The Truth About Islamic Resurgence
ACCORDING to recent media reports, like never before, the coming US presidential election will see religion or, rather, religiosity as an important factor in determining the fate of the candidates.
Each candidate is trying his level best to project a devout image of himself. The issue of religion is said to be even more vital due to the fact that a vice-presidential candidate is a practising Jew.
But, is this really true? Looking at past presidential elections it is quite obvious that religiosity _ sometimes referred to as family values – has figured rather prominently in many of them.
In recent history ex-President Jimmy Carter’s charm as a family man should easily come to mind. Then in the run-up to the 1988 election, Pat Robertson, the then potential Republican Party presidential nominee and leader of the New Christian Right movement wrote:
“Great segments of the American electorate are awaking to a new sense of patriotism and political concern.
“Led by evangelical Christians determined to bring about a new era of spiritual and political renewal, more people will vote and vote wisely than in any other presidential election in the nation’s history.”
It seems that people tend to buy re-packaged things. Why is this so? Perhaps this is due to the “recency” syndrome.
The mind can only appreciate what it can see happening or what it perceives to have happened recently. Whatever else is irrelevant or non-existent – out of sight, out of mind!
Take, for instance, the notion of Islamic resurgence or revivalism. Some people would wish to believe that the so-called “Islamisation” process in Malaysia is a recent phenomenon derived from the worldwide grand design-like Islamic resurgence in the
1970s or so.
The resurgence is thought to have been promoted by various Muslim organisations, either political or voluntary.
This type of belief tends to infer that prior to this over-hyped resurgence, Islam had been abandoned, or given less importance and prominence.
But, are we not a victim of time-honoured generalisation? In reality there is no single big-bang theory that can account for the starting point of an enhanced assimilation of Islam in Malaysia.
What we are experiencing today is an “Islamisation” process that waxes and wanes. The process takes its strength from an irregular but persistent effort of numerous Muslims over centuries.
The movement and vitality – the continuing ideological role of Islam as a spiritual force; modulating values, demanding certain forms of social organisation, giving shape to a particular vision of the world or history – has always manifested itself in this country.
Evidence of intellectual and spiritual products of Muslim life and civilisation can be gleaned from various annals of history. For example, contrary to conventional wisdom that Islam suffered an overall decline from the 13th century right up to the perceived
resurgence of the 1970s, the religion actually permeated extensively in the “nusantara” or Malay world of Southeast Asia.
Therefore, in studying the enrichment of Islam in Malaysia a thorough reading of the history of this country and its neighbours is required. It will show that during the period learning centres of Islam in Sumatra, Jawa, South Thailand and the Malay Peninsula
flourished one after the other.
In this regard, single source and unique modalities of “Islamisation” are a priori suspect. Similarly, scholars too were not in short supply. In the Malay Peninsula, the torch of Islam was kept particularly bright by eminent thinkers, culminating in the late 19th and early 20th century with Muhammad Yusuf, better known as Tok Kenali.
Among Tok Kenali’s early mentors was Muhammad Ali Abdul Rahman, who published in Mecca in 1886 a collection of hadiths.
In the same year at the age of 20, Tok Kenali pursued his study in jurisprudence and scholastic theology in Mecca.
He had the opportunity to visit Azhar University in Cairo and other educational institutions in the Middle East.
Twenty-two years later, Tok Kenali returned to the Malay Peninsula and became a respectable teacher himself. He began to teach at the principal mosque in Kota Bharu and was later appointed assistant to the State Mufti.
He managed to set up a network of religious schools. Graded textbooks on religious studies were introduced. Tok Kenali developed a system of guided instructions in Arabic grammar and etymology, which was eventually published in 1945, 12 years after his death.
The brilliance of Tok Kenali was continued by his students. Sheikh Uthman Jalaluddin published the tables of Arabic verb forms in 1939. Sheikh Muhammad Idris al-Marbawi, who was born in Mecca of Malay parents in 1895 and returned to the peninsula in 1910, published a series of Arabic-Malay dictionaries.
The first of these, the Qamus al-Marbawi was published in Cairo in 1927. Today al-Marbawi’s dictionaries are used extensively by Malaysian and Indonesian students learning Arabic and Islamic studies all over the world.
Another scholar who was as brilliant as, but less famous than, Tok Kenali was Wan Musa Abdul Samad. He is known to have an independent mind. His willingness to “break the mould” led to the re-thinking of a great number of Islamic rulings.
Wan Musa’s sons, Nik Abdul and Nik Salleh, continued the tradition of improving upon established doctrines.
The character and depth of Muslim scholars of the Malay Peninsula as described above defies the accepted notion that Islam was only revived in this country in the 1970s.
The spirit of Islam espoused by these scholars and those before them was also instrumental in energising a nationalist movement with the aim of seeking independence from the colonial rule.
It was further strengthened when Islam was incorporated into the constitution as the religion of the federation. Since then the spirit of Islam has been embedded in the country’s development and nation building process.
Although not explicitly spelt out as being Islamic, policies adopted and implemented during the last 43 years of independence have been very much in line with Islamic injunctions.
An example is the national agenda of eradicating poverty, restructuring the society and ensuring justice for all.
So why the hype on the 1970s Islamic resurgence? Perhaps it is simply a self-fulfilling prophecy of self-proclaimed revivalists, reformers and whatnot. It is indeed an enticing thought, but rather than we ourselves claiming to be “this” and “that”, why not let
history determine what or who we really are.
Are we really a revivalist or reformist or, are we simply overrating ourselves on the spur of self-indulgence? So in the end where does the myth of Islamic resurgence and revivalism of the 1970s leave us?
Frankly, what we have been seeing happening these last few decades is not Islamisation, but rather politicking of Islam.