The reformist tradition


Ahmad Ibrahim Zakaria, The Malaysian Insider

In the early verses of the Quran, of the juz amma, the surahs mention the variety of creation, and Allah implores the Prophet to view the realities around him in a new light. He told the prophet to look at the stars, the sun and the moon, the changing of tides and to the mountains. Muslims are told to ponder the meaning of creation and to seek to understand the meaning of nature.

A civilisation was born from the primitive societies of the oasis because they had a paradigm shift. A people constrained by the deficiencies of the desert and a severe lack of technology and culture were suddenly told to question the science of the camels that they ride, and the high clouds that they pass under in peace. The ulul albab is the one who is conscious and aware of God in every action that he does, and he thinks about the creation of the skies and the earth. He says, “God, you did not create all this for the lulz”.

Islam introduces us to its concept of nature: they are not foreign, alien objects. The trees are not gods, and the mountains aren’t animistic deities; they are creatures just like we are. The quest to understand the stars and the hills implies that there is a relation between us and other creatures, a relation of understanding and respect. Nature around us is also ayaat, proof, as mentioned in the Quran. Creatures around us are the second kitab after the Quran and sunnah, and we read them like an open book.

This relationship in Islam with nature means that a man who claims to be Muslim cannot be someone who separates himself from nature and others around him. In fact it is fundamentally impossible. Tariq Ramadan wrote in his quest for meaning that humans are beings that are constantly in need. We require nutrients, physical and psychological sustenance, which is achievable only through interaction with nature. The fact is that we are not self-sufficient; we need to eat, drink, procreate and all other kinds of desires which are impossible without others, without nature.

Therefore it is wrong for an organisation which moves in the name of reform and islah, to concentrate totally upon tazkiyatun nafs, contemplation of the self, while separating itself from the realities of society and of nature. It is ironic that a movement which seeks to change the people secludes itself from those very people and makes themselves blind to their predicaments.

If the word “islah” is defined by returning to the roots of Islam, then surely we need to reform our relationship with nature, with ourselves, our families and society. And these reforms must have the same aim, that is to achieve happiness, felicity, or salaam, which is peace. We press forward with the slogan that Islam is a religion of peace, but at the end, what the heck is it? We ourselves need to define what “peace” in Islam offers, what are the criteria and circumstances.

What does peace mean for the animals and the forests under Islamic governance? Is it limited simply to the way we slaughter animals and that we read bismillah before cutting down trees? Is that Islamic enough for you? Is it Islamic that capitalistic logging companies build a surau on the forest that they cleared? Islamic reform means that we need to define the term “peace” in this new context. Of course it’s a new thing; there were no tropical forests in the desert. What is our stand regarding the pollution of rivers and the extinction of animals? In order to achieve this “peace”, rahmatan lil alamin we have spoken about for hundreds of years, what solutions do we provide?

A religion which preaches salvation, happiness and peace is a failure if it ignores the realities of its surrounding. An organisation which fails to prioritise their relation with nature, all the while claiming that their religion has a better solution, is probably schizophrenic, delusional.

We ourselves need to define the terms we are using, because the context of time and space, and the location and culture of each Muslim community is so different and colourful. A reformist must not drown himself in the glories of the past, mesmerised with the achievement of his predecessors, but must move forward himself and carry on the tradition. Isn’t it puzzling that we marvel at the fact that Al-Ghazali and Ibnu Rushd were juggling philosophical tirades between them hundreds of years ago, at the brilliance of Ibnu Sina and Ibn Khalid, then we find ourselves loathe to pick up a book and read?

The Quran told us to feed the poor and the needy, in bright daylight or in secrecy. People who hoard mountains of treasures yet refuse to give alms are forever condemned. We are told to care for the orphans and the oppressed. A reformist movement must include these agendas in their manifestos and aims because there are countless verses regarding these acts of kindness and charity, and because the religion of peace teaches us to be in solidarity with the mustadh’afiin, the poor and the oppressed.

If we truly seek islah and a return to the roots of Islam, then surely it isn’t enough to merely preach during after Subuh tazkirahs regarding the benefits of giving alms and donating. It surely isn’t enough to say how the sahabah donates most of their property for the cause of Islam. And it is not enough to call for donations during every frikkin flood and earthquake. These do not solve the problems. Collect all you want, and the poor stay poor, the oppressed kills himself.