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Sunday, May 4, 2008

ISLAM : and media deluge

(Adapted from talk delivered by Ustaz Zhulkeflee at Malabar mosque, (organized by Malabar Muslim Jama'at) Victoria Street, Singapore on the occassion of their Ramadhan Lecture Series -2005)

ISLAM : and media deluge“…. sifting the TRUTH from ‘truth’ ….”


“ (Al-Qur’an), containing messages that are clear in and by themselves (aayat muhkamaat) – and these are the essence of the divine writ – as well as others that are allegorical (aayat mutasyaabihat). Now those whose hearts are given to swerving from the truth go after that part of the divine writ which has been expressed in allegory, seeking out [what is bound to create] confusion, and seeking [to arrive at] its final meaning [in arbitrary manner]; but none save God knows its final meaning..” (Qur'an: Surah Aali ‘Imraan: 3: 7-9)

In the above, Allah s.w.t. teaches us that Islam and all its teachings are founded on clear and explicit principles and that any other aspects which may appear vague (i.e. can have many interpretations) they must be made to conform to these clear principles, and not to allow any interpretation which is not consistent with it. Allah fact is warning us that there will be people who intends to distort truth be picking out aspects of the teaching and practice of Islam out of its overall context, and forcing their misinterpretation to it so as to fault Islam - to create confusion and mischief.

The power of the media and the usage of modern communication technology has been harnassed towards affecting peoples' opinions and beliefs.With much misunderstanding and bias reporting on Islam today, instead of being a source of information has rather become guilty of misinformation about Islam. And it comes in a deluge, The ignorant use and careless application of terms can distort truth, thereby compounding the confusion.Thus a world renown Islamic thinker S M Naquib al-Attas warns:

“The learned and wise among Muslims must use constant vigilance in detecting erroneous usage in language which impinges upon semantic change in major key elements and creates general confusion and error in the understanding of Islam and of its worldview.”

(Quote: S M Naquib al-Attas “The Concept of Education in Islam” pp. 37-38 )

To begin de-fusing many misconception, we need to explain what certain terms (although commonly used by others too) actually means to us, our perspectives. To begin with, the term "religion" to refer to al-Islam. Although this term "religion" is often used it does not actually convey the actual meaning for the term "Deen." Thus peoples thought about al-Islam tends to be coloured by what what they have regarded religion, as any other religion to be. This, infusion of their interpretation to what Islam is, perhaps could be one source for their many misundestanding of Islam. There we need to explain it.

Preliminary - point: Understanding Islam as “Ad-Deen

  • DEEN : “Usually translated as “religion” – not an accurate term.
  • from root word “daa-na “ which can also mean: be indebted, to owe one’s thanks, to
    be subjected, bow, yield, owe allegiance.
  • from “dain” which means debt, obligation, liability.
  • from “dainuu-na” which means judgement, Last
  • related to the word “maaddana” which means “to build or found cities to civilise, to refine and to humanise” from which the word “tamaddun” meaning “civilisation and refinement in social culture”

Important point: “Islam” as “Ad-Deen”

“The primary signification of the term “deen” thus can be reduced to four:

  • Indebtedness
  • Submissiveness/submission/surrender
  • Judicious power
  • Natural inclination or tendency

“Thus, the implication of “religion” in the ordinary usage which tends to be affected by secular thoughts is not in accord to Islam’s concept of religion which is life in totality, all-encompassing and cannot be dichotomised. A Muslim always is mindful that ultimately he is a servant of God whether in mosque or in the market place, in private or in public etc. Life of this world is intrinsically link with the Hereafter (also referred to as ‘Yaum al-Deen’ -The day of Judgement).
– Extracted from “Tasawwur Islam Notes” by Ust. Zhulkeflee Ismail(PERGAS)


Critique of modern (Western) approaches in their analysis of Islam:

1. Their obsession with adding adjectives to term “Islam” whereas what they intend to convey are observations of the practices (rightly or wrongly), attitudes (justified or otherwise) and perceptions/misperceptions of Muslims. They attempt to grasp the true nature of the religion “Islam” interpreted merely from outward observations on the behaviour of its people (Muslims). This reminds me of the “reductionist tendencies” which only managed to be over simplistic while imagining that they have managed to simplify things.

2. Their failure to make clear distinction between term “Islam” and “Muslim” but continually use these terms interchangeably thereby they are trapped into attacking a “straw man” of their own creation with all the obvious weaknesses perceived in this false portrayal of Islam.

3. We can admit that Muslims are not perfect, but to equate it by suggesting therefore Islam as a religious ideal is therefore flawed because of certain acts seen in some Muslims, is mischievous (reminiscent of the Orientalist approaches long since exposed as bias bigotry cloaked in academic writings motivated by the Church and Western Imperialism – which II Vatican Council has today attempted to correct, if not reversed).

4. They may have succumbed to “intellectual dictatorship”. Evidence is when terms are carelessly coined arbitrarily, and subjects are categorised to suit the Western epistemology and secularist worldview without considering that a particular religion may differ in their philosophy and has their own explanation and worldview (this is true not just to Islam but almost all Eastern religions) . Basic underlying philosophy, wisdom and fundamental principles of Eastern religions are simply brushed aside as irrelevant and archaic in the modern age dictated by Western hegemony.

5. Their predominant use of modern anthropological and sociological methods and approaches in commenting on religions. They claimed that these methods are ‘objective’ and ‘neutral’ but in doing so unwittingly they have rejected without even bothering to consider these religions inherent claim to something sacred, something absolute (but which western anthropologists categorised as myths, human imaginings. Even truth to the West is merely as something relative not absolute, religions as outcome of man’s needs etc.). These Western ‘scientific’ approaches (which really mean rejection of the metaphysical) actually are not ‘neutral’ and ‘objective’ but clearly are promoting ‘atheistic’ and secular materialistic ideas.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr observed in chapter 1 of

“Islam and the Plight of Modern Man” :

“Western scientists and scholars in the fields of anthropology, the social sciences, and even the humanities are trained almost completely to study only change. Any alteration, no matter how trivial, is more often than not, considered as a significant change, while the immutable is almost unconsciously identified with the unimportant or the dead…..”

He further opines:

“ …But in the field of sciences of man….. the great impediment is precisely the monolithic and monopolistic character which modern science has displayed since the seventeenth century.”

“ …But to relate these elements to traditional schools is possible only if the doctrine of man in his totality, as expounded in traditional metaphysics … is accepted…

… To claim to know the human psyche without the aid of the Spirit (the Intellect) and to claim finality for this knowledge as ‘truly scientific’, independent of any other form of knowledge, cannot but result in the very impasse which in fact the modern world faces today.”

He suggested:

“It (i.e. modern scientific research into the nature of man) can be legitimate only if it is able to overcome the ‘totalitarian rationalism’ inherent in modern science ….. and to assent to become what it really is, namely a limited and particular way of knowing things through the observation of their external aspects, their phenomena, and of ratiocination based upon this empirical contact with things;…”


Lessons for Muslims intellectuals: "Many of these absurd labelling may become apparent if Western writers/commentators of Islam were to:

  1. sincerely appreciate the meanings of those terms which may belong to different worldview from theirs by understanding them from their source.
  2. And then only can they proceed to suggest terms but we have to clearly define these, which we intend to use with its entire intended significance and implications; ensuring that it is not antithetical to its original worldview, and not try to still insist in applying Western interpretations of it."

My response to: Their categorizing “Radical Islam Vs Conservative Islam”!

There is only one Islam! Radical or conservative actually refers to the manners or ways as practiced by the people. If there are people who seem radical, it is their attitudes that should be studied, not Islam. And what do we mean by radical? Is it good or bad? (how do you judge?)

As to being conservative, it too can be deemed as positive as well as negative, depending on circumstances.

So, this simplistic pigeon-holing is rather simplistic to be applied to Islam which has principles which are universal and immutable and yet in its application, it is not to be applied rigidly but requires considerations of the people, time, place and circumstances faced.

As to: Their categorizing “Political Islam Vs Apolitical Islam”!

Islam as a way of life is all-encompassing, and therefore it includes guidance in man’s sociological, economic and political spheres of life. Islam cannot be reduced into such narrow slots of either ‘political or apolitical’. To single out only one aspect would be pandering to the ‘reductionist’ tendency. We have to be consistent in understanding Islam as Ad-Deen. In fact, political or apolitical should be applied to people in their attitude,

To: Their categorizing “Moderate Islam Vs Extreme Islam”!

This is mischievous! By suggesting labels of “moderate” or "extreme", actually they are referring to the people not the religion. Whatever be their tendencies, there is still only one Islam, and it’s teachings must be seen wholistically and not partially or selectively.

As a religion, Islam expounds the golden means for its followers, that Muslims are those who follow the middle way:–

And thus have We willed you to be a community of the middle way (ummatan wasotan) [i.e. justly balanced], so that [with your lives] you might bear witness to the truth before all mankind

(Qur’an: 2:143)”

So if the essential teachings advocates justice it implies moderation. How can we suggest using another adjective ‘moderate’, unless what is implied is that Muslims should not be religious! i.e. as if they are saying :‘don’t be too serious about your religion. If you are, then you are being extreme!’ Actually, if Islam is essentially balanced and moderate, to be extremely religious is to be extremely moderate! And falling short of being religious then will lead to ‘extremism’ of what is termed “ghuluw” which means “excessiveness, immoderation, exceeding proper bounds, exaggeration, extravagance.” And Islam regard not just acts which exceeded the accepted bounds of its teachings to be "extreme", purposeful omission, laxity or non-compliance of what has to be practiced in Islam is also a form of extremism. Both extremeties (because it goes beyond what this religion stipulates) are not of Islam.

To: Their categorizing “Belligerent Islam Vs Pacifist Islam” !

This is another mischievous attempt at distorting Islam!
By suggesting this, it attempts to deny the very meaning of the name "Islam” itself which also denotes “peace, the way to peace.” If their concern may be due perhaps to refer to that Islamic teaching which do condone ‘war’ or ‘killings’, but surely these must be seen in their relevant context.
As to the current Muslims state of affairs (especially in the Middle east), these must be studied in the whole context of socio-political climate with all their relevant historical reasons, causes etc.

Do not try to insinuate blame upon the religion.

" Their intention is to extinguish Allah's Light (by blowing) with their mouth, but Allah will complete (the revelation of) His Light, even though the unbelievers may detest it. It is He Who has sent His Messenger with Guidance and the Religion of Truth (al-Islam), that they may proclaim it over all religion, even though the Pagans may detest (it)."

(Qur'an: Saff: 61:8-9)

Jazaa-kumullaah al-khayr

Wa billaahi Tau-fiq wal-Hidaaya
Was-salaamu 'alay kum wa raHmatullaah

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