By Mohamad Tajuddin Mohamad Rasdi
July 28, 2018
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department
Mujahid Yusof Rawa seems optimistic about changing the current narrow Islamic
teachings into a more inclusive and broad-based spirituality that can make
Islam part of an acceptable global civilisation. I support his optimism but it
is an uphill battle.
What is critically needed is a new
framework to replace the present PAS-Umno and Jakim (Islamic Development
Department) perspective of a prescriptive, ancient and exclusive Islam. I put
forth the following suggestion for a new framework.
Islamic education at the primary, secondary
and tertiary level is still trapped in a parochial framework that does not take
into account the idea of the global society and multi-cultural and multi-faith
co-existence. The result is the production of graduates who feel Islam is not part
of the bigger society of mankind. The idea of “me and the other” is emphasised
too much. The graduates also do not understand the idea of “differences being
the essential ingredient of meaningful wholeness”.
Two things are needed for meaningful
change: Firstly, the curriculum of Islamic education must reemphasise the
historical and civilisational location of Islam within human wholeness of
experience and concerns. Secondly, the teachers of Islam must be retrained
under a human civilisational construct and not just a narrow “Islamically
Emphasising the Broader Civilisational
At the moment, Islam is being taught as an
isolated entity in a sea of human “ignorance” or “Jahiliyyah”. To classify the
whole experience of humanity as “ignorant” is truly an act of sheer arrogance.
What is needed is a new, broader frame.
My first step in rethinking Islamic
education is to emphasise the direct historical link between Judaism,
Christianity and Islam. Many Muslims are not even aware of this important
chronological tie. Muslims seem to think that Islam appeared out of nowhere. In
real fact, the roots of the values and construct of God as understood by
Muslims are a product of historical evolution in the previous two religions.
Many Muslims do not realise that most of
the important prophets mentioned in Islamic theology and history come from the
Judaic line of Ishak. Prophet Muhammad is the only one from Ismail but both
Ismail and Ishak (Ishmael and Iseah) are Abraham’s sons. This is an important
genealogical and spiritual tie.
Emphasising Universal Brotherhood Values
The Quran and the Hadith corpus contain
several verses and statements that suggest a universal brotherhood of man that
the Muslim is encouraged to be a part of.
indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes
that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of
Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.”
In this verse above, which is mostly quoted
by defenders of Islam to point out that Muslims are moderate, the Quran
mentions the idea of multi-culturalism that requires man to know one another
because only God is complete and on his own whereas man is weak and needs
others to complete himself. But there are Muslims who add to this verse the
idea that all the cultures here means only cultures that are Muslim by faith;
there are also those who add the idea that Muslims can only be friends with
others with the hope and intention that these people convert to Islam.
Such thoughts destroy the respect that we
should give to others because only by respecting others and accepting them can
other faiths accept Islam and Muslims. But because the education of the usatz
has been so forceful about our “holier than thou” attitude, there is complete
failure on the part of Muslims to put this verse into practice.
those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], as well as those who
follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians – all who believe
in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds – shall have their reward with
their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve.
In this verse, God has promised reward for
those not of the Muslim faith but who are sincere seekers of truth and pure of
faith. I have checked the “tafsir” (interpretation/commentary) of this verse in
order to verify whether the Quran has specified a period limitation but this is
an eternal verse and not meant only for those who lived before the Prophet
“O you who
believe! Believe in Allah, and His Messenger (Muhammad SAW), and the Book (the
Quran) which He has sent down to His Messenger, and the Scripture which He sent
down to those before (him), and whosoever disbelieves in Allah, His Angels, His
Books, His Messengers, and the Last Day, then indeed he has strayed far away.
This is a clear verse extolling the concept
of Islam being a single evolutionary line of development from Judaism,
Christianity and even a few other ancient faiths. “The book” means the original
teachings of the message bearers of the past. The contention by many Muslims
that this verse does not refer to the present “books” of the other faiths as
they have been tampered with shows the Muslim lack of understanding of the
historical methodology in reading texts and writings.
All historical records, texts and writings
never truly present the truth or fact in a black and white manner. The
historian usually has to look at the larger context of the period’s
socio-political and religious framework as well as take the message rather than
the word-for-word reading. If we were to reject all historical records of man
just because they have been “tampered with”, we would be a species without any
history. If we read the present published scriptures there are many
similarities in values regarding the idea of the dignity of all mankind as
equal before god.
Possible Political Influence on Religion
Muslim students must be taught that many
seemingly religious conflicts between Islam and Christianity and Islam and the
Hindus or Sunni and Shia are not necessarily religious. Many of these conflicts
have their origins and main issues in geo-political concerns as well as egos
and the private agendas of the proponents of wars like kings, popes and
For instance, Emperor Constantine and the
Council of Nicea framed Christianity in a certain manner and may have acted for
political and other intentions. Constantine knew that the old Roman order was
dead and he must rise with the new faith if he were to survive. For instance,
the Palestinian issue is political but possibly made into a religious one.
Such historical events have a geo-political
context and Muslim teachers must not simplify them as “religious conflicts”.
Cultural Layering of Religious Messages
Many religious rituals and values have
undergone layers of practice to the point that some of these practices are not
within the original spirit of the faith. Students must be able to identify
which practices and values are a product of cultural interpretation and must be
able to distance themselves from their negative implications on society.
Issues causing social and religious tension
are mostly a product of cultural layering and these must be peeled off one by
one to expose the fundamental teachings and values of the faith. Perlis mufti
Dr Asri Zainul Abidin is disliked by many Malays simply because he is very hard
on the Muslims who practice religious rituals never encouraged or started by
the Prophet Muhammad.
The Vice-Regent Mindset
Muslims see themselves as the vice-regent
of Allah, and have a “world managing mindset” However, this mindset has always
been about conquering and subjugating as well as challenging non-Muslim powers
and cultures. In the new curriculum, Muslim minds must be re-aimed at solving
global concerns such as famine, pollution, global warming, deforestation,
natural disasters, pandemics, political injustice and sustainability
Now, isn’t this better than telling young
Muslims to bomb and kill people, to shout obscenities at others, to burn their
holy books and perform other atrocious acts with a seemingly religious fervour?
Taking care of the world and the people living in it is the greatest call to
spiritual growth and enlightenment.
Minimum Qualifications for A Teacher
The teacher of Muslim graduates must be
from a varied academic area of studies. One of the degrees must be in
traditional Islamic studies. One of the degrees must be from the humanities,
such as philosophy, anthropology, history or sociology. In this manner, the
teacher can be broad-minded and can look at others with a larger sense of
It would be best if the teacher of Islam
spends at least one year in a country where Islam is in the minority so that he
or she would learn the sensitivities of teaching and imparting knowledge within
the socio-political context of multi-cultural and multi-faith nation-state
entities. The social and political backgrounds of these teachers must also be
checked. He or she must have a clean record of writing or social/political
activities without racist or extremists agendas.
The New Muslim Graduate
The following is my idea of the
characteristics of a global Muslim:
He is concerned
about the well being of all of mankind;
everyone as part of a single brotherhood;
the strengths and weaknesses of religious institutions;
He can discern
what is cultural and what is Eternal;
the world as his environmental vehicle for survival;
the place of his religion in human history and civilisation;
He knows that he
does not know everything and that this is the key to wisdom; and
He can “fit in”
into all meaningful organisations and human cultures.
Mohamad Tajuddin Mohamad Rasdi is a professor of Islamic architecture at
The Momineen and the Kafirin