Beyond the debate on ‘kafir’ types


By Dzulkefly Ahmad

Since Pahang Mufti Abdul Rahman Osman came up with his controversial statement about “kafir harbi” in the Malaysian context, much has been written to dispute him. Sufficient are the clarifications made by local Muslim academics as well as muftis who disagree with Abdul Rahman. Many of these writings quote the opinions of renowned scholars like Yusuf Qaradhawi, Wahbah al-Zuhayli, Fahmi Huwaidi and Muhammad Emarah.

In brief, the categorisation of non-Muslims into kafir harbi and kafir dhimmi are neither relevant nor applicable within the socio-political structure of the modern nation-state.

It’s deplorable that Abdul Rahman has refused to back off from his position. Given the current backdrop of deepening racial and religious antagonism, this surely does not bode well for a nation that is urgently seeking to rebuild itself.

But is Abdul Rahman alone in his opinion, or is he in fact the spokesman for many?

This brings us to the fundamental subject of “managing legitimate dissent and differences” within the construct of a polity, namely the Malaysian political context and construct, especially in light of the legislative process.

Islam not only recognises the endeavour to ensure that the rule of law (as-siyadah al-qanuniyah) is upheld and not subverted, but in fact celebrates such efforts and arranges for their positive outcomes.

In the same vein, the multi-party system exists, ideally at least, as a check against the excesses of the government of the day. Al-Qaradhawi alludes to this in many of his writings. This is critical in the upholding of one of the higher objectives of Islam and the Shariah, i.e. to prevent authoritarianism by subjecting the ruler to constant checks and balances.

It is in this context of embodying the objective of the check-and-balance principle (“sunan tadaafuq”) that legitimate dissent and debate are supposed to be upheld during the legislative phase of turning a bill into a law.

Unfortunately, some religious personalities and like-minded Islamic political parties have failed to grasp that a bill, be it a private member’s bill or one tabled by the government of the day, is at best a human endeavour to codify or legislate, at times, some textual principles of Islam.

While the original text may be divine (if it is from the Quran or Hadith), the bill and its framing is at best a human intellectual endeavour (“ijtihad”).

Hence, the process of legislation (“at-taqnin”) must be subjected to critical scrutiny of all the legislators (both Muslims and non-Muslims alike) and a piece of legislation must be debated and endorsed or amended or even rejected so as to ultimately promote the common good (“jalbu al-masalih”) and to ensure protection from harm (“dar al-mafasid”).

The proponent of a bill is fully aware that he must win his debate through compelling, persuasive and superior intellectual argument. Hence, all legislative processes must be totally engaging, civil and constitutional. No one shall take the moral high ground to represent God or speak on behalf of God. No one shall be incriminated or ostracised or ex-communicated for expressing his or her conviction.

It is thus grossly misplaced to pronounce someone who opposes such bills as a “kafir harbi” (hostile disbeliever) or “munafiq” (hypocrite) or “fasiq” (transgressor).

Beyond the Pahang Mufti’s statement and an earlier statement by PAS Spiritual Leader Haron Din lie a deep seated and unresolved conflict of understanding within the Muslim community. A book by the celebrated judge Abdul Qadir Awdah, Al-Islam: Between the Ignorant Followers and the Incapable Ulama, aptly depicts this situation.

If this acrimonious debate is not addressed, we shall witness many more instances of “takfiri’ (ex-communication and ostracisation) or condemnation of legitimate dissenting voices as kafir, munafiq or fasiq. God forbid that this should ever happen again.

Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad is Strategy Director of Parti Amanah Negara

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