Best Way To Understand Islam
Together with the reform agenda, the post-14th General Election elected government of Malaysia has made a commitment that they will bring a new approach which is based on the spirit of openness, integrity, competency, accountability and transparency.
Aiming mostly at the implementation of a just and transparent political system, this approach undoubtedly will also have some consequences on how religion is being administered. What is mainly expected in regard to religious administration is a more inclusive approach from the government. This would mean more freedom is given to all religious groups to express themselves either at the inter- or intra-religious levels through dialogue and interaction.
This is based on the premise that being a multicultural and multireligious society, peaceful coexistence with mutual respect and understanding among religious adherents are highly needed from all level of societies in Malaysia. As also commented by the new minister in charge of Islamic Affairs in the Prime Minister’s Department, such an inclusive approach is in line with the Quranic principle that declares Islam as a blessing for all mankind. “We have not sent you (O Muhammad), but as a mercy to all mankind (creatures).” (al-Anbiya’, (21):107)
Obviously, such an approach is rather disturbing especially to complacent Muslims who for so long have been pampered with a safe version of Islamic administration, protected by the government Islamic institutions and unchallenged in such a manner by external parties.
The escalating concern among them is that the inclusive approach will gradually open the floodgates of invasion of various ideologies and belief systems that will affect the true understanding of Islam among Muslims. Internally, the rooms given to various minority interpretations of Islam will confuse the general masses who have been properly educated and inculcated with the understanding of Islam based on the well-accepted majority interpretation. It will also finally lead to more divisions among Muslims who are already divided along political lines.
While we understand the reason behind such a concern, it is equally important to emphasise the fact that Islam, as a universal religion, already has made itself open and transparent from the very beginning it came in history. It is a religion that has declared its truth not to any particular group of audience but to all mankind. As a matter of fact, Islam has openly challenged other doctrines and religious beliefs based on proofs and arguments. The Qur’an, for example, calls the non-believers to bring their arguments to prove their truth. “Say, produce your proof if you are truthful.” (al-Baqarah, (2):111)
That Islam grants freedom of belief is very clear both from the textual and rational basis. The Qur’an emphatically says that “There shall be no compulsion in religion” (al-Baqarah, (2):256). In commenting the verse, Imam Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī, a great commentator of the Qur’an, remarked that since God has made truth clear from falsehood, through justification and proof, there should be no coercion in accepting religion.
What is encouraged instead is to “call them with wisdom and beautiful preaching, and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious,” (al-Nahl, (16):125). Thus, based on the above verses, Islam spreads through persuasion and arguments rather than through the sword and coercion.
Indeed, the principle of persuasion and arguments is equally applicable to Muslims in terms of their own belief in the sense that even they have to make sure that whatever they believe in religion must be based on their own willingness and freedom of choice that is guided by true justification.
Rationally, since man is created with the faculty of reason and is made responsible of what he will be doing, he has to be given freedom to judge based on his knowledge and conscience. Hence, based on true knowledge, man will choose what is best for him and that which will bring him to certainty.
Hence, it is pertinent to reemphasise that the nature of the Islamic religion is strongly based on knowledge and understanding which makes it reasonably explainable to human beings. The Qur’an gives strong reminders that one must not stand on something that he has no knowledge of. In explaining the principle of Islamic belief (‘Aqidah), Muslim theologians have strongly insisted on the condition of knowledge and proof as the basis of true belief.
Indeed, we cannot but agree to the fact that being a religion that is meant to be the mercy for all mankind, Islam should be conveyed to all through the best possible ways. For that matter, Muslims must be ready for dialogues and interactions which are important in maintaining peaceful co-existence.
For such a situation to take place in a good way, it is equally important to note that the understanding of religion among Muslims through proper education is of utmost priority. This includes the understanding of important elements of the worldview of Islam such as the true meaning of religion, God, knowledge, man and others based on the original sources of the Qur’an and Hadith and the authoritative interpretations of Muslim scholars. In addition, Muslims should be educated on the basic challenges and problems that beset them either from within or without. Indeed, they have to know the real issues and problems to focus when dealing with their fellow Muslims as well as interacting in dialogues with those from other religions.