The slippery slope to anarchy

Abdul Rahman Osman

by Maszlee Malik and Musa Mohd Nordin

Pahang Mufti Abdul Rahman Osman’s latest fatwa is a gross aberration from the values of equality, diversity, mutual respect and harmony espoused by the teachings of the Quran and the authentic traditions of the Prophet. Unless this malicious abuse of religious authority is checked with an effective and just political and societal governance, we are surely on the slippery slope to anarchy.

The term “harbi,” as defined by Muslim jurists since the early writings of Muhammad bin Hasan al-Shaibani and Imam al-Awza’ie, refers to persons or groups that can be legitimately killed due to their hostility and aggression against the Islamic state or community. Hence, declaring certain individuals or groups in Malaysia as “kafir harbi,” as Abdul Rahman has done, is tantamount to legitimising the ISIS discourse and could open the floodgates of violent acts on Malaysian soil.

The classification of non-Muslim residents in the Islamic state into “harbi” and “dhimmi” is a historical issue that emerged during the classical period due to the global socio-political conditions then. States were not built on political identities as they are today. The kingdoms and empires of old legitimised themselves by resorting to religious and tribalistic identities. Muslim scholars afterwards reasoned and rationalised through the process of “ijtihad” that the historical context had changed and the new socio-political realities, such as the emergence of the nation-state, had to be addressed differently and appropriately.

In 1839, the Ottoman ruler, Sultan Abdul Majid, issued the Khatti-Sherif of Gulhane, proclaiming equality between Muslims and Christians. This virtually erased the classical legal status of the dhimmis. (Al-Ghunaimi, Mohammad Talaat, 1968: 213)

In a fairly recent essay on human rights, the Muslim scholar Fathi Osman wrote:

“I do not think Muslims have any legal problem with regards to full equality with non-Muslims in rights and obligations. What emerged as the status of “dhimmis” … was historically developed rather than built in the permanent laws of the Qur’an and Sunnah. Many scholars, including the Westerners, admit that the status of non-Muslims in the Muslim world during the Middle Ages was better than what the Jews or other religious minorities received in the Christian countries in those ages.” (See Human Rights in the Contemporary World: Problems for Muslims and Others.)

The essay suggests that the issues of citizenship and nationality, in the absence of definite rulings from the Qur’an and hadiths, should be categorised within the radius of “mu’amalaat” (human relationship). Indeed, Muslim jurists since the classical period have regarded such issues as being within the domain of “ibahah” (permissibility) in efforts to promote the common good (“jalb al masalih”) and to avoid harm and provide protection against it (“dar’ al mafasid”). These issues thus fell within the realm of the ijtihad of the jurists who endeavoured to arrive at the best practices within the socio-political context, inspired by the spirit of the “maqasid shari’ah” (higher objectives of Islamic jurisprudence).

Honour and dignity

Many contemporary Muslim scholars, including Muhammad Abu Zahrah, Abdullah bin Bayyah, Yusuf Qaradawi, Wahbah al-Zuhayli, Fahmi Huwaidi and Muhammad Emarah Syakh, have said that the categories of “kafir harbi” and “kafir dhimmi” are no longer relevant and applicable within the socio-political structure of the modern world. Instead, under the framework of the constitutional modern state that has been acknowledged by most Muslim scholars of prominence (which do not include the spokesmen for al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram and the like), these terms should be replaced by “muwatin,” which denotes citizens who are granted rights equal to the rights of Muslims in the contemporary Islamic state.

God created all human beings, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, with honour and dignity and has elevated their status above other creatures. God says in the Quran (17:70): “We gave honour and dignity to the children of Adam.”

As much as Muslims would like to be honoured and have their dignity recognised, they have to recognise the dignity and honour of others.

Unfortunately, the actions of the few in our country have inadvertently equated Islam with religious intolerance and racism. Their failure to recognise the equality of man before the Creator, their parochial understanding of the brotherhood of man and their blatant impingement on other religions have tarnished the image of the messenger of God as “rahmatan li al-alamin,” a mercy upon mankind.

Peaceful co-existence and harmonious cohesion with other religious communities have been well documented in Islamic history since the Prophet began his call to Islam in Makkah and unfolded one of the greatest political documents in human history, Sahifah al-Madinah, or the Constitution of Madinah (622 AD). This treatise embraced 20 major principles, including unity, diversity, conduct, opposition to injustice, the striving for peace, freedom of religion and the rule of law.

Another illustrious model was the La Convivencia (co-existence) in Andalusia during the Islamic rule in Spain. The spirit of mutual respect and recognition did not only contribute to the flowering of the Islamic civilisation, but also enhanced the Christian and Jewish intellectual and cultural environments. (See Pagden, Anthony (2008). Worlds at War: The 2,500-Year Struggle between East & West. New York: Oxford University Press).

We would like to reassure fellow Malaysians from other belief systems of the mutually respectful, peaceful co-existence and inclusive nature of Islam on human relations in our multi-religious community. Together, hand in hand in religious harmony, we can build a better Malaysia founded on the eternal values of justice, equality, mutual benefit (“masalih mushtarakah”) and the brotherhood and dignity of mankind.

Dr Maszlee Malik and Dr Musa Mohd Nordin are officials of the Muslim Professionals Forum.

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