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Saturday, April 26, 2008


Ustaz Zhulkeflee Hj Ismail
(PERGAS)Singapore Religious Teachers’ Association.
paper for “WAMY" World Assembly of Muslim Youth
- Islamic Symposium
(10 Sept 97/ 8 R.Awwal 1418H)
organized by Global Impact and Muhammadiyah Association.


“They aim to extinguish Allah’s light with their utterances: but Allah has willed to spread His light in all its fullness, however hateful this may be to all who deny the truth.”
(Qur’an: as-Saff: 61: 8)

Despite the negative portrayal of Islam, especially by the media, Islam still is steadily being accepted and today its adherents comprises of one-fifth of all humanity. Yet, those who see it as a threat will constantly try to undermine it by process of “misinformation.” The most important respond is by way of educating our young generation towards being able to coherently rebut these misconceptions and expose their silly prejudices.


Amongst the constant barrage of misinformation is the portrayal of Islam as a “backward religion”, “antiquated” and “not in synch with progress.” It is most unfortunate that such views are affecting our young minds, especially those with little knowledge of Islam and who are being exposed to such thoughts emanating from advocates of ‘modernism’ and ‘post-modernism’.

This paper will respond to only one aspect of such misinformation i.e. the notion that Islam is a backward religion and against progress. Yet inspite of the negative portrayal by the media, Islam is indeed a progressive religion and this paper will argue with the following sub-topics:

[1] What do we mean by “progressive” ?
[2] Why is there, generally, a negative perception of Islam?
[3] Our task and the intellectual challenge ahead.
[4] “Islam is progressive...” Examples of some important aspects.

What do we mean by “progressive”?

When we talk about being “progressive”, we normally are concerned about man’s efforts towards change from good to better. To know what is best, criteria and standards have to be envisaged to be used as measurement - be it quantitative or qualitative or both. It must be a constant effort towards attaining perfection, and not just limited to certain aspect of development but it must also consider the overall effect to man’s total development. Therefore by progressive we do not necessarily mean whatever is attained is already perfect, for to be fully satisfied with present attainments stifles the very notion of being progressive. Suffice if the changes attained are in line with the long-term vision of success, and the spirit of striving still continues. In judging a particular religion, we have to evaluate from its teachings whether it conforms to that idea of “progressive”, rather than relying on what its followers have done - because we believe Islam is perfect but the Muslims are not, rather Muslims can seek perfection in Islam. (and not the other way round).

To define what we mean by “progressive” it is crucial and dependent upon what one considers as important objectives and vision for life, which one sets. And thus, to judge any particular religious teaching as being truly progressive depends very much also on how that religion view man’s purpose and destiny. If the notion of “who is man? what is his role & purpose ? where will he go ? “ differs (for people have different objectives and views in life), the question of being “progressive” will differ respectively. Some within a narrow or particular perspective whilst those with a broader or holistic ideal defines it within the larger perspective. The following characteristics which I believe only Islam has, sets it apart as a truly “progressive religion” from all other:

[1] Entrenched in its original teachings are clear concepts of success, which not only is concerned with short-term gains alone but also is far-sighted. While it does concern itself with particular aspects yet it does not neglect the overall human development. Every aspect of its teachings is linked in a harmonious matrix emanating from the essential teaching i.e. concerning the Oneness of God and from it the unity and the brotherhood of man and the universe. Although Islam teaches that the ultimate life is in the hereafter, it does not ignore the importance of this life here and now, which it emphasize as the important means to the hereafter. And it has all along resisted attempts to dichotomize between the secular and the sacred, the earthly and the hereafter.

[2] Central to its teachings is that it exhorts its adherent towards attaining the highest standards possible according to one’s capacity.

[3] It provide guidelines, framework for its attainment in a harmonious way, from rules for personal development to international relations, linking every aspect of man’s life to a unified paradigm. Yet, it is not a rigid system as it allows for man’s growth in terms of his own discovery and inventiveness, in whatever circumstances which he may face in living in this world.

[4] Its message is aimed universally to all nation and constantly manages to draw people from every nation into its fold regardless of their difference in make up, because essentially all mankind are related in their humanity and share a common trust and responsibility.

[5] Its primary vision, standards and principle teachings remain unchanged whereas other religious or philosophical thoughts tend to change their stand. An interesting observation can be seen in that others tend to “discover” what Islam has all along been advocating.

Why generally is there a negative perception?

There are people who think that “Islam is backward”, “Islam is not progressive” and this is somewhat supported, either explicitly or implicitly, by the world media’s slanted coverage of events and news. This is compounded with the Muslims’ lack of success responding to the same media. Although it is accepted that what Muslims do does not necessarily mean that that is what Islam teaches, yet opinions of people tends to use such false syllogism (i.e. example, since the Muslims are backward, therefore it speaks much of Islam itself as a religion.). Added to this are the attacks against Islam by its enemies, which dates back to the Crusades. Although nowadays the approaches used have become somewhat subtler but more sophisticatedly lethal, in the form of Orientalist research and writings by so-called ‘sympathetic scholars’. We have to be proactively trained to think critically, to be prepared for the “ideological battle” (Ghuzwatul-fikr).


To prepare for this (ghuzwatul-fikr) every Muslim must know how to respond to misconceptions, not just by emotional outburst but with “wisdom and fair exhortation” as enjoined in the Qur’an (an-Nahl: 125.)

The process required is for every Muslim:

[1] To have a satisfactory general overview of Islam’s message - its philosophy, principles, paradigm, epistemology, history and development etc.;

[2] To be critical of the so-called “standards” used by the others and set them right first vis-à-vis Islam’s;

[3] To exposed their flaw viz. incomplete data, out of context etc. or their fallacious arguments viz. false syllogism, fallacy of the converse etc.

(refer to my presentation: “how to deal with the general misconceptions on Islam”)

Examples of some important aspects.......”

To support our contention that Islam indeed is progressive, let us evaluate the contributions of Islam in the various fields and approach it using criteria listed above (The area or fields listed below as just examples to show the approach - and therefore not exhaustive):

In Education

“He (Allah) it is who sent unto the unlettered people an apostle from among themselves, to convey unto them His messages, and to cause them to grow in purity, and to impart unto them the divine writ as well as wisdom - whereas before that they were indeed, most obviously, lost in error - ; and to [cause this message to spread] from them unto other people as soon as they come into contact with them : for He alone is almighty, truly wise!
(Qur;’an: al-Jumuu’ah: 62: 2-3)

Islam stresses from the beginning, and the Muslims are exhorted to:

[1] Education is a very important human rights compulsory for all. (tolabul’ilm-faridwa-tan ‘alaa kul-li muslim - “to seek knowledge is compulsory for every Muslim” - Hadith reported by Ibn Majah) and is lifelong vocation (utluubull’lmi, minal mah-di ilal-lahd - “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave” -Hadith)

[2] Truth and Wisdom is universal and mankind’s success requires their preoccupation with the seeking and sharing of this. (wa-tawaa-swoubil-haq - Exhort one another towards (the teaching of) truth - Q: al-Asr : 3..) (..awalam yasii-ru fil-ardi fa-yan-zuruu kai-fa kaa-na ‘aa-qibatu-lazi-na min qab-lihim..”....Have they then never journeyed about the earth and beheld what happened in the end to those who lived before their time ?....- Q : ar-Rum :9 )

[3] Ultimate objective of education is the perfection of man’s nature & disposition entailing development of his intellect & conviction, his deeds and actions, and his inner spiritual purification and growth. (In-namaa bu-ith-tu-lii utam-mima makarimal akh-laaq - “verily I have not been raised (as a prophet) except to perfect the noble nature (disposition of mankind) - Hadith.” Beginning with the three aspects (iiman, islam wa-ihsan - “conviction, submission and best conduct”) it provides for the balanced growth and development of a truly humane personality.

4] Knowledge (al-’ilm) - Islam does not recognize secularist notion of knowledge but it extends knowledge even to the study of the universe as a necessary extension to religious pursuit. Research of the universe is the other (“aayah”) signs which the Qur’an enjoins believers to discover. (in-nafii kholqis-samaa-waati wal-’ardhi wakh-tilaafil-lay-li wan-nahaari la-aa-yaa-ti li-ulil al-baab - “verily in the creations of heaven and earth and in the alternations of night and day, in them are Signs for those who reflect” - Q: ali-Imran : 3 :189 )

[5] Lest we forget, Islam had contributed tremendously in the field of education and especially our young Muslims should never forget this. The present age or civilization owes a lot to the Islamic civilization, which carried the torch of knowledge and enlightenment when the world then, was in the “dark ages”. Attempts to eradicate or deny this had been made especially when the Muslims were dominated and ruled by colonial rulers. The time has come for us Muslims to resume that tradition of education, which had made us the leaders of man with a civilization, which benefit the universe.

In legislation

- “Maqaasid-ash-shar’iyyah”(Aims & purpose of Shari’ah)

[1] Ever since its inception, Muslims have a constitution perfectly written in a perfect language i.e. Al-Qur’an (Dustuuruna) and exemplified through the Prophet Muhammad’s life i.e. As-Sunnah (Qudwaatuna). From then on the development of the Shari’ah evolved in accordance with the needs of people and has remained continuously relevant even till today. Much criticisms were made to it by those who were advocates of other legislative systems but a simple respond would be to discuss the aims and purpose of Islamic Shari’ah vis-à-vis theirs. Briefly, they should realized that Islamic shari’ah concerns itself with mankind’s preservation and development of their:

Dhururiyyah (Rights to religious belief, to life, to intellect, to wealth, to honour / lineage,)

Haajiyyah (Needs which ensure comfortable life as a manifestation of glorifying God)

Tahsiniyyah (Perfection- towards “Makarimal akhlaq” (development of noble character) and “Mashaalih” (betterment of the community)

[2] It can be shown the extensiveness of Islamic jurisprudence by listing the areas covered under “Fiqhul-Islam”, viz. ‘Ibadah (Personal Devotions); Mu’amalah (Social Transaction); Munakahah (Marriage & Family); Jinaayah (Criminal); Faraa-idh (Inheritance / Distribution of wealth); Aqodhiyyah (Judiciary); Jihad (Striving in war & peace) and al-Imaarah (Leadership & government).

In international relations

- “globalization of human civilization”

“O men! Behold, We created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, Allah is all knowing, all-aware.”
(Qur’an: al-Hujurat: 49: 13)

[1] It advocate peaceful co-existence of mankind inspite of our physical differences which should positively be used towards better understanding of each other (li-ta’aarafu - “that they may come to know one another” -Q: al-Hujurat: 49: 13);

[2] It directs mankind towards mutual assistance for the sake of goodness and the general welfare of all-mankind (ta’aawanu alal-birri wa taq-wa - “but rather help one another in furthering virtue and God-consciousness” - Q: al-Ma’idah: 5: 2);

[3] It emphasizes Justice and Good Deeds (ya’ muru bil-’adli wal ihsaan wa itaa-i zil-qurba, wayanhaa anil fah-shaa-i wal mungkari wal baghi - “...He (Allah) enjoins justice, and the doing of good, and generosity towards (one’s) fellow-men; and He forbids all that is shameful and all that runs counter to reason, as well as envy..” - Q : an-Nahl : 16 : 90) to be a common virtue for all mankind to consider implementing;

[4] It advocate communication and dialogue for the pursuit of Truth without coercion (laa ikraaha fid-diin - “ there shall be no coercion in matters of faith” - Q: al-Baqarah: 2: 256) ; (afa-anta tukrihun-naas hat-taa ya-kuunu mu’miniin - “.. do you then think that you can compel people to believe..? - Q: Yunus: 10: 99.)

[5] Collective concern to eradicate oppression by reconciling the feuding parties through negotiations. And when this fails, then to resort to use of collective force against the one who oppresses because when all else fails, peace can only be achieved through a just war. ( fa-asw-lihu bai-nahumaa, fa-in ba-ghat ih-daa-huma ‘alal-ukhraa fa-qaatilul-lati tab-ghii ha-taa tafii-a ila am-rillaah fa-in faa-at fa-asw-lihuu bai-na-huma bil-’adli wa-aq-swituu... “..make peace between them; but then, if one of the two (groups) goes on acting wrongfully towards the other, fight against the one that acts wrongfully until it reverts to Allah’s commandment; and if they revert, make peace between them with justice, and deal equitably (with them)..”al-Hujurat : 49 : 9)


Vicegerency-Mankinds common role, purpose & responsibilities.

“Corruption has appeared on land and in the sea as an outcome of what men’s hands have wrought :”

(Qur’an : ar-Rum : 30 : 41)

“And so set thy face steadfastly towards the [one ever-true] faith, turning away from all that is false, in accordance with the natural disposition which Allah has instilled into man: [for] not to allow any change to corrupt what Allah has thus created - this is the [purpose of the one] ever-true faith: but most people know it not.”

(Qur’an: ar-Rum: 30: 30)

There are many other aspects of Islam, which are so beautiful and relevant for mankind. Thus, it is for us Muslims to reform ourselves and return to the pristine and noble teachings of Islam - because whether we like it or not, people tends to judge Islam based on the state and behavior of the Muslims. And why are the lives of Muslims not reflective of the noble teachings of Islam? Perhaps, many are themselves ignorant of it, or simply complacent by not being committed to the Islamic cause.

Before we can effectively convinced others, we ourselves must be convinced. Before we can educate others about Islam, we ourselves must be educated in it. Therefore, the beginning of change must start with each individual Muslim themselves. For Allah s.w.t. says :

“Verily, Allah does not change the state of a people unless they change what is in themselves.”
(Qur’an: ar-Ra’ad: 13: 11)




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