Islamic Thinkers is a refreshing change from the incessant dogma and indoctrination I have been experiencing since young about Islam. What I am able to do is to appreciate its argumentations on Islam on an intellectual level as well as challenge its Islamic worldview which I sometimes find highly fallalious and incongruent to reality. This is not to say I am being unislamic or sinful in any way – what I am trying to do is to understand the problem Islam is facing and what must be reflected upon.
The first chapter of the book deals with the Contemporary Islamic World and all its discontents – woman rights, the global Muslim, terrorism as well as poverty and Islam. What was interesting is that, going beyond portraying Islam as a very “liberal” and “dynamic” faith, it emphasized the idea of freedom in interpretation, that Islam is beyond what we believe it to be – absolute homogeneity in thought and practice. Ms Mariana noted:
“The fact is, Islam possesses dynamic interpretations that are suitable to the context of sociology and history. It stresses the maximum use of rational abilities of the mind, while maintaining purity and essence of Islamic laws which have been suited to current progress and development.”
What needs to be emphasized is “interpretation” as well as rationalism. Above all, Islam is all about “interpretation” and to follow every single dogmatic rule without self-reflection is pure idiocy and imprudence. There are so many strains of Islam in Indonesia, each one sounding even more blasphemous than the other, with Islam Abangan which syncretises Islam with animism, Hinduism and Buddhism while Fundamental Islam rejecting such practices altogether. And there seem to be a sudden loss in rationalism in most Islamic teachers who seem to be better at preaching and proselytising rather than teaching and educating the mind and heart.
But who is to say which is right and wrong? Or to follow a postmodernist perspective, isn’t every single view to be accepted since Islam is all interpretation and absolute truth is unattainable? This brings us again to Ms Mariani’s quote that the “purity and essence of Islamic laws” must be maintained in any interpretations, that taking into account the diversity of cultures and dictates of geography, some differences in thought and practise must be allowed.
Another thorny issue of contention in the contemporary Islamic world is rights and roles of women. Its is the view of Ms Mariani that Islamic liberation as seen in Professor Amina Wahad, who led one Friday prayer in the US, and Ms Zainab Anwar are both against Islamic values. And she compares this to the female Acehnese rulers in the 17th century, noting how these leaders were “abdicated not by way of liberation”, that they did not demand such rights as Professor Amina and Ms Zainab did.
I found this point highly incongruent to the argument that the women still have rights because the fact is, the female leaders did abdicate anyway when a fatwa was released by Mekkah that they could not rule. This even though they were highly competent and capable leaders who maintained diplomatic relations with many countries and worked alongside prominent male intellectuals. What I inferred from her argument was that they were great political leaders but when it comes into conflict with religion, they were viewed differently. Which leads me to this question – what are the rights of Muslim women and how can we call this gender equality when the definition of equality is the equality of responsibility, that both the men and women have different roles and obligations to fulfill which will never be synonymous with each other?
She also brought up the problem of the creation of the “New Muslim” or “born-again Muslim” as termed by Professor Oliver Ray in his book, Globalised Islam – The Search for a New Ummah. A “New Muslim” is one who is full of passion who, through a process of “Islamisation”, wants to portray an overt Islamic identity living in a secular country. Also known as the “neo-fundamentalists”, he is not tied to any culture and is hailed as the “pure, genuine or fundamental Islam”. This assumes that Islam in essence assimilates cultural nuances in difference countries and racial grouping, therefore creating a spectrum of practices and beliefs rather than a singular homogenous template as perceived by the “New Muslim”.
This is most definitely one of the most salient reasons why there has been a revival in Islam, that we are suddenly caught in a wave of “Islamisation” all over the world. Globalisation and migration of populations has created numerous Muslim minorities in various countries who sometimes fall into the dogma of being a “New Muslim”. In wanting to make sense of himself, he uses Islam as a sole means of identification, breeding a destructive mentality of exclusivity and denial that is so characteristic of many Islamic communities today. This is an issue which will be discussed later in the book.
The book has been very thought provoking so far. I’m very much interested in learning more about the various Islamic intellectuals, who contrary to popular perception, still remains relevant in the world today. Maybe I should try to take up Islamic studies somewhere in the future.. On top of politics, international relations, Malay Studies, Philosophy and Law. Hehehe.