Manhaj Malizi: A Malaysian Approach
By: JUFITRI JOHA
Principally, the fundamental pillar of Islam with special reference to the aqidah (creed) is the same everywhere and every epoch. In fact all forefathers of Prophet Muhammad including Prophet Jesus, Prophet Moses, Prophet Abraham and Prophet Adam are Muslim (Abrahamic faith) without any differences except in their respective syariah or jurisprudence which were in accordance with the locality, custom and time. In other words, the substance or the core teachings of Islam is the same since the time of immemorial. Allah has promise to preserve his religion from any fabrication. Hence, in my opinion the Southeast Islam is quite different in style from Middle Eastern Islam but not in substance as I mention earlier. The differences of style between these two regions due to certain circumstantial reasons which I will explain after this.
Firstly, Middle East specifically Saudi Arabia is the place where Islam was born approximately 1432 years ago by the coming of Prophet Muhammad. It seems that Middle East has certain privileges when Allah chooses to send His last messenger to Mekah. Middle East becomes the point of reference in regard to Islam when Islam has expended to the entire world including Southeast Asia. If somebody wants to learn pure, proper and authentic Islamic knowledge for instance Usuluddin, Syariah, Tasawwuf and Tafsir, by hook or by crook they have to travel along to Middle East either to Saudi Arabia or to other Arab countries in the Middle East. They can learn from elsewhere but it is not as authentic as the one in the Middle East. Ironically, Abaza (2007, p.9) illustrates in her article on how the dominance role of Middle East as a main source of knowledge in imparting it to Southeast Asia,
“Comparing these two Islam’s, the Islam of the so-called periphery and that of the center, leads to the impression that the dissemination of knowledge, religious and secular, has been one way relationship. In other words, the Middle East seems set to play a hegemonic role as a donor of authentic culture and religious supremacy exemplified in a domineering orthodox discourse while Southeast Asia remains cast as its syncretistic recipients”.
This one way stream perhaps make the Muslim of Middle East felt superior and everyone should listen to them when talking about religion meanwhile the openness and humbleness of the Muslim in Southeast Asia to learn from Middle East as well as from other part of the world about Islam make them more dynamic and practical when come to the implementation of Islam. Middle East minds assuming that Middle East represents the one and only source of Islamic knowledge. However something must be done in order to break which I name as the ‘Middle East centric’ so that we can see more dynamism in the Muslim world because Islam is not belonging only to the Middle East.
Abaza (2007, p.10) is also drawing an interesting binary opposition between these two regions. As a result it makes clearer in identifying the reason of differences between these two complexes style of presenting Islam. Abaza argues that Middle Eastern Islam is more orthodoxy, harsh, arid, desert, high culture, textual, scriptural, ulama trained, Azhar-Wahhabi Saudi trained, and Arab Habitus meanwhile Southeast Islam is more likely heterodoxy, rainy, monsoon, prolific, popular Islam, laxity, local, oral, ‘adat, syncretic, Sufi (low culture), Abangan Islam, and local adat.
If I can simplify from the comparative study above that Middle Eastern Islam is orthodoxy and literalist meanwhile Southeast Islam is flexible and adaptive to the surrounding needs. That is why, Islam in Southeast Asia is integrally influenced by the local custom which make it well receptive during Islam came to Southeast Asia. In jurisprudence which I learnt during my basic degree provides ‘urf’ or custom as secondary source in enacting the syariah laws as long as not contravening the apparent evidences in primary sources of al-Quran and al-Sunnah. As a classical example, Sunan Kalijaga one of the Nine Islamic saints of Java had utilized shadow puppet as a tool in spreading dakwah (proselytization) among Javanese people whose tradition were shadow and wooden puppet. These traditions were an important means of organizing knowledge in Javanese society where many people depended on
oral storytelling for the preservation and transmission of information. This shows how wonderful Islam had spread to Southeast Asia through culture and custom manipulation and interrelated with the next factor.
The second factor determining the style of Islam in these two regions is about how Islam first came to them. Islam came to Egypt for example when the armies of Islam led by Amr ibn al-‘As opened and liberated the Egypt and took it over from the Byzantines through a series of battle. Despite that, the Copt found that their situation had actually improved. Meanwhile, Islam came to Southeast Asia and Malaysia for example in very peaceful, subtle and tranquility manner through the role of Muslim Sufis and traders and it was accelerated by the conversion of the Malay Sultans. As a result, all helped to spread the religion in the Malays peninsular (Mutalib, 2008, p.25). It is clear shows that how Islam was easily well accepted by the soft people and flourish in Southeast Asia without any single battle or hard resistance. That why Allah choose to send Prophet Muhammad to Middle East and instead of Southeast Asia for example, according to some scholar due to the nature and attitude of the Arab people who are slightly harsh and hard. From my experience in 2003 when I was in Cairo attending International Youth Camp, I found without prejudice that Arab people is slightly harsh, rough, poor management and not punctual. In contrast, Malays as predominant Muslim in Southeast Asia possess strong characters of gentle and soft supported by unique Malays culture. Malays culture according to Esposito and Voll (Serajul Islam, 2005,) provides an integrated perception of religion, traditional values and village and family life. These differences of attitude and nature of both entity in Middle East and Southeast Asia play essential role in determining the style of Islam in ways it is being presented to populace.
Third factor that should be taken into account is the state leadership’s desire to implement Islam in their administration. Before Arab Spring occurred in early 2011, the nature was the persistence of undemocratic and unpopular rulers who against Islamic movements and any Islamic revivalism. Furthermore, they were proxy of United States in Middle East. According to Gause III (2011, p.81),
“Until this year, the Arab world boasted a long list of such leaders. Muammar al-Qadaffi took charge of Libya in 1969; the Assad family has ruled Syria since 1970; Ali Abdullah Saleh became president of North yemen (later united with South Yemen) in 1978; Hosni Mubarak took charge of Egypt in 1981; and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali ascended to Tunisia’s presidency in 1987. The monarchies enjoyed even longer pedigrees, with the Hashemites running Jordan since its creation in 1920, the al-Saud family ruling a unified Saudi Arabia since 1923, and the Alaouite dynasty in Morocco first coming to power in the seventeenth century”.
Majority of them were autocratic, corrupted, backward and anti towards the Islamic revivalist groups. In Egypt for example, Muslim Brotherhood has faced severe turbulence and oppression since its inception in 1928. The Egyptian ruler, by all means will ensure no element of Islamic subversive flourished within the community as a result Muslim brotherhood recruit their members through intricate and secret system and internal promotion however produces members who are strongly committed to the organization (Trager, 2011, p.114). In this regard, through this secret system, Muslim Brotherhood indirectly is among the contributing factors for Arab Spring to succeed.
In summary, the environment of dakwah to blossom within the community was not supported sincerely by the ruler and exacerbated with the bad governance, corruption and economic failure.
Meanwhile in Malaysia as a study case for Southeast Asia, the Islamic revivalism and dakwah were supported by the ruler culminating early of 1980an when President of ABIM (Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia), Brother Anwar Ibrahim dramatically decided to join the UMNO ruling party in 1981. Aftermath, Anwar Ibrahim continued the process of of Islamization within the government and he called for a fuller implementation of the Shariah (Abu Bakar, 2001, p.69). There are two considerations force the increased government intervention in Islamic affairs namely the government’s desire to increase its legitimacy amongs Muslims and to provide ensuring to energies of the Dakwah movement is channeled into politically acceptable activities. Though Islamic movement likes ABIM faced certain turbulences in the middle but finally, the process of Islamization eventually run smoothly and ABIM decided to be “a partner in nation building” with the government of those days to hand in hand building Islamic stuffs. Beginning from that point, the government started to make remarkable progress by establishing International Islamic University, Islamic Bank, Islamic Insurance (takaful), Institute of Islamic Understanding (IKIM) and etc. And today, Islam has indeed been very much entrenched in Malaysian politics and it was illustrated with Mahathir‘s own declaration of Malaysia as an Islamic state, prior to his retirement as the Prime Minister in 2003 (Mutalib, 2008, p.32). Malaysia remains a country where Islam is enshrined in the constitution (Sidel, 2007, p.43) and nowadays Malaysia becoming most influential and favourable Islamic country due to its style of progressiveness and assertiveness in implementing Islamic teachings.
The fourth factor in differentiating the style of both regions is the composition of the races and ethnicity. According to Rizk (2009),
“It seems that across the Middle East our levels of inter-communal diversity and pluralism is limited compared to elsewhere. For us, pluralism means the co-existence of up to two or three communities, whereas in Southeast Asia co-existence can involve dozens of multi-cultural, multi-ethnic or multi-religious communities”.
Majority of the Middle East countries are consist of Arab people. That means they have only one majority race namely Arab. Meanwhile for Malaysia and Singapore for example, they are a plural society par excellence. With the incorporation of Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore into Malaysian federation in 1963, Malaysia becomes more diverse and multi-races country. Historically, British had created a state of polarization which finally created the problem of racial disharmony. At this juncture, Islam came and gave a new dimension to ethnic relations in the country as a whole. Islam became as a solution to communalism (Abu Bakar, 2001). This make Malaysia in special reference makes its own style of Islam and reminded us during prophetic time when multi racial community co-exist and could live happily. Islam therefore, had offered itself a civilizational role.
Final factor is Middle East region located in the middle of the world disastrous conflict between Arab and Israel backed by United States. United States often intervenes in this domestic regional conflict to sustain Israel as their close proxy in the Middle East and at the same time support the dictators in the Arab World to avoid any Islamic insurgency. According to Saikal (2004, p.24),
“This, together with Washington’s tepid reaction and the West’s general sympathy for Israel, galvanized Muslim activists to grow more hostile towards Israel and distrustful of the United Sates”.
It is understandable if the style of Islam in Middle East is more radical in various forms of revolution, insurgency, battle and etc to ensure the survival of Islam. Israel-Palestine conflict is the key factor for instability in this region and Arab Spring will promise something for the achievement and improvement of democracy which according to Profesor Bowker (in his lecture 2011) from Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, Australian National University will be utilized completely by the Muslim to support Islam.
Meanwhile Southeast Asia does not have any major conflict involving directly any big super power especially United States. Thus, it makes this region creating more spaces for Islam to thrive and potentially to lead Islamic world after the failure Arab world.
On the basis of the differences in style between these two region and in contrast with armed separatist mobilization in southern Philippines, ABIM in early 1980 introduce Manhaj Malizi, a Malaysian approach of Dakwah based on Knowledge, Wisdom and Wasatiyyah (moderate) which is somehow or rather suitable and applicable to others Muslim countries particularly Southeast Asia. The Manhaj Malizi refers to the dakwah approach on being independent from any approach taken from early major Islamic movements such as Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Jamaati Islami in Pakistan and Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution in Iran. This Manhaj Malizi adopted based on conviction that the important for Islamic movement to have their own approach by considering surrounding local factors and without blind imitation from any other overseas Islamic movements which have completely different socio-politic and geographical areas (Shahran, 2007).
Shahran further clarify that Manhaj Malizi was formulated on the premise that Malays world has its own challenges and of course it will need to be addressed according to unique model and local approach. Manhaj Malizi is a Malaysian approach based on the foundation knowledge from al-Quran and al-Sunnah which broaden our horizon in dealing with the modern and global challenges on the tagline “think global and act local”. Besides that, Manhaj Malizi emerges from the Principle of Wasatiyyah which combines between the orientation of Salaf (old tradition) and Tajdid (reformation) and it is suitable for multi races community likes Malaysia. Manhaj Malizi could be illustrated as an adaptive approach which takes the local custom into consideration. Manhaj Malizi which was introduced by the third President of ABIM, Dato’ Dr. Siddiq Fadzil deeply rooted and intertwined with the combination of knowledge, wisdom and wasatiyyah. It is in fact, the continuation of Malays Islamic Scholar’s effort before in preaching Islam peacefully to Southeast Asia without any bloodshed. Manhaj Malizi is conceivable to be an efficacy tool to combat two extreme of Islamic streams happen in Malaysia namely the literalist (Wahhabi) and the liberalist (Islam Liberal).
Shahran concludes that based on nature and style of Islam in Malaysia and Southeast Asia in general, it is crucial for Islamic movement to do a retreat for strengthening the middle way of Ahli Sunnah wal Jamaah by highlighting the Manhaj Malizi as a knowledge approach so that Muslim could be brought back to real path of Islam.
Perhaps, Middle East must learn something and in fact many things from Southeast Asia’s experience and uniqueness. During our conversation with Brother Hayder Ghulam, the President of Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV), whereby he stressing on learning from Southeast and Turkey which break the domination of Middle East as a religious supremacy. Having said that, he is also exhorting Australian colleagues to learn from Southeast Asia and particularly Malaysia. After Arab Spring happened suddenly in Middle East, it is the best time for them to learn the different style of democracy and Islamic version of Southeast Asia. One of the aspects that Middle East could learn more as explained by Rizk (2009),
“For those seeking a new model, a new paradigm of interfaith cooperation in the Middle East, the Southeast Asian context should be the first place to look. The lesson for practitioners of interfaith dialogue in the Middle East might be "Go east, young man (and woman)." It is there that we find not only the complexity, to which we're accustomed, but also its accompanying pluralism and wealth of interfaith encounters”.
It is the time for the Muslim world especially Middle East to learn from Southeast Asia. Islam could no longer be monopolized by the Middle East’s domination and borrowing the thought of Mahbubani (2004, p.9) whereby we will begin to see a two-way flow in the passage of ideas between the Southeast Asia and the Middle East this time. At the end Muslim world will enjoy the benefits from the positive interaction and symbiosis between these two regions.
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