Hadi Awang is not the problem - By Commander (Rtd) S THAYAPARAN Royal Malaysian Navy
Friday, June 30, 2017
Malaysiakini : “I put people before gods. I respect believers of all kinds and
work to promote interfaith dialogue, but my whole life I've seen
religion used as a weapon, and I'm putting all weapons down.”
- Zak Ebrahim, ‘The Terrorist's Son: A Story of Choice’
COMMENT | I have written my share
of screeds against PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang that the title of
this piece vexes me. It does so because what I write about Hadi is not
about his religious beliefs but of his anti-constitution stances.
In the previous article, I made the claim that Stephen Ng’s piece and the two pieces by Rais Hussin were part of the problem why there is a disconnect in the religious discourse in this country. In my last piece,
I argued that it is pointless raging against the excesses of Islam in
this country when there is no alternative to the state’s hegemony of
this particular religion. What exactly are we talking about when we talk
of peaceful co-existence when there is no alternatives either in
policies or narratives between political alliances in this country?
I read every article that Rais writes here and on other sites, and I
think that he is on to something. The problem, of course, is that what
Rais writes is what non-Muslim/Malays want to hear, and I have no idea
if he continues this dialectic within the Malay community with similar
provocative articles. When it comes to religion and interpretation of
religion, it is best left to people who actually practice the faith and
when it comes to running a government, people of faith should leave
their faith at the door.
Rais’ two articles about Hadi is problematic for a variety of reasons
and adds to the disconnect in the religious discourse of this country.
The first problem is that as an opposition Muslim political operative,
he is contextualising his opposition to the ideas of Hadi as a religious
That is, he is using religion as the basis of his critique against
Hadi’s position. The fact that Hadi is a hypocritical Muslim is not the
issue. Most public personalities who wear their religion on their
sleeves are hypocritical. It is pointless using religion as a weapon
against Hadi because when you use religion, you inevitably have to
demonstrate that you are religious in your policy-making decisions.
This, of course, is anathema to politicians who claim to want a secular
state and worry of how Islam is promulgated in this country.
If you are waffling on your commitment to a secular state, then you
have to make your case for an Islamic state and this is where the
trouble begins and ends. If oppositional Muslim political operatives and
their allies would just stop using religion as the basis of critique
and concentrate on furthering the agenda of the secular state,
oppositional Muslims MPs would not have to worry about attempting to
"out Islam" their rivals because this would not be the grounds on which
they battle for votes. I have referred to this true Muslim meme in various articles.
“What exactly is a ‘true’ Muslim or ‘true’ Christian for that matter?
Someone who believes that religion should not be politicised? Someone
who believes that you should not mock another's religion? Someone who
believes that religion should not intrude in the private lives of
members of any given society? Someone who believes that there should be a
separation of church/mosque and state?
“These are not ‘true’ religious values but rather true secular
values, or secular humanist values if you like. It is pointless and
disingenuous to attempt to define what a ‘true’ Muslim is considering
the fact that said values are in fact anathema to traditional Islamic
thought and especially by non-Muslims, who project their own agendas as
to the qualities that make a good or true Muslim.
“In other words, a ‘true’ Muslim as defined by those who have been on
the receiving end of Umno-influenced Islam all these years, is a Muslim
who conforms to the political and social conventions of the so-called
moderate stance espoused by Pakatan Rakyat.”
No secular alternative
So Hadi and PAS are not what is wrong with Islam in this country. PAS
is a religious political party and as such their agenda is to Islamise
this country. What is wrong with Islam in this country is that Muslims
don’t have a secular alternative to Umno’s and PAS' interpretation of
Islam. An alternative is not merely alternative interpretations of
Islamic dogma and history but a real secular alternative in terms of
policies to what is offered by the major Islamic political entities in
As far as I can tell, there has been no mainstream Muslim political
entity which has advocated secularism as an alternative to the state’s
interpretation of Islam or has the support of an authentic secular
alliance which supports the idea that there should be a clear
demarcation between mosque and state.
The funny thing is - well, not funny but humorous in a tragic way,
like a Wim Wenders flick - is that Rais hits on but misinterprets the
answer in his second piece
about Hadi. Rais claims, “Where Muslims were weakest was the time when
they abandoned truth seeking, and got themselves consumed by petty
conflicts and wars, often between themselves.”
What does this mean? Even if you do not buy Rais’ interpretation of
that golden moment in Islamic civilisation, what is clear is that
secular ideas and non-interference by the religion into matters of
sciences, public policy, and public spaces were of benefit to the Muslim
community more than anything the dogma had to offer.
While Rais may think that Umno and PAS ganging up is the problem, the
real problem is that by using religion against Umno and PAS, the
political parties that Rais supports becomes part of the problem. In
other words, he and his allies are contributing to Muslims becoming
weak. Instead, what Rais should be doing is not offering up different
interpretations of Islam but concentrating on providing a secular
framework in which opposition political parties can change the Islamic
narrative to a secular one.
Hadi is not incoherent because he is supporting Umno using dodgy
arguments. Hadi is just another hypocritical politician like many in the
establishment and the opposition. What is incoherent is attempting to
use religion to stem the tide of religious fundamentalism.
Attempting to interpret dogma to fit the Islamic narrative you want
to propagate is not the answer. When it comes to religion, Hadi's
interpretation of Islam, while not as nuanced, is just as powerful as
what Rais advocates. That's is the problem with faith. However, if you
make the argument that the state is not in the business of interpreting
religion and people are free to decide which interpretation they
subscribe to, this would be a much more effective way to ensure that
people know they can have a choice and still be true to their faith.
People make the mistake of thinking that a secular state protects
different religious beliefs. This is inaccurate. A secular state
protects people from the religious beliefs of others, especially the
majority. There is a reason why Umno and PAS do not want to change the
narrative, which I can understand. What I find disheartening is that
Muslims will always be at their weakest because no Muslim oppositional
politician with the support of the non-Muslim allies wants to change the