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Asri's arrest show inability to grasp Islamic spirit

Dr Mazeni Alwi et al

Nov 5, 09

5:52pmWe refer to the Malaysiakini report Ex-mufti: Conspiracy not political, but religious.

The arrest of former Perlis Mufti Dr Asri Zainul Abidin by officials of the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) at a private function in a residential area on Nov 1 brings into question again the intellectual freedom in Malaysia, vis--vis Islam.

The excuse given by Jais that Asri did not have the religious credentials from Jasi to teach Islam runs counter to the spirit of intellectual freedom in the history of Islam. It also gives ammunition to Jais's detractors and critics over the years that the department is nothing more than a tool of a small group of religious scholars who are bent on imposing their views on others.

By raiding a religious talk by someone who was once a government mufti, and who, to say the least, has the necessary academic qualifications to explain Islamic beliefs, Jais has only shown that it is ill-equipped to take on its critics on an intellectual platform, and has to resort to highhanded tactics.

We also regret that certain quarters have been too liberal in labeling and branding Muslim scholars on the basis of their opinions, with a view to disparage the person instead of countering their opinions with proofs and arguments based on the Qur'an and Sunnah.

By invoking the age-old argument of protecting the Muslim community in Malaysia from confusion, these groups have exposed their inability to grasp the spirit of Islam and have only created a hole for them to hide into every time they are intellectually challenged.

If one were to look back into history, the reason the Islamic world flourished during the earlier period was an early emphasis on 'freedom of speech', as summarised by al-Hashimi (a cousin of Caliph al-Ma'mun) in the following letter to one of the religious opponents he was attempting to convert through reason:

'Bring forward all the arguments you wish and say whatever you please and speak your mind freely. Now that you are safe and free to say whatever you please, appoint some arbitrator who will impartially judge between us and lean only towards the truth and be free from the slyness of passion and that arbitrator shall be Reason, whereby God makes us responsible for our own rewards and punishments. Herein I have dealt justly with you and have given you full security and am ready to accept whatever decision Reason may give for me or against me.

'For 'There shall be no coercion in matters of faith' (2: 256) and I have only invited you to accept our faith willingly and of your own accord and have pointed out the hideousness of your present belief. Peace be with you and the blessings of God!'

Every person has the right, guaranteed by the Qur'an, to freely follow and express his convictions, irrespective of whether he is right or wrong. By emphasising people's right to follow their conviction, the Qur'an reiterates a long standing position, which it traces back to one of the earliest known Prophets, Noah:

'Said (Noah): O my people! What do you think? If (it be true that) I am taking my stand on a clear evidence from my Sustainer, who has vouched safe unto me grace from himself (a revelation) to which you have remained blind (if this be true) can we force it on you even though it be hateful to you? (11:28)

The Muslim Professionals Forum and the Islamic Renaissance Front call upon Jais to be sincere in discharging their duties as protectors of faith. Otherwise, Jais will be just another among a long list of official institutions that need to be thoroughly revamped in order for Islam to reclaim its rightful status as a religion of reason and knowledge.

We also call upon Muslim groups to respect the right to dissent and to uphold freedom of expression, and to argue based on wisdom and not on hearsay or personal attacks, as it is the only Islamic way of dealing with issues affecting the 'ummah'.

This letter is also signed by Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa, Dr Sheik Johari Bux, Manan Razali, Dr Musa Nordin, Dr Jeffrey Hassan and Ali Ghazali all on the board of directors, Muslim Professionals Forum (MPF) and the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF).Join AIP Online Surveys And Win Prizes Today

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