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Transcript
THE CHALLENGE OF RELIGIOUS PLURALISM IN
MALAYSIA WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO THE SUFI
THOUGHT OF USTAZ ASHAARI MUHAMMAD
A paper presented at the
Asia Pacific Sociological Association (APSA) International Conference
‘Transforming Societies: Contestations and Convergences in Asia and the Pacific’
Faculty of Social Sciences
Chiang Mai University, THAILAND
15-16 February 2014
By
Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid
M.A. (Oxon), M.A. (Leeds), Ph.D. (Newcastle upon Tyne)
Associate Professor of Political Science
School of Distance Education
Universiti Sains Malaysia, 11800 Penang, MALAYSIA.
Tel: 6 - 04 - 6533 888 ext. 2278 (office)
Fax: 6 - 04 - 6576 000
Email: [email protected]
Abstract:
Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad (1937-2010) was a sufi leader best remembered for the
controversies surrounding his eschatological teachings which led to the Malaysian
government’s banning of his organization, Darul Arqam, in 1994. Loved by admirers but
reviled by the state, Ashaari’s influence cut across ethnicity, nationality and religion, as
mediated through his business concerns which spanned Southeast Asia, the Middle East
and Europe. While the transnational dimensions of Ashaari’s activities were well-known,
aspects of ethno-religious pluralism in his thought, as conveyed in a multitude of written
works published independently, have mostly escaped the attention of analysts and casual
observers alike. With contemporary Malaysian Islam being invariably understood via
ethnically slanted lenses, it would not have occurred to most people that a Malay-Muslim
religious personality would actually subscribe to pluralistic conceptions of society which
are liable to be interpreted as undermining conceptions of Malay-Muslim hegemony
dearly held by the ruling establishment of the day. This chapter seeks to bring to the fore
features of Ashaari’s thought which exemplifies integration between Sufism and political
realities as conditioned by nation state-defined categories. It is argued that while the
terrain of Malaysian Islam had historically been couched in a tolerant and engaged
variant of Sufism, the advent of the nation state has steered its trajectory in a
conservative-like direction which ostracizes sufi groups as alleged deviants guilty of
abhorred religious innovation. In straddling the worlds of both timeless sufi cosmology
and the finite nation state, Ashaari’s model of religious pluralism and inter-faith
engagement offers a potent alternative to the nationalized form of state religion that Islam
has been reduced to in post-independent Malaysia. It is precisely this doctrinal challenge,
coming from a Malay-Muslim expected to abide by the terms and conditions of a MalayMuslim-controlled state, that turned Ashaari into a bête noire of the powers that be.
1
1. Introduction
As a nation state, Malaysia was born on September 16, 1963, out of the merger
between peninsular Malaya - independent since August 31, 1957, with Singapore and the
Borneon territories of Sabah and Sarawak, all of which joined the federation on distinct
terms separate from those relevant to the other eleven states. Since its inception, Malaya
and later Malaysia has acquired the distinction of being one of the most strongly plural
societies among Asian and Muslim-majority nation states of the world, despite having to
withstand Singapore’s departure from the Federation of Malaysia in August 1965. In
spite of its far eastern location geographically situating it within the Islamic periphery, as
measured by the distance separating it from the Islamic heartlands of the Middle East,
Malaysia has made immense contributions to the ummah in myriad aspects: economic
development, educational advancement, healthy scholarly discourse, a political
leadership prioritizing the needs of its majority Malay-Muslim population, and an activist
foreign policy with respect to a global Muslim commonwealth.
Historically situated at the confluence of ancient Eastern and Western trading
routes, Malaysia – a term traditionally used by scholars to describe the whole of
Nusantara or Malay-Indonesian archipelago which encompasses modern Southeast Asia,
has been perennially exposed to a host of Arab, Persian, Chinese, Indian, and European
economic and civilizational influences. Through successive waves of mutual interactions
between the indigenous Malays and foreign Muslims, developed ostensibly on trade and
commerce but behind which lay missionary impulses profoundly influenced by Sufism,
Islam gained a foothold in Malaysia by the end of the thirteenth century. 1 Many of the
early Arab sojourners responsible for the diffusion of Islam in medieval Southeast Asia
were at once traders, Sufis and missionaries, without necessarily distinguishing the
importance of one vocation over the other. A significant number of the Arab migrants
were Hadrami 2 sayyids – descendants of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH: peace be upon
him), who arrived in the Malay world in two waves of exodus, firstly following the fall of
1
Syed Farid Alatas, ‘Notes on Various Theories Regarding the Islamization of the Malay Archipelago, The
Muslim World, vol. LXX, no. 3-4 (1985), p. 162; Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, ‘The Impact of Sufism on
Muslims in Pre-colonial Malaysia: An Overview of Interpretations’, Islamic Studies, vol. 41, no. 3 (2002),
p. 469.
2
Hailing from the region of Hadramaut in present day Yemen.
2
Baghdad to Mongol conquerors in 1258, and secondly ensuing from the ascendancy of
the puritanical Wahhabi sect pioneered by the Nejdi reformer Muhammad ibn Abd AlWahhab (d. 1792) – a process which culminated in the establishment of the kingdom of
Saudi Arabia in 1932. 3 Prior to the arrival of Wahhabi-inclined ideas in Malaya in the
1930s, leading to religious polarization of Malay-Muslim society along ‘traditionalist
versus reformist’ lines as manifested in the Kaum Tua (Old Faction) – Kaum Muda
(Young Faction) conflict, 4 the religious terrain of Malaya was unmistakably pluralist. In
time, the once controversial modernist-reformist Kaum Muda strand, rational in
theological interpretation and pragmatic in application of religious precepts, formed part
of the Malay religious landscape, as evidenced by the mushrooming of Kaum Muda
madrasahs (Islamic schools) which sought to combine the fundamentals of Islamic
education with Western pedagogy and educational techniques such as the assignment of
students to formal classrooms based on age groups, the incorporation of modern sciences
into the curricula, and the introduction of written examinations. 5
Anthropologist Shamsul A.B. has explained Malaysian Islam’s notable tolerance
of local customs known as adat in terms of its dynamic embeddedness in indigenous
society – a structural process which had been going on for centuries and that most
critically shaped the epistemological sphere. Hence Islamic scholarship of the Malay
world has been accustomed to adhere to the spirit of accommodation and wide
interpretation, instigating foreign scholars to employ such provocative labels as
‘syncretism’ and ‘hybridization’ to characterize the nature of Malaysian Islam. 6 Even
though the Kaum Tua ulama (religious scholars) controlled the British-sanctioned Majlis
3
Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas, Historical Fact and Fiction (Johor Bahru: Universiti Teknologi
Malaysia Press, 2012), p. 135; Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, ‘The Sayyids and Non-Confrontational
Propagation of Islam to the Malay World via Adaptation of Local Knowledge’, in Nurul Farhana Low
Abdullah & Mohamad Rashidi Pakri (eds.), Retracing Tradition for a Sustainable Future: The Malaysian
Experience (Penang: Universiti Sains Malaysia Press, 2013), pp. 97–99.
4
William R. Roff, The Origins of Malay Nationalism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967), pp. 5690; Rahimin Affandi Abd. Rahim, ‘Traditionalism and Reformism Polemic in Malay-Muslim Religious
Literature’, Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, vol. 17, no. 1 (2006), pp. 93-104.
5
Abdullah Ishak, Pendidikan Islam dan Pengaruhnya di Malaysia [Islamic Education and its Influence in
Malaysia] (Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 1995), p. 196; William R. Roff, ‘Pondoks,
Madrasahs and the Production of ‘Ulama’ in Malaysia’, Studia Islamika: Indonesian Journal for Islamic
Studies, vol. 11, no. 1 (2004), pp. 10-13.
6
Shamsul A.B., ‘The Impact of Globalization on Religious Coexistence in Southeast Asian and Europe: A
Reflection’, in K.S. Nathan (ed.), Religious Pluralism in Democratic Societies: Challenges and Prospects
for Southeast Asia, Europe and the United States in the New Millennium (Singapore and Kuala Lumpur:
Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and Malaysian Association for American Studies, 2007), pp. 211-213.
3
Agama Islam (Councils of Islamic Religion) and Jabatan Hal Ehwal Agama Islam
(Departments of Islamic Affairs), 7 states with a progressive cohorts of traditionalist
ulama allowed the Kaum Muda to publicly articulate their views, as in the celebrated
debate in Kelantan in 1937 on whether or not a dog’s saliva was considered impure. 8
Their readiness to accept the bureaucratization of Islam, 9 the societal organization of
which had thrived for generations on informal sufi-based associations rather than on
formal identification with the authorities, was itself part of an on-going process of
embedment which snowballed with the creation of the Malaysian nation state.
In a nutshell, Islam as understood and practised by Malay-Muslims prior to the
era of the nation state was unquestionably pluralist. Pluralism as a trait of Malaysia’s
religious landscape was a reality not only with respect to Islam’s relations with minority
religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity, but also in relation to competing
schools of thought within Islam. Malaysian Islam’s provenance and evolution being
indisputably diverse, what we recognize today as Malay-Muslim heritage owes its
richness to the eclectic assortment of religious practices deriving from various ethnocultural
traditions
that
went
through
a
gradual
process
of
indigenization.
Accommodation of mores from a variety of civilizational traditions was the norm rather
than the exception in the crystallization of a Malaysian Islamic ethos, which may be
generalized to the whole of Southeast Asia. While the colonial forces of political
imperialism and economic capitalism bolstered the plurality of Malaysian society,
especially with regard to the importation of migrant labor from China and India to work
in mines and plantations, 10 the roots of pluralism can be arguably traced to the interface
between global and local forces which had been affecting the faith and practice of its
Muslims for generations. In other words, unlike many social scientists who tend to locate
the origins of a new socio-political category of ‘plural society’ in Western powers’
7
Roff, The Origins of Malay Nationalism, pp. 73-74.
William R. Roff, ‘Whence Cometh the Law? Dog Saliva in Kelantan, 1937’, Comparative Studies in
Society and History, vol. 25 (1983), pp. 323-338.
9
Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, ‘The Impact of British Colonialism on Malaysian Islam: An Interpretive
Account’, Islam and the Modern Age, vol. XXXV, no. 2 (2004), pp. 27-28.
10
Mohamed Fauzi Yaacob, ‘The Challenge of Religious Pluralism in Malaysia’, The Journal of Oriental
Studies, vol. 21 (2011), pp. 167-169.
8
4
expansion into Southeast Asia, 11 the present author contends that religio-cultural
pluralism preceded the advent of colonial hegemonic structures in Malaysian society.
Since Islam in its authentic form itself enjoins pluralism, 12 the presumption that religious
pluralism began with Western colonialism, as implied in a few well-known Westernbased studies of Southeast Asia, 13 can be historically challenged.
2. Religious Pluralism: A Conundrum in Contemporary Malaysia
Malaysia’s kaleidoscopic demography has never failed to enchant foreign
scholars studying the country. Robert Hefner of Boston University, for instance, includes
Malaysia as part of a Southeast Asian triumvirate that includes Singapore and Indonesia,
which few areas of the non-Western world can match in illustrating “the legacy and
challenge of cultural pluralism.” 14 Hussin Mutalib, a Singaporean political scientist who
has extensively studied Malaysia, while admitting the presence of “stresses and strains”
in Malaysia’s experiment with a “plural society” which he prefers to call a “bi-modal
society”, praises its “admirable record of both democratic rule and economic prosperity”
and “manageable degree of stability in relations between Muslims and non-Muslims.” 15
Recent researchers, however, have noted that tension between Malaysia’s Malay-Muslim
majority and its heritage of religio-cultural pluralism, which the Malay-dominated state
vacillates between honoring on the one hand in tandem with globalization and
11
Cf. Robert W. Hefner, ‘Introduction: Multiculturalism and Citizenship in Malaysia, Singapore and
Indonesia’, in Robert W. Hefner (ed.), The Politics of Multiculturalism: Pluralism and Citizenship in
Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2001), p. 4.
12
Arguments in favor of Islam’s compatibility with religious pluralism may be found in writings of
renowned Muslim scholars, see for example, Azyumardi Azra, ‘An Islamic Perspective of Religious
Pluralism in Indonesia: The Impact of Democracy on Conflict Resolution’, in Nathan (ed.), Religious
Pluralism in Democratic Societies, pp. 225-227; Mohammad Hashim Kamali, ‘Diversity and Pluralism: A
Qur’anic Perspective’, Islam and Civlisational Renewal, vol. 1, no. 1 (2009), pp. 27-54; and Sidek Baba,
‘Madinah kota contoh masyarakat majmuk’ [Medina city as an exemplary plural society], Berita Harian,
August 22, 2013. For a non-Muslim view extolling the virtues of Islam’s heritage of pluralism, see William
White, ‘Medina Charter and Pluralism’, The Fountain, issue 76 (July-August 2010),
http://www.fountainmagazine.com/Issue/detail/Medina-Charter-and-Pluralism (accessed January 2, 2014).
13
Cf. J.S. Furnivall, Colonial Policy and Practice: A Comparative Study of Burma and Netherlands India
(New York: New York University Press, 1948).
14
Hefner, ‘Introduction: Multiculturalism and Citizenship in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia’, p. 4.
15
Hussin Mutalib, ‘Religious Diversity and Pluralism in Southeast Asian Islam: The Experience of
Malaysia and Singapore’, in Nathan (ed.), Religious Pluralism in Democratic Societies, pp. 40-43.
5
downplaying on the other hand in the face of Malay-Muslim ethnocentric appeals, have
increased to a considerable degree. In her 2006 presidential address to the American
Academy of Religion, for example, Diana L. Eck, progenitor of the Pluralism Project at
Harvard University, includes Malaysia as one of the “complex cultures” now “challenged
in new ways by their own pluralities, by new global elites, by transnational mission
movements, and by new articulations of nationalism.” 16 One powerful indicator of this
embattling state of affairs is the very slow progress, and some might even say decline, in
the field of inter-faith dialogue and other forms of inter-religious engagements. 17 In many
ways, religious responses to globalization not only vary widely, but also appear to show
contradictory signs which do not necessarily augur well for the future of pluralism.
As noted by a number of chroniclers, since 2006 conflict situations pitting
Malaysia’s
non-Muslim
minorities
against
the
Malay-Muslim-dominated
state
spearheaded by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) - chief component of
the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN: National Front) coalition, have escalated to such an
extent that ethno-religious relations have deteriorated to a new putative low. Especially
gaining international notoriety have been judicial verdicts and administrative decisions
putting Malaysia’s Christian and Hindu communities on the defensive by denying them
the rights to use certain words of Arabic origin such as ‘Allah’ in a religious sense, 18 by
tightening bureaucratic hurdles against the legality of non-Muslim places of worship and
by claiming burial rights to corpses of purported converts to Islam despite evidence from
16
Diana L. Eck, ‘Prospects for Pluralism: Voice and Vision in the Study of Religion’, Journal of the
American Academy of Religion, vol. 75, no. 4 (2007), p. 744.
17
Osman Bakar, ‘Islam and the Challenge of Diversity and Pluralism: Must Islam Reform Itself?’, Islam
and Civlisational Renewal, vol. 1, no. 1 (2009), p. 69; Rahimin Affandi Abd. Rahim, Mohd Anuar Ramli,
Paizah Ismail and Nor Hayati Mohd Dahlal, ‘Dialog Antara Agama: Realiti dan Prospek di Malaysia’
[Religious Dialogue: Its Reality and Prospects in Malaysia], Kajian Malaysia: Journal of Malaysian
Studies, vol. 29, no. 2 (2011), pp. 95-97.
18
On October 14, 2013, the Court of Appeal overturned a High Court decision in 2009 permitting the use
of word ‘Allah’ as a reference to God in the Malay language section of The Herald, a Catholic publication.
In ruling that the term ‘Allah’ was not integral to the faith and practice of Christianity. the latest judicial
verdict put indigenous Christians of Sabah and Sarawak in a dilemma, for they have been conducting
services in their native languages and Malay for generations, thus freely using ‘Allah’ in their liturgies. In
spite of widespread protestations against usurpation of an age-old native religious custom, the Malaysian
government’s official spokesman for Islam has been uncompromising in insisting on the exclusive use of
‘Allah’ for Muslims; see Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Jamil Khir Baharom’s statement in
‘Minister reiterates ‘Allah’ only for Muslims’, The Star Online, November 12, 2013
http://www.thestar.com.my/News/Nation/2013/11/12/Minister-reiterates-Allah-only-for-Muslims.aspx
(accessed December 7, 2013).
6
the bereaved families that the deceased had not practised Islam. 19 While the Islamist
conservatives - referring to the alliance of state-connected groups and Malay-Muslim
non-governmental organizations (NGOs), 20 assert the primacy of Islam in the politicolegal edifice of the nation in line with Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution, 21 they are
rivalled by an increasingly vocal assortment of non-Muslim and liberal Muslim activists
who have come to the defence of religious freedom as guaranteed under Article 11 of the
the Federal Constitution. 22 Paradoxically, this worrying state of affairs has transpired
concurrently with the official adoption in Malaysia of Islam Hadhari - often translated as
‘civilizational Islam’, and which seeks to present a moderate, inclusive and tolerant
message. The pluralist vision of its most ardent proponent, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi –
Prime Minister from 2003 to 2009, is given credence by his open advocacy of interreligious dialogue in a speech delivered to the World Council of Churches assembly in
August 2004:
Let us go beyond arguing over differences in theology and religious practice. A
meaningful dialogue will not be possible if we do not respect each other’s
freedom of worship. Islam enjoins pluralism and we are reminded of it in the
Quranic verse “To you your religion, to me my religion. 23
19
Cf. Yeoh Seng Guan, ‘In Defence of the Secular? Islamisation, Christians and (New) Politics in Urbane
Malaysia’, Asian Studies Review, vol. 35, no. 1 (2011), pp. 83-103; Gerhard Hoffstaedter, ‘Secular state,
religious lives: Islam and the state in Malaysia’, Asian Ethnicity, vol. 14, no. 4 (2013), pp. 475-489; Rita
Camilleri, ‘Religious Pluralism in Malaysia: the Journey of Three Prime Ministers’, Islam and ChristianMuslim Relations, vol. 24, no. 2 (2013), pp. 225-240.
20
Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, ‘Islamist Conservatism in Malaysia’, New Mandala, December 7, 2013,
http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2013/12/07/islamist-conservatism-in-malaysia/ (accessed January
4, 2014).
21
Article 3(1) reads: “Islam is the religion of the Federation, but other religions may be practised in peace
and harmony in any part of the Federation.” See Federal Constitution With Index (Kuala Lumpur: MDC
Publishers Printers, 1998), p. 1.
22
Article 11 confers on every individual the right to profess, practise and propagate his religion, but the
propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among Muslims may be controlled or restricted by state law,
or in respect of the Federal Territory, by federal law. Article 11 also authorizes all religious groups to
manage their own religious affairs, to establish and maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes
and to acquire, possess, hold and administer property in accordance with the law. See Federal Constitution
With Index, pp. 6-7.
23
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, ‘Dialogue The Key To Unity Of Multireligious, Multiethnic And Multicultural
Societies’, Speech At The Plenary Commision On Faith And Order Of The World Council Of Churches,
August 3, 2004, http://www.pmo.gov.my/ucapan/?m=p&p=paklah&id=2874 (accessed January 4, 2014).
7
Badawi, unfortunately, did not survive the intricacies of UMNO’s internal
politics. Having to bear the brunt of blame for losses suffered by the ruling BN and
UMNO in the Twelfth General Elections (GE) of March 2008, he relinquished power to
Najib Razak, whose lip service to Islam Hadhari has not been sufficient to prevent its
eclipse in favour of a new national unity scheme called One Malaysia. 24 Beleaguered by
the rising tide of Islamist conservatism within UMNO, Najib has been at pains to
moderate the ethnocentric demands of its rank and file members, whose swerving to the
right of the political spectrum has accelerated ever since the Thirteenth GE results of May
2013 appeared to show that UMNO could raise its parliamentary representation by
appealing to the ethno-religious sentiments of the mainly rural Malay-Muslim masses, the
virtual obliteration of BN’s non-Malay component parties notwithstanding. 25
It is common now to find statements made by politicians of the ruling party
declaring a steadfast opposition to the very notion of religious pluralism, the espousal of
which is taken as threatening the primary position of Islam as guaranteed by the Federal
Constitution. Self-proclaimed guardians of Malaysian Islam, most of whom are
organically linked to the state, have further argued that any hint of recognition of
religious pluralism by Muslims was tantamount to them compromising their aqidah
(faith), hence putting their status as Muslims in question. 26 In Malaysia, where the
coterminous nature between affiliation to Islam and Malay ethnicity is constitutionally
entrenched, this gives rise to further issues with regard to economic entitlements afforded
to the mainly Malay-Muslim Bumiputera 27 communities. Hence abundant calls have been
made lately to strictly confine the meaning of ‘Muslim’ and therefore ‘Malay’ to those
professing the orthodox Sunni branch of Islam, manifestly excluding Malay Shi’ites and
24
Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid and Muhamad Takiyuddin Ismail, ’Islamist Conservatism and the Demise of
Islam Hadhari in Malaysia’, Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, April 2014, forthcoming.
25
Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, Political Islam and Islamist Politics in Malaysia, Trends in Southeast Asia
monograph series #02 (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2013), pp. 7-20.
26
Cf. Zainul Rijal Abu Bakar, ‘Pluralisme boleh gugat akidah Islam’ [Pluralism can threaten Islamic faith],
Berita Harian, March 21, 2011; ‘Fahaman pluralisme, Islam liberal menyimpang’ [Pluralism and liberal
Islam are deviationist], Utusan Malaysia, May 18, 2011; Rahmah Ghazali and Dina Murad, ‘Muslim
leaders hail court ruling on 'Allah' word usage’, The Star Online, October 14, 2013,
http://www.thestar.com.my/News/Nation/2013/10/14/Herald-Allah-Muslims-leaders-hail-ruling.aspx
(accessed November 9, 2013).
27
Literally, ‘sons of the soil’, referring to segments of the population officially accepted as indigenous, and
are therefore entitled to be recipients of various affirmative action programs under the New Economic
Policy (NEP) enunciated by the Malaysian government in 1971, in response to the racial riots which
engulfed Kuala Lumpur in May 1969.
8
a host of unorthodox Muslims accused of being ‘religious deviants’. 28 Many of these socalled deviant groups are in one way or another connected with Sufi teachings, which
become so easily conflated with theological heterodoxy in the eyes of Wahhabiinfluenced ulama who have infiltrated Malaysia’s religious bureaucracy in recent years.
They have sought to disguise their virulent anti-Sufi and anti-Shi’ite postures behind the
cloak of Islamic officialdom ostensibly sanctioned by orthodox Sunni beliefs, when in
actual fact such beliefs have acquired Wahhabi flavor carefully dressed up in reformist
garb otherwise known as ‘Salafi’ - referring to the generations of pious ancestors who
lived up to three hundred years after the passing away of the Prophet Muhammad
(PBUH).
This new coterie of Wahhabi-Salafi inspired ulama have arguably converted
Malaysia’s Islamic bureaucracy, whose main arm - the Department of Islamic
Advancement
of
Malaysia
(JAKIM: Jabatan
Kemajuan
Islam Malaysia) is
jurisdictionally situated under the Prime Minister’s Department, into an Islamist one,
intent on safeguarding the sanctity of Islam by not only relegating non-Muslims to
inconsequential positions within the body politic, but also flushing out elements within
Muslim society deemed as ‘undesirable’ and unworthy to be even called ‘Muslim’ on
account of their purported deviancy from the true path. 29 This is not surprising in view of
the long-standing Wahhabi-Salafi penchant for excommunicating fellow Muslims who
refuse to succumb to their skewed understanding of religion. 30 Apart from the
28
‘Recognise only Sunni Islam as official religion, says Umno Youth’, MSN News, December 4, 2013,
http://news.malaysia.msn.com/tmi/recognise-only-sunni-islam-as-official-religion-says-umno-youth
(accessed December 8, 2013); ‘Amend Federal Constitution so only Sunnis are recognised as Muslims,
suggests
Penang
Umno
delegate’,
The
Star
Online,
December
7,
2013,
http://www.thestar.com.my/News/Nation/2013/12/07/Umno-Sunni-amend--Fed-Consti/ (accessed January
3, 2014); Boo Su-Lyn, ‘In ‘Islamist’ Umno, analysts see a nation torn by religion’, The Malay Mail Online,
December 10, 2013, http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/in-islamist-umno-analysts-see-anation-torn-by-religion (accessed December 30, 2013).
29
An example of JAKIM’s chastisement of non-Muslims for claiming the right to employ the name ‘Allah’
in referring to God is reported in ‘Jakim uses Friday sermon to attack non-Muslims over use of Allah’,
MSN News, September 6, 2013, http://news.malaysia.msn.com/malaysia-news/jakim-uses-friday-sermonto-attack-non-muslims-over-use-of-allah (accessed September 9, 2013). For arguments pertaining to the
necessary denial of the status of full citizenship to denizens who reject the version of political Islam that
would take place in a state run by doctrinaire Islamists, irrespective of whether they are non-Muslims or
non-conformist or secular Muslims, see Adel Daher, ‘Democracy, Pluralism and Political Islam’, in Abdou
Filali- Ansary and Sikeena Karmali (eds.), Pluralism in Muslim Contexts (Edinburgh: Edinburgh
University Press, 2009), pp. 62-77.
30
Zamihan Mat Zin Al-Ghari, Siapa Sebenarnya Wahhabiy? [Who Are the Actual Wahhabis?], Puchong:
Kemah Enterprise, pp. 56-58.
9
discriminatory treatments afforded to unbelievers and rogue Muslims as ‘recalcitrant’
members of their Islamist commonwealth, yet another indicator of creeping WahhabiSalafi bias in defining the path taken by state-managed Islam in Malaysia are the overtly
legalist approach adopted in implementing Islam, with an obsession for the imposition of
sharia (Islamic law)-inspired criminal punishments and coercive law enforcement, some
of which have dragged the bureaucracy into controversy over alleged double standards
and gross human rights violations perpetrated during raids on suspected offenders. 31 As
long time ethnographer of Malaysian Islam Judith Nagata recently concludes of the
prevailing environment today:
It is noteworthy how expressions of Sufism, once the most widespread form of
Islam and [sic] Southeast Asia, and active in the Malay states until the Pacific
war, have been repressed under the narrow, Sunni Syariah style of Islam
promoted as orthodox by the UMNO state. Likewise, any hint of Shi’ism, once
again more evident in local history, has been shunned as heretical by the
government. 32
The latest anti-pluralist trajectory taken up by the Malaysian state is unduly
essentialist in confining the understanding of religious pluralism to theological aspects,
and unfortunate in effectively renouncing the rich and motley sources of Malaysian
Islam. Both tendencies are obscurantist in orientation. Scholars have conceptualized
religious pluralism from several angles. Eck, for instance, in conceiving religious
pluralism as active “engagement” rather than mere “enumeration of difference” or
“celebration of diversity in a spirit of good will,” discusses it separately as an academic
issue, a civic issue and as a strand of theological thinking. 33 Mohamed Fauzi Yaacob
admits that only in one sense i.e. that of religious pluralism meaning “accepting the
beliefs taught by religions other than one’s own as valid” does the notion arouse
31
Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, ‘Politically Engaged Muslims in Malaysia in the Era of Abdullah Ahmad
Badawi (2003-2009)’, Asian Journal of Political Science, vol. 18, no. 2 (2010), pp. 164-169; Maznah
Mohamad, ‘The Ascendance of Bureaucratic Islam and the Secularization of the Sharia in Malaysia’,
Pacific Affairs, vol. 83, no. 3 (2010) pp. 505-524.
32
Judith Nagata, ‘Boundaries of Malayness: “We Have Made Malaysia: Now It is Time to [Re]Make the
Malays but Who Interprets the History?”’, in Maznah Mohamad and Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied (eds.),
Melayu: The Politics, Poetics and Paradoxes of Malayness (Singapore: National University of Singapore
Press, 2011), p. 25.
33
Eck, ‘Prospects for Pluralism’, p. 758.
10
controversy, 34 but it is this understanding that has been so essentialized in Malaysia’s
public discourse pertaining to the matter, that public figures hesitate to employ the term
positively in other senses, lest they be misconstrued as having compromised their Islamic
faith. Moreover, pluralism in Malaysian popular parlance has been identified with
theological deviancy as purportedly espoused and spread by opposition icon Anwar
Ibrahim, a former Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy President of UMNO sacked by
Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in September 1998. 35 That talk of pluralism is
taboo among Malaysia’s public intellectuals was confirmed by the present author during
a question-and-answer session following a public lecture entitled “The Heart of the
Problems Vis-à-vis the Problems of the Heart” by Mohd. Kamal Hassan, former Rector
of the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM) (1999-2006) and currently
Distinguished Professor of its International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization
(ISTAC), at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Penang, Malaysia on October 21, 2013.
Mohd. Kamal masterfully discussed antidotes of global civilizational crises of the twentyfirst century by approvingly drawing together from the spiritual traditions of Christianity,
Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Islam. 36 Yet, when questioned by the present
author whether he was not laying himself open to being labelled a pluralist by engaging
in such an intellectual exercise, Mohd. Kamal vehemently denied being one because he
was not implying that all religions were the same.
That Sufism exerted overriding influence on the genesis, history and development
of Islam in Malaysia, is undisputed by a legion of scholars, notwithstanding minor
differences amongst them with respect to the precise timing of the advent of Islam, the
ethnographic origins of the missionaries and adherents, and the modalities of the
diffusion of Islam. 37 The imprint left by Shi’ism on the formative phases of Malaysian
34
Mohamed Fauzi Yaacob, ‘The Challenge of Religious Pluralism in Malaysia’, p. 167.
‘Anwar sering bawa mesej fahaman pluralisme agama’ [Anwar often promotes the message of religious
pluralism], Utusan Malaysia, December 15, 2010; Zaini Hassan, ‘Antara Syed Naquib dan Anwar’
[Between Syed Naquib and Anwar], Utusan Malaysia, October 10, 2012.
36
Mohd. Kamal Hassan, ‘The Heart of the Problems Vis-à-vis the Problems of the Heart’, Centre for
Islamic Development Management Studies (ISDEV) Public Lecture, Monday 21st October 2013 (Penang:
Universiti Sains Malaysia, 2013), pp. 30-48.
37
Cf. S.Q. Fatimi, Islam Comes to Malaysia (edited by Shirle Gordon) (Singapore: Malaysian Sociological
Research Institute, 1963), pp. 23, 35, 71-83, 93-100; Syed Naguib Al-Attas, Some Aspects of Sufism as
Understood and Practised Among the Malays (edited by Shirle Gordon) (Singapore: Malaysian
Sociological Research Institute, 1963); Dr. Syed Naguib Al-Attas, Preliminary Statement on a General
Theory of the Islamisation of the Malay-Indonesian Archipelago (Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan
35
11
Islam has been no less significant, as mentioned specifically in a number of works, 38 and
further evidenced by the many age-old religio-cultural traits of Malay-Muslims that trace
their ancestry to Shi’ite religious festivities. 39 Yet, in clamping down on the local Shi’ite
community, the Malaysian state appears to be purposely oblivious to such contributions,
preferring to treat local manifestations of Shi’ism as being of recent import from postrevolutionary Iran, as alien to Malay culture and as potentially threatening to Malay
unity. 40 As Home Minister Dr. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi recently pointed out when alleging
that the leadership of the opposition Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS: Parti Islam
SeMalaysia) had been infiltrated by Shi’tes, “In Islam, we cannot have another mazhab
(sect) because it will cause disunity among the Muslim community. I am looking at this
from the security point of view. I do not want what has happened (civil war) in other
countries to occur in Malaysia.” 41
Needless to say, the Malaysian state’s prioritization of local political interests
over socio-religious veracity has undermined the civilizational qualities of a strand of
moderate Islam which the government fervently claims to uphold during many
international meetings. To deny the pluralist traits of such a form of Islam, in both
thought and practice, is to do great injustice to its torchbearers, who have expressed
immense pride in the amazingly vast degree of tolerance showered upon religious
minorities during the vibrant days of medieval Islamic empires. 42
Pustaka, 1969), p. 5; Anthony H. Johns, ‘Islamisation in Southeast Asia: Reflections and Reconsiderations
with Special reference to the Role of Sufism’, Southeast Asian Studies, vol. 31, no. 1 (1993), pp. 43-61;
Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, ‘The Impact of Sufism on Muslims in Pre-colonial Malaysia: An Overview of
Interpretations’, Islamic Studies, vol. 41, no. 3 (2002), pp. 467-493.
38
Fatimi, Islam Comes to Malaysia, p. 47; Profesor Dr Burhanuddin Al-Helmi, Simposium Tasawuf dan
Tarikat [A Symposium of Sufism and Tariqa] (Ipoh: Pustaka Muda, 2005), p. 35.
39
Mohd Faizal Musa, ‘The Malaysian Shi’a: A Preliminary Study of Their History, Oppression, and
Denied Rights’, Journal of Shi’a Islamic Studies, vol. VI, no. 4 (2013), pp. 413-434; Dr Mohd Faizal Musa,
‘Malaysian Shi’ites Lonely Struggle’, Pensee, vol. 75, no. 12 (2013), pp. 343-344.
40
Christoph Marcinkowski, ‘Aspects of Shi’ism in Contemporary Southeast Asia’, The Muslim World, vol.
98, no. 1 (2008), pp. 37-47.
41
Lee Yee Mun, ‘Zahid Hamidi stands firm on "PAS number two" Syiah statement’, The Star Online,
December 9, 2013 http://www.thestar.com.my/News/Nation/2013/12/09/Zahid-Hamidi-stands-firm-onMat-Sabu-statement/ (accessed January 4, 2013).
42
Cf. Nur Yalman,’The Diversity of Cultures in the Crucible of Globalisation’, in Abdou Filali-Ansary and
Sikeena Karmali (eds.), Pluralism in Muslim Contexts, pp. 103-108.
12
3. Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad as a Contemporary Sufi Thinker of Malaysia
For a period spanning close to four decades (1970-2010), Ustaz Ashaari
Muhammad (1937-2010) distinguished himself as one of the foremost Islamist
practitioners within the milieu of contemporary Islamic revival in Malaysia through the
Darul Arqam movement (1968-1994) and its two organizational successors, Rufaqa’
Corporation (1997-2007) and Global Ikhwan (founded 2008). Darul Arqam was banned
by the Malaysian government in 1994 for allegedly espousing and spreading sufi
teachings labelled as sesat dan menyesatkan (deviant and deviationist), to use Malaysia’s
religious vocabulary. Upon Darul Arqam’s legal proscription, which ensued from
Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council (NFC)’s pronouncement of theological heterodoxy
attributed to the movement, the state embarked on a massive clampdown on its entire
organizational structure. This resulted in Ashaari, his family members and high-ranking
leaders of his congregation being apprehended without trial under the now abolished
Internal Security Act (ISA) and served a restriction order. Ashaari was himself separated
from larger society, confined to the district of Gombak in the state of Selangor which
borders the federal capital city of Kuala Lumpur (1994-2002), and later to Labuan island
off the coast of Sabah in Malaysia’s eastern portion of Borneo (2002-2004).
By the time he won back his freedom in October 2004, Ashaari was suffering
heavily from a lock jaw disease which hampered his oral communication. He was to
survive until May 2010, continuing to amass a large following among practitioners of the
Aurad Muhammadiah tariqah (sufi order), whose epistles he had inherited from his uncle
at the age of sixteen. The companies he founded and led as executive chairman until his
demise, Rufaqa’ Corporation and Global Ikhwan, while officially registered as business
entities, were in actual fact platforms for him to continually engage with his disciples
during his virtual incarceration. Both Rufaqa’ and Global Ikhwan, while maintaining
astounding transcontinental business activism which had also been a distinctive
trademark of Darul Arqam, consistently locked horns with Malaysia’s Islamic authorities
13
over their purported resuscitation of outlawed sufi doctrines. 43 The controversy arose
over such questions as the alleged additions to the Islamic shahadah (testament of faith)
in their epistles, the validity of Aurad Muhammadiah as a collection of dhikr
(remembrances of Allah) inherited directly from the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) via
spiritual communication, the permissibility of invoking the awliya’ (saints) of Allah
during prayer by tawassul (intercession) and the conditional belief in the messianic
attributes of the founder of Aurad Muhammadiah, the Javanese-born Syeikh Muhammad
Abdullah As-Suhaimi (d. 1925). Discussed elsewhere by the present author in several
other scholarly contributions, 44 these theological disputations have been ascribed by
Ashaari to the penetration of Wahhabi-Salafi doctrinaires into the then Islamic Center
(Pusat Islam), the precursor of JAKIM. 45
Ashaari’s constant embroilment with controversy has overshadowed his
contributions to knowledge. Already an author of over seventy books and treatises by the
time Darul Arqam was officially proscribed in August 1994, Ashaari went on to produce
more than twenty large volumes of thoughts, essays, reflections and poems covering a
variety of subjects of wide relevance to Malaysia and the ummah, until he breathed his
last on May 13, 2010. A lot of these materials distinctively incorporated sufi-laden
concepts and argumentative tools into general Islamic discourses, injecting spiritual
flavor into an epistemological terrain which was otherwise turning highly puritanical
under the influence of Wahhabi-Salafism. Wahhabi-Salafi calls for armed jihad (holy
war) gained popularity due to rising antagonism against the United States of America
(USA)-led Global War on Terror (GWOT). GWOT was launched against the Saudi
Arabian fugitive Osama ben Laden and his Al Qaeda associates, whose violent
insurrection has been justified on the basis of Wahhabi-Salafi ideology, 46 as a reprisal for
43
Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, ‘The Aurad Muhammadiah Congregation: Modern Transnational Sufism in
Southeast Asia’, in Hui Yew-Foong (ed.), Encountering Islam: The Politics of Religious Identities in
Southeast Asia (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2013), pp. 77–84.
44
Cf. Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, ‘New Trends of Islamic Resurgence in Contemporary Malaysia: SufiRevivalism, Messianism and Economic Activism’, Studia Islamika: Indonesian Journal for Islamic
Studies, vol. 6, no. 3 (1999), pp. 1-74; Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, ‘The Banning of Darul Arqam in
Malaysia’, Review of Indonesian and Malaysian Affairs, vol. 39, no. 1 (2005), pp. 87-128.
45
Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad, Berhati-hati Membuat Tuduhan [Be Careful in Making Allegations] (Kuala
Lumpur: Penerangan Al Arqam, 1989), pp. 42-44, 110.
46
For an account of the transmission of radical jihadi ideas into Southeast Asia, see Kumar Ramakrishna,
‘Delegitimizing Global Jihadi Ideology in Southeast Asia’, Contemporary Southeast Asia, vol. 27, no. 3
(2005), pp. 343-369.
14
their purported hijack and bombing of commercial flights which crashed into the World
Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. At the turn of the
new millennium, it seemed that Malaysia’s Islamist landscape was undergoing
radicalization in a manner contrary to its sufi heritage of a peace-loving and conciliatory
form of Islamic practice. 47
In spite of his voluminous writings, Ashaari’s thoughts, a lot of which are
admittedly unorthodox, remains unappreciated in his own country. Apart from the present
author’s few works, 48 studies appreciative of his positive contributions to Islamic thought
have been undertaken only by scholars based outside Malaysia. 49 Part of the reason for
this is technical: English language translations of Ashaari’s treatises, all of which were
originally written in Malay, have been slow in coming. Therefore, only scholars who can
read Malay are able to engage in the laborious task of perusing, analyzing, digesting and
systematically re-arranging Ashaari’s works in a coherent manner. However, more
importantly, a lot of these publications have over the years fallen victim to the Malaysian
state’s repression of Darul Arqam, and have therefore been banned, confiscated, confined
to sections of libraries housing outlawed publications and even publicly burned by the
47
Farish A. Noor, ‘Globalization, Resistance and the Discursive Politics of Terror, Post-September 11’, in
Andrew Tan and Kumar Ramakrishna (eds.), The New Terrorism: Anatomy, Trends and Counter-Strategies
(Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 2002), pp. 162-167; Osman Bakar, ‘The Impact of the American
War on Terror on Malaysian Islam’, Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, vol. 16, no. 2 (2005), pp. 110112.
48
Cf. Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, ‘Minda Dunia Melayu-Islam Menurut Pemikiran Ustaz Ashaari
Muhammad’ [The Malay-Islamic World According to Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad’s Thought], in Abdullah
Hassan (ed.), Prosiding Persidangan Antarabangsa Pengajian Melayu Beijing Ke-2, Jilid 1: Agama,
Budaya, Pendidikan, Ekonomi, Sejarah dan Seni [Proceedings of The Second International Malay Studies
Conference, Volume 1: Religion, Culture, Education, Economics, History and Art] (Kuala Lumpur: Dewan
Bahasa dan Pustaka, 2002), pp. 8-13; Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, ‘The Futuristic Thought of Ustaz
Ashaari Muhammad of Malaysia', in Ibrahim M. Abu-Rabi’ (ed.), The Blackwell Companion to
Contemporary Islamic Thought (Malden and Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), pp. 195–212.
49
Cf. Dr. A. Tasman Ya’cub, Dakwah Islam Dalam Perspektif Ashaari Muhammad [Islamic Da’wa From
the Perspective of Ashaari Muhammad] (Jakarta: Penerbit Giliran Timur, 2006) – originally a doctoral
thesis completed at the State Institute of Islamic Studies (IAIN: Institut Agama Islam Negeri) Syarif
Hidayatullah, Jakarta; Norshahril Saat, ‘The State, Ulama and Religiosity: Rethinking Islamization of
Contemporary Malaysia’, in Haneda Masashi (ed.), Secularization, Religion and the State, UTCP Booklet
17 (Tokyo: University of Tokyo Center for Philosophy, 2010), pp. 133-135. A present study comparing the
da’wa thought of Ashaari with that of the Indian scholar Abul Hassan Ali Nadwi is currently being
undertaken by a doctoral student working under the supervision of Dr. Shaik Abdullah Hassan Mydin, the
present author’s colleague from the Civilization Studies section, School of Distance Education, Universiti
Sains Malaysia (USM), Penang,.
15
religious authorities. 50 The public stigma attached to those who willfully profess a liking
for such illegal materials is too huge to bear for many within the generally docile MalayMuslim society. In addition, the politically meek and passive profile of a large crop of
Malaysia’s local-bred academics becomes an invisible shackle on their embarking on
cutting-edge research in the discursive spheres of the many branches of humanities and
the social sciences. In short, the intellectual creativity and epistemic innovativeness
among Malaysia’s home-grown intellectuals leave much to be desired. 51 It does not help
that a great majority of them depend on the state for their salary, grants and livelihood in
general, such that research topics which may potentially ruffle feathers within the
UMNO-BN-linked religio-political establishment are few and far between, facing a real
possibility of being scuttled at the evaluation stage. In most cases, the scholars
themselves exercise self-restraint in the interest of safeguarding their career and
promotion prospects.
In the following section, the present author proposes to foreground aspects of
Ashaari’s thought which are in sync with the spirit of living in the pluralistic environment
of a multi-religious and multi-cultural society, which Malaysia indisputably is. On the
surface, the fact that Ashaari would have emerged with such a discourse at all is ipso
facto surprising, taking into account the exclusivist and ethnocentric image that Darul
Arqam had cultivated before its banning. 52 By the mid-1980s, Ashaari had indeed carved
a name for himself as a protagonist of Malay-Muslim economic nationalism, parallel with
Darul Arqam’s entrepreneurial feats, which were accomplished independently in an era
50
See a recent report of the public burning of ten-thousand Global Ikhwan-published books officiated by
the Director of the Islamic Religious Department of Selangor (JAIS: Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor) on
October 16, 2013: Sufian Hadi Mohd. Sojak, ‘Ummu Jah, pengikut akan bertaubat’ [Ummu Jah and
followers
will
repent],
Utusan
Online,
October
17,
2013
http://www.utusan.com.my/utusan/Dalam_Negeri/20131017/dn_16/Ummu-Jah-pengikut-akanbertaubat#ixzz2hwZw7Xv2 (accessed January 11, 2014).
51
On such problems engulfing contemporary Malaysian social scientists, see Abdul Rahman Embong’s
presidential address at the Seventh International Malaysian Studies Conference (MSC7) at Universiti Sains
Malaysia on March 16, 2010, ‘Rethinking the Future of Malaysian Studies’, Berita PSSM, no. 12 (2010),
pp. 1-4. A similar assessment was given by Deputy Director of the Ministry of Education’s Higher
Education Leadership Academy (AKEPT), Dr. Zainal Abidin Sanusi, during the Discourse on Innovation
in Social Sciences Research held at the School of Distance Education, USM, Penang, on September 2,
2013.
52
Cf. Judith A. Nagata, The Reflowering of Malaysian Islam: Modern Religious Radicals and their Roots
(Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1984), p. 112; Hussin Mutalib, Islam and Ethnicity in
Malay Politics (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 89.
16
when Malay economic development outside the framework of the state-orchestrated New
Economic Policy (NEP) was virtually unthinkable. 53
Among Islamist circles, Ashaari was also infamous for chiding fellow revivalists
for failing to practise what they preach. Darul Arqam’s emphasis on building an Islamic
deen al-hayah (way of life) necessitated an outward-oriented policy of aggressive da’wa
(propagation) and robust material development. By the early 1990s, implicit criticism of
the Malay-Muslim stakeholders began to give way to direct reprimand of the ruling elites,
hence triggering the wholesale crackdown against it in 1994.54 Isolation when serving his
restriction order, however, appears to have re-acquainted Ashaari with a loving and
inclusive God. In line with past sufi masters’ proclivity of expressing love of the Divine
through poetic verses, Ashaari authored no fewer than four thousand poems in the space
of ten years (1994-2004). 55 A great number of them revolved around the theme of mutual
love between God and humankind. Underlying Ashaari’s latter-day discourse was the
philosophy of adopting God as Rafiqul A’la (The Most Exalted Companion), hence
explaining his choice of the term ‘Rufaqa’’ (Friends) - the plural of Rafiq, as the name of
his company succeeding Darul Arqam. 56 Ashaari’s preference for the generic Malay
word Tuhan (God) rather than ‘Allah’ in his characterization of the Deity, as palpable
from his motto as Executive Chairman of Rufaqa’ - Tuhan Cinta Agung, Perjuangkan
Tuhan (God is the Supreme Love, Strive for God) and as lucidly exhibited in his poems,
caused unease among fellow Malay-Muslims who have been acculturated to accept
‘Allah’ as the religiously legitimate reference for God. 57 Ashaari’s newly discovered
53
Nagata, The Reflowering of Malaysian Islam, pp. 107, 113.
Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, ‘Political Dimensions of Religious Conflict in Malaysia: State Response to
an Islamic Movement’, Indonesia and the Malay World, vol. 28, no. 80 (2000), pp. 32-65.
55
As Ashaari himself admits in his preface to one of his volumes of poems, see Ustaz Hj Ashaari
Muhammad, Koleksi Sajak Siri 4: Usuluddin [Collection of Poems Series 4: Origin of Religion] (Rawang:
Penerbitan Minda Ikhwan, 2006), p. vii.
56
Ustaz Hj Ashaari Muhammad, Koleksi Sajak Siri 1: Tawhid & Tasawuf [Collection of Poems Series 1:
Theology and Sufism] (Rawang: Penerbitan Minda Ikhwan, 2005), pp. 130-141, poems entitled ‘Tuhan Itu
Rafiqul A’la’ [God is the Most Exalted Companion], ‘Berkawan Dengan Tuhan Tidaklah Susah’
[Befriending God is Not That Difficult], and ‘Jadikan Tuhan Sebagai Kawan’ [Make God as Your Friend].
See also, Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, ‘From Darul Arqam to the Rufaqa’ Corporation: Change and
Continuity in a Sufi Movement in Malaysia’, in Kamaruzzaman Bustamam-Ahmad and Patrick Jory (eds.),
Islamic Thought in Southeast Asia: New Interpretations and Movements (Kuala Lumpur: University of
Malaya Press, 2013), pp. 45–65.
57
See allegations leveled against Ashaari in a blog created specifically to counter his alleged heterodoxy,
‘Hentikan Penggunaan Perkataan ‘Tuhan’’ [Stop Using the Word ‘Tuhan’], Rufaqa @ Jemaah Aurad
Muhammadiah (Al-Arqam) SESAT LAGI MENYESATKAN, July 6, 2006, http://rufaqa54
17
penchant, however, closed the gap between Rufaqa’ and non-Muslims, with whom
Ashaari developed cordial relations and business partnerships within surroundings
heavily populated by Malaysia’s non-Muslim minorities, where he was banished by the
powers that be. 58
4. Pluralist Aspects in Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad’s Sufi Discourse
In Ashaari’s scheme of human development, spiritual development undergirds
material development. Without spiritual strength, as derived from disciplined tazkiyah alnafs or mujahadah al-nafs (self-purification or cleansing of the heart from the base self)
exercises prescribed by a syeikh (sufi master), material progress becomes vacuous and
ends up evincing collateral damage in the form of societal maladies such as greed,
stinginess, envy, arrogance, sum’ah (love of fame) and riya’ (performance of deeds with
the intention of showing off) – known in sufi terminology as mazmumah (vicious
attributes). The perennial inner struggle of humankind involves the obliteration of such
mazmumah, to be consequently replaced by mahmudah (virtuous attributes). The target of
such a reformation program, indeed the very essence of humankind as a creation of God,
is the heart (qalb) or soul (roh) rather than reason (aql) or the mind. The source of evil in
sesat.blogspot.com/2006/07/hentikan-penggunaan-perkataan-tuhan.html (accessed January 12, 2014). The
polemic over the use of the word ‘Allah’ has grown to become the biggest issue dividing Muslims and
Christians in contemporary Malaysia. On October 14, 2013, the federal Court of Appeal ruled that the word
‘Allah’ cannot be used by Christians as a reference to God in the Malay language section of The Herald, a
Roman Catholic newsletter. In overturning a 2009 High Court ruling, enforcement of which had been
delayed pending the government’s appeal against it, the three-judge bench opined that the term ‘Allah’ was
not integral to the faith and practice of Christianity. Catholic Archbishop Murphy Pakiam reacted strongly
by denouncing the verdict as effectively persecuting Christians. Consequently, in January 2014, hundreds
of copies of Al-Kitab and Bup Kudus – the Malay language and Iban language versions of the Bible, were
impounded during a JAIS raid on the premises of the Bible Society of Malaysia in Selangor, whose Sultan
had declared that usage of the term ‘Allah’ was strictly limited for Muslims. For an overview of the
political dynamics of affair, see Joceline Tan, ‘Tiptoeing around a delicate issue’, The Star Online, January
12, 2014, http://www.thestar.com.my/Opinion/Columnists/Analysis/Profile/Articles/2014/01/12/Tiptoeingaround-a-delicate-issue/ (accessed January 12, 2014).
58
Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, ‘The Taqwa versus Quwwah Dichotomy: An Islamic Critique of
Development via the Malaysian Bumiputera Policy’, Kajian Malaysia: Journal of Malaysian Studies, vol.
XXI, nos. 1-2 (2003), pp. 147-149; Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, ‘Contestations and Peace Building
between the State and Autonomous Islam’, in Francis Loh Kok Wah (ed.), Building Bridges, Crossing
Boundaries: Everyday Forms of Inter-Ethnic Peace Building in Malaysia (Jakarta and Kajang: The Ford
Foundation and Malaysian Social Science Association, 2010), pp. 73-77.
18
the world, as externalized in humans’ insatiable desire for corporeal pleasures to the
extent of victimizing fellow humans, lies in the neglect of nourishment of the heart. 59
Spiritual advancement, attained when one’s heart is cleansed, begets love of God,
which has to run concurrently with fear of God, forming feelings of Godliness (rasa
berTuhan) and servility (rasa kehambaan), both of which in turn form the essence of
taqwa. The attainment of taqwa, rather than hampering the advancement of one’s mental
and physical faculties, actually improves them holistically by bringing God into the
picture throughout the course of one’s fulfilling one’s necessities of life. Having
previously defined taqwa as “a heartfelt fear of Allah if one accidentally or intentionally
committed a little sin, what more a big sin,” 60 in the post-Darul Arqam era Ashaari reconceptualized taqwa as the effort of taking God as one’s guardian or shield or protector.
He outlined eight requisites of taqwa, pillars of taqwa, effects of ignoring taqwa, the role
of taqwa and the general and specific attitudes and traits of possessors of taqwa. 61
Building up in oneself a repository of mahmudah is pivotal to the program of achieving
taqwa, which should be a global aspiration especially for Muslims. Conviction in Islam
alone, insists Ashaari, is not conducive to ultimate success, for God has never promised
protection for Muslims on account of their Islamicity per se, unless they possess taqwa.
Ashaari often quotes the Quranic verse which translates as, “Allah is the Protector of the
Righteous,” 62 which he interprets as indicating that God does not guarantee divine
protection even on Muslims if they lack the qualities of righteous people i.e. possessors
of taqwa, known otherwise as the mukmin (faithful devotees). 63 In other words, Islam is a
59
Ustaz Hj Ashaari Muhammad, Buah Fikiran Ustaz Hj Ashaari Muhammad Siri 1 [The Thought of Ustaz
Hj Ashaari Muhammad Series 1], (Rawang: Penerbitan Minda Ikhwan, 2005), pp. 8-23. See poems entitled
‘Mari Mengenal Insan’ [Come and Know Humans], ‘Engkau Jaga Sangat Jasad Lahir’ [You Look After
Your Physique Too Much], ‘Mengenal Hati dan Keajaibannya’ [Knowing the Heart and its Amazing
Qualities], and ‘Hati Sebagai Wadah’ [The Heart as a Medium].
60
Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad, Kenapa Salahkan Musuh? [Why Blame the Enemy] (Kuala Lumpur:
Penerangan Al Arqam, 1988).
61
Mejar (B) Abu Dzar, Taqwa Menurut Ustaz Hj Asaari Mohamad [Taqwa According to Ustaz Hj Asaari
Mohamad] (Rawang: Penerbitan Minda Ikhwan, 2005), pp. 8, 10-11, 36.
62
Chapter Al-Jathiya 45, verse 19. All Quranic references are from The Holy Qur'an: English translation of
the meanings and Commentary (Madinah: King Fahd Holy Quran Printing Complex, n.d.). The relevant
chapter name is given, followed by the verse number.
63
Ust Hj Ashaari Muhammad, Pendidikan Rapat Dengan Rohaniah Manusia [Education is Close to the
Human Spirit] (Rawang: Penerbitan Minda Ikhwan, 2006), pp. 72-73; Ustaz Hj Ashaari Muhammad,
Koleksi Sajak Siri 2: Tasawuf [Collection of Poems Series 2: Sufism] (Rawang: Penerbitan Minda Ikhwan,
2005), p. 286-287, poem entitled ‘Taqwa Aset Dunia Akhirat’ [Taqwa an Asset in the World and the
Hereafter].
19
necessary but not sufficient condition of taqwa, not the other way round. 64 By attracting
God’s help, taqwa contributes to ninety percent of success as compared with only ten
percent accounted for by quwwah (external strength). Ashaari’s developmental paradigm,
as manifested in his wide network of commercial businesses, is thus more appropriately
called a ‘taqwa-orientated’ rather than an ‘Islamic-orientated’ strategy. 65
A multitude of present day Muslims, bemoans Ashaari, subscribe to Islam as mere
culture rather than faith. Their concerns revolve around the worldly life, and their
recitation of ‘Allah’ is mere lip service. 66 Ashaari is unrelenting in his reprimand of such
Muslims who ritually adhere to the sharia but shirks in their duty of purifying the soul
toward the attainment of taqwa:
Allah only accepts prayers of those with taqwa. Allah will never accept prayers of
those who are merely Muslims. Allah will accept fasting of those with taqwa.
Allah will accept the struggle of those with taqwa, but will not accept the struggle
of Muslims. Allah will accept the hajj pilgrimage of those with taqwa, not of
Muslims.... Sins of those with taqwa are forgiven, but not those of Muslims. That
is why Muslims are consigned to hell first before being accepted into paradise. 67
Unlike conventional Islamists, Ashaari does not prioritize the enunciation of a
juridical Islamic state which installs sharia (Islamic law) as law of the land. In sufi
cosmology, the sharia is but the lowest rung in steps of practising faith. While
undoubtedly important, sharia forms only the outer layer of religion, the essence of
which is Sufism or syariat batin (spiritual sharia), which results in the internalization of
akhlak mulia (virtuous morality) among its practitioners. 68 In accomplishing true
knowledge of the Divine, however, an aspiring Sufi has to go through the stages of
tariqah (the path), haqiqah (reality) and ma’rifah (gnosis). 69 Exclusion of spirituality
from the agenda of upholding the sharia has rendered many Islamists guilty of treating
64
Abu Dzar, Taqwa Menurut Ustaz Hj Asaari Mohamad, pp. 91-93, 140.
Ahmad Fauzi, ‘The Taqwa versus Quwwah Dichotomy’, pp. 139-150.
66
Ustaz Hj Ashaari Muhammad, Koleksi Sajak Siri 2, p. 238, poem entitled ‘Ramai Orang Mengaku Islam’
[Many People Claim to be Muslims].
67
Ashaari Muhammad, Pendidikan Rapat Dengan Rohaniah Manusia, pp. 368-369.
68
Ustaz Hj Ashaari Muhammad, Buah Fikiran Ustaz Hj Ashaari Muhammad Siri 2 [The Thought of Ustaz
Hj Ashaari Muhammad Series 2], (Rawang: Penerbitan Minda Ikhwan, 2006), pp. 582-592.
69
Ashaari Muhammad, Pendidikan Rapat Dengan Rohaniah Manusia, pp. 124-128.
65
20
God’s law as ideology, which by definition derives from human reasoning rather than
divine revelation. To Ashaari, an Islamic struggle which claims to fight for the
implementation of the sharia but at the same time fails to acquaint the people with God
as the Originator of the sharia, is self-defeating. 70 No goodness is generated if sharia
legal codes were forced down the throats of an ignorant population, who would not only
resent such an implementation but would also harbor a false impression of Allah as a
punitive God. 71
Although pluralism is not explicitly stated as a definitive feature of Ashaari’s
socio-religious framework, an examination of his post-Darul Arqam poems reveals a
startlingly pluralist streak. First, by invariably employing the term Tuhan to describe
God, he broadens the appeal of his poems beyond Muslims. Such poems have the
propensity to promote a conception of love of God which leads to a general love of
manusia (man – used as a unisex term) which transcends the barriers of ethnicity and
religion. The following words, picked up from Ashaari’s poems, are instructive:
Kasih sayang adalah fitrah semula jadi manusia (Love and care is man’s nature)
Ia adalah makanan jiwa (It is the sustenance of the soul) ….
Dari kasih sayang manusia bersaudara (From love and care men become
brothers)
…. Suburkanlah kasih sayang (Nourish love and care)
Bermula daripada mencintai Tuhan pencipta manusia (Starting with loving God
as the Creator of man)
Cintakan Tuhan adalah anak kunci cintakan sesama manusia (Loving God is the
key to mutual love among mankind)
Ertinya cintakan Tuhan mengikat hati manusia sesama mereka (Meaning that
loving God binds human hearts) …. 72
70
Ustaz Hj Ashaari Muhammad, Koleksi Sajak Siri 3: Perjuangan & Umum [Collection of Poems Series 3:
Islamic Struggle and General] (Rawang: Penerbitan Minda Ikhwan, 2006), pp. 20-27, poems entitled
‘Bawalah Tuhan Dalam Perjuangan’ [Bring God Together in the Struggle], ‘Tauhid dan Iman Tunggak
Perjuangan’ [Theology and Faith Are the Pillars of Struggle], ‘Jangan Jadikan Syariat Sebagai Ideologi’
[Don’t Turn the Sharia into an Ideology], and ‘Islam Ada Berbagai Aspek’ [Islam Has Various Aspects].
71
Ashaari Muhammad, Koleksi Sajak Siri 1, pp. 20-21, poem entitled ‘Jangan Anggap Tuhan Hanya
Menghukum’ [Don’t Think That God Only Punishes].
72
Ashaari Muhammad, Koleksi Sajak Siri 3, p. 251, poem entitled ‘Cinta Tuhan Pengikat Cinta Manusia’
[Love of God Brings Together Love Among Mankind].
21
Di waktu manusia hidup nafsi-nafsi (When humans live self-centered lives)
Di masa manusia mementingkan diri (When humans care only for themselves)
Ketika sifat kemanusiaan telah tercabut di dalam hati (When humanity is
divested from their hearts)
Kerana rasa bertuhan sudah mati (Because the feeling of Godliness has died)
Rasa kehambaan punah sama sekali (Feeling of servility has been destroyed)
Aduh seksanya hidup (How living has become a torture) ….
Aduh sedihnya! Manusia sudah kehilangan jiwanya (How sad! Man has lost his
soul)
Kerana itu timbang rasa sudah tiada (Hence empathy has vanished)
Manusia sudah kehilangan hatinya (Man has lost his heart)
Lantaran itulah cintai-mencintai sudah mati (Hence mutual love has perished)
Tuhan! Berapa lama lagikah Engkau biarkan kami hidup begini?! (God! How
much longer are you going to let us live like this?!)
Bila lagikah seorang Penyelamat Engkau lahirkan di kalangan kami?! (When
will you give rise to a Savior from among us?!)
Agar mengembalikan rasa bertuhan yang sudah mati (To revive the feeling of
Godliness which has died)
Dan mengembalikan kasih sayang yang sudah hilang (And resurrect love and
care which has disappeared)
Agar manusia hidup sesama mereka (So mankind lives among themselves)
Bagaikan satu keluarga (Like one family). 73
Sepatutnya engkau boleh belajar dengan jiwa engkau sendiri (By right you could
learn from your own soul)
Itulah yang dikatakan fitrah semula jadi (That is what is called human nature)
Ilmu Islam hanya menguatkan sahaja (Islamic knowledge only strengthens it)
Fitrah semula jadi manusia sama sahaja (Human nature is the same) ….
73
Ashaari Muhammad, Koleksi Sajak Siri 3, p. 267, poem entitled ‘Jiwa Sudah Hilang’ [The Soul Has
Been Lost].
22
Jadi manusia boleh belajar dengan jiwa dan perasaan sendiri (So humans can
learn from their own soul and feelings)
Cuma ilmu Islam datang menyuburkan sahaja atau menguatkan sahaja (Islamic
knowledge comes only to nurture and strengthen it)
Namun demikian tidak ramai orang boleh belajar dengan jiwa sendiri (But not
many people seek to learn from their own souls)
Kerana itulah perikemanusiaan sudah hilang (Hence humanity has been lost) ….
Cintakan Tuhan sudah hilang dari jiwa manusia (Love of God has vanished from
human souls)
Akibatnya cinta sesama manusia kering-kontang (Thus love among mankind
becomes barren). 74
Manusia adalah satu keturunan (Mankind is from one pedigree)
Daripada satu ibu dan bapa (From one mother and one father)
Daripada Adam dan Hawa (From Adam and Eve)
Tuhan adalah Esa yang menjadikan seluruh manusia (God is the Only One who
creates the whole of mankind)
Yang akhirnya lahirlah bangsa-bangsa (Finally engendering a multitude of
nations)
Dan etnik-etnik yang berbagai-bagai bahasa (And multiple ethnicities who speak
various languages)
Manusia satu sama lain perlu-memerlukan (Humans are in need of one another)
Di antara bangsa dengan bangsa perlu kerjasama (Between them nations need to
cooperate) …. 75
Clearly, Ashaari’s discourse refrains from establishing clear-cut Islamic political
sovereignty over peoples of other faiths and ethnicities. His voice is directed to mankind
in general rather than confined to Muslims. Political sovereignty, if ever realized, has to
74
Ashaari Muhammad, Koleksi Sajak Siri 3, p. 322, poem entitled ‘Engkau Boleh Belajar Dengan Jiwa
Engkau Sendiri’ [You Can Learn From Your Own Soul].
75
Ashaari Muhammad, Koleksi Sajak Siri 3, p. 324, poem entitled ‘Manusia Adalah Satu Keturunan’
[Mankind is From One Pedigree].
23
be on the basis of mutual cooperation and camaraderie, not a power relationship which
implies hegemony of the strong over the weak partner. Unlike contemporary MalayMuslim ruling politicians who shamelessly boost political support by appealing to
ethnocentric sentiments, 76 Ashaari prefers to speak the language of pluralism and multiculturalism, although he stops short of explicitly employing such terms which are
politically sensitive in the Malaysian context, let alone within the Malay-Muslim
community. He still finds the space, however, to take potshots at the Malay-Muslim
ruling establishment, albeit in a veiled manner. For instance, he dilutes his Malay racial
identity by claiming to mold his loyal followers into a new ethnic group within the larger
Malay nation, whose struggle for politico-economic dominance has formed the rallying
cry of UMNO since its inception in 1946. Among his strong words in this regard are
“Kalau tidak memberi kerjasama dengan etnik-etnik yang baru ini, orang Melayu akan
punah” (If cooperation is not given to these new ethnic groups, Malays will destruct). 77
Ashaari further showcases inclusivity when approvingly quoting the exemplary
magnanimity of the Umayyad Caliph Umar Abd al-Aziz (d. 720), who commanded the
return of land unjustly alienated from Christians and reconstruction of a church to replace
the mosque already built on the land. Umar’s firm decision triggered a crisis between him
and the ulama, who, with the Caliph’s blessing, eventually engaged in a discussion with
Christian elders who eventually settled for a new piece of land on which to rebuild their
church. 78 In fact, nothing should come in between upholding an Islamic way of life and
maintaining communal harmony in a multi-racial and multi-religious society, provided
that the version of Islam practised is spiritually rather than ideologically based. 79 Two
lines from Ashaari’s poem on racial integration deny his fellow Malay-Muslims an
exclusive right to an omnipresent God: “Tuhan adalah kepunyaan bersama seluruh
manusia, tidak kira apa kaum dan bangsa” (God is owned by the whole of mankind,
76
Cf. ‘Why Umno leaders are singing such a vile tune these days’, The Malaysian Insider, October 8, 2013,
http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/why-umno-leaders-are-singing-such-a-vile-tunethese-days (accessed January 12, 2014).
77
Ustaz Hj Ashaari Muhammad, Politik Islam Membawa Kasih Sayang [Islamic Politics Bring About Love
and Care] (Rawang: One Art Productions, 2007), pp. 258-259, poem entitled ‘Etnik Baru’ [New Ethnicity].
78
Ashaari Muhammad, Politik Islam Membawa Kasih Sayang, p. 200.
79
Mejar (B) Abu Dzar, Islam Hadhari Menurut Ust. Hj Ashaari Muhammad [Islam Hadhari According to
Ust. Hj Ashaari Muhammad] (Rawang: Penerbitan Minda Ikhwan, 2005), pp. x-xiii, 151-166.
24
regardless of communal and national grouping). 80 While Ashaari avoids using the Malay
word agama (religion) in discussing different societal segments’ entitlement to God, it is
a well-known fact that in Malaysia, ethnic and religious identities of communal groups
coincide. Moreover, even the sharing of religious identity does not guarantee unity if
spiritual concerns are relegated to unimportance. As he says in the same poem:
Jika satu agama pun (Even if people are of the same religion)
Belum boleh bersatu secara kukuh (They not necessarily can unite cohesively)
Kalau membiarkan mazmumah bermaharaja lela (If mazmumah is left
unattended)
Mazmumah hanya boleh ditumpaskan (Mazmumah can only be defeated)
Dengan hanya takut dan cintakan Tuhan (By fearing and loving God) …. 81
5. Concluding Remarks
The contemporary dynamics of Malaysian politics, immersed in a conflict-ridden
form of ethno-nationalism which treats religion and ethnicity as coterminous categories,
makes it difficult for the average Malay-Muslim to admit, let alone appreciate, the
pluralist heritage of Islam. Rather than celebrating Islam’s tolerance of the multiplicity of
cultures and religions within its civilization since the Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH)
inauguration of the Medinan charter, Malay-Muslims have been wont to internalize Islam
as being no more significant than its role as the pillar of Malay identity. This identity,
which runs contrary to Malaysia’s eclectic history which prides itself in the amazing
fluidity across ethnic boundaries and between Malayness and non-Malayness, has
ossified in post-independent Malaysia. While part of the reason for this lies in the Federal
Constitution which gives legal effect to ethno-religious classifications, 82 the document
80
Abu Dzar, Islam Hadhari Menurut Ust. Hj Ashaari Muhammad, p. 170, cited from Ashaari’s poem
entitled ‘Integrasi Kaum’ [Communal Integration].
81
Abu Dzar, Islam Hadhari Menurut Ust. Hj Ashaari Muhammad, p. 171, cited from Ashaari’s poem
entitled ‘Integrasi Kaum’ [Communal Integration].
82
Article 160(2) of the Federal Constitution defines a ‘Malay’ as “a person who professes the Muslim
religion, habitually speaks the Malay language, conforms to Malay custom;” see Federal Constitution With
Index, p. 113.
25
was hybrid enough to balance the apparently conflicting demands between indigenousbased and national-based citizenship, between the majesty of Islam and freedom of
religion. Indeed, while Islam was ensconced as the ‘religion of the federation’ via Article
3(1) of the Federal Constitution, the precise implications of such a provision was never
made clear, and has thus been subject to widely differing interpretations over the years.
When political Islam gradually established itself by the mid-1970s through a host
of independent da’wa movements, the UMNO-driven state then led by Prime Minister
Dr. Mahathir Mohamad jumped on the Islamist bandwagon in a pre-meditated effort to
neutralize the growing influence of the Islamist organizations. Under his Islamization
program of the 1980s, expansion of the Islamic bureaucracy took place at a relentless
pace. Islamization culminated in Mahathir’s declaration in September 2001 that Malaysia
had achieved the distinction of becoming an Islamic state. Admittedly, bureaucratization
of Islam had taken place concurrently and proceeded hand-in-hand with Islamization of
Malaysia’s dual legal structure, reaching a high point in 1988 when a constitutional
amendment raised the status of sharia courts to a level at par with civil courts. It escapes
his attention though, that the Islamic discourse foregrounded by agents of the state
entrusted with implementing his Islamization agenda was turning anti-pluralist, hence
going against of Malaysian Islam’s age-old practice of accommodating mores from a
variety of civilizational traditions.
The new trajectory was instead defined by the conservative Wahhabi-Salafi
doctrine which had penetrated into the mindsets of a great number of Islamic studies
graduates and Islamists during the formative years of Islamic resurgence in Malaysia.
These cohorts of Islamist-linked intelligentsia went on to infest Malaysia’s civil service
in both the religious and technocratic fields. Their religio-intellectual make-up dovetailed
nicely with the Malaysian state and UMNO’s increasingly closer relations with Saudi
Arabia, the global patron of Wahhabi-Salafism and generous benefactor to a lot of
Islamic development projects in Malaysia, made possible by the mountain of petrodollars that had accumulated in its coffers. 83 To many nationalist-inclined UMNO
politicians, the dogma of ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy) rather than Islamic
sovereignty will have been foremost in their political priorities. But inasmuch as the
83
Mohd Faizal Musa, ‘Malaysian Shi’ites Lonely Struggle’, pp. 341-341, 348-349.
26
ascendancy of Wahhabi-Salafism, disguised as Islamist conservatism or Islamism or even
Sunni Islam itself, was conducive to the realization of their Malay-centric political
agenda, they are prepared to accommodate them. As a result, Wahhabi-Salafi-orientated
scholars have today commanded influential positions within Malaysia’s Islamic-turnedIslamist bureaucracy and UMNO’s religious bureau. 84 The upshot, unfortunately, has
been the retrogressive transformation of Malaysian Islam into a political tool to satisfy
UMNO-orchestrated political machinations towards perpetuating Malay-Muslim
hegemony. This newly carved hegemony, nonetheless, is no longer consonant with the
once “tolerant, peaceful and smiling face” of Southeast Asian Islam, 85 - pragmatic facets
which used to so distinguish Malaysian Islam from the rest of the ummah. In the
prevailing environment of Wahhabi-Salafi-conditioned Malaysian Islam today, a
politically driven Islamic state imposed from above may just be not good enough a deal
even for Muslims, 86 as divergence from opinions espoused by the puritanical school of
thought dominating Malaysia’s Islamic officialdom and UMNO risks being demonized as
not only unorthodox but also deviant, and worse still, rebellious to the point of
committing perfidy.
In Malaysia’s new Islamist set-up, not only have non-Muslims cried out against
injustices done to them by the state, but non-conformist Muslims have similarly suffered.
Sufism and Shi’ism have borne the brunt of the state’s heavy-handedness for their
unorthodox leanings, regardless of the fact that they have existed throughout history, and
in the case of Sufism, even becoming the dominant strand of Islam in Southeast Asia.
Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad represents one such strand which the present author has called
‘sufi-revivalism’. 87 Due to the state’s adversarial posture toward Sufism, Ashaari and his
congregation has remained persona non grata in Malaysia, irrespective of his epistemic
contributions as manifested in his voluminous writings. As this chapter has shown, his
novel thoughts, if given the opportunity and public space, evince great potential in
84
Ahmad Fauzi, Political Islam and Islamist Politics in Malaysia, pp. 12-13.
A term attributed to the prominent Indonesian Islamic scholar Azyumardi Azra. See Kumar Ramakrishna
and Andrew Tan, ‘The New Terrorism: Diagnosis and Prescriptions’, in Tan and Ramakrishna (eds.), The
New Terrorism, p. 16.
86
Cf. Susan Loone, ‘Don: Islamic state is not good even for Muslims’, http://penanginstitute.org/v3/mediacentre/penang-institute-in-the-news/375-don-islamic-state-is-not-good-even-for-muslims, January 26, 2013
(accessed October 14, 2013).
87
Ahmad Fauzi, ‘New Trends of Islamic Resurgence in Contemporary Malaysia: Sufi-Revivalism,
Messianism and Economic Activism’.
85
27
contributing ideas toward the betterment of a Malaysian society within the context of a
simultaneous endorsement of religious pluralism and Islam. It is Malaysia’s own loss that
a continual embargo is placed upon his sufi-inclined thoughts just because of their
perceived unorthodoxy, which invariably translates to deviancy in Malaysia’s religious
parlance. As it stands at the moment, the Malaysian state’s position with respect to
religious pluralism goes against not only humanity but also the Islam which it purports to
defend. On the general agreement between Islam and pluralism, scholars have quoted
God’s proclamation in the Holy Quran, “To thee, to each among you, have We prescribed
a Law and an Open Way. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single
People, but (his Plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all
virtues. The goal of you all is to Allah; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters,
in which ye dispute.” 88
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