“MALAYSIAN society is faced with a collision of values,” says new Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (Abim) president Muhamad Razak Idris. “There are two elements in this conflict. First, the rise of commitment to living according to Islamic religious values. Second, the increasing influence of liberal ideas, due to globalisation.”
Razak, a lecturer at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM)’s Islamic Studies faculty, believes that Abim’s role in Malaysia today is to be a mediator between these two sides. “We hope to begin a process of reconciliation between these two values,” he explains.
Abim was founded in UKM in 1971. Out of its ranks have come numerous Malaysian leaders, most famous of which is Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. While it isn’t the only significant Muslim organisation today — Jemaah Islah Malaysia (JIM) springs to mind — Abim is still in a position to affect the nation’s direction.
Before the 28 Aug 2009 cow-head protest by a group of Muslim men in Shah Alam, The Nut Graph sat down with Razak on 19 Aug to find out Abim’s stand on the bigger issues of Islam in a multi-cultural Malaysia. Razak also talks about why he’s in Abim and what he means by “moderate Islam”.
TNG: You have been involved with Islamic youth organisations for a while now; first, with Persatuan Kebangsaan Pelajar Islam Malaysia (PKPIM) when you were in university, and now with Abim. Why do you feel called to participate in Muslim and youth-oriented organisations?
Razak: I think that the place of Muslim youth in our nation is very important. Muslim youth are the majority in Malaysia. Today, this group is not only represented by Malay [Malaysians]. It also encompasses youth from Chinese and Indian [Malaysians], [and] the bumiputeras of Sabah and Sarawak, as well as the Orang Asli. That is the result of a long process of Islamic proselytising.
So [Muslim youths] are very influential. They are a pillar on which Malaysia’s future direction rests. They are our future leaders. If we can instil strength in this group, they will be able to contribute to society.
This is one of the factors why I’m so active. And Abim is the most suitable avenue for me, personally, to participate [in].
You are Abim’s new president. What role do you think it should play within Malaysia? What form of Islam would Abim represent?
Look at the history of Abim. It was founded on the effort to renew national systems in the framework of holistic Islam. We are moderates. Our roots are in the Al-Quran and Al-Sunnah, and our faith based on objective scholarship.
Abim believes that an understanding of Islam is capable of providing solutions to all aspects of life: society, the economy, politics. We don’t see Islam as a personal thing: going to the mosque, and back. For Abim, a complete Muslim is someone who is active not only in the religious rituals, but also in improving society.
Islam is inclusive. Faith is one thing — but Islamic values, which are universal values, can be shared by everyone, including non-Muslims. Just take, for example, Islamic finance. Its benefits are not limited to Muslims.
A big concern, when it comes to values, is how these values get enforced. What are your thoughts on moral policing? Is it justifiable for the state to force its citizens to share [the same] moral standards?
The issue of moral policing must be seen holistically. It is an example of the clash between Islamic values and liberal values.
In a secular society, morals are individual; how you behave is part of your human rights, and so on. This attitude is growing today. But, for Islam, moral aspects are not only individual. They are also society’s responsibility. Priority is given to “maslahah masyarakat” — social harmony. If there are any elements that can disturb this harmony, it is the responsibility of a society’s authorities to correct it.
This is because, while an individual has personal rights, when you participate in society, you are part of society — and you must follow the rules and regulations of that society.
Take unrestricted mixing between the sexes, to the point that they contravene social norms — like kissing in public, or consuming alcohol. The public cannot accept such acts that go against their values.
So far, we are talking about actions in the public sphere. What about things like drinking or intimacy in private?
If it is in a private place, then this is one’s personal right. However, even if that is the case, this doesn’t mean we encourage such acts. Muslims should try to live by Islamic teaching, and Muslims in this country are bound by Islamic law that governs their behaviour.
So you would agree with empowering religious authorities to carry out raids into private spaces?
There are provisions in the religion that allow for preventive measures to be taken. Moral policing should be seen as a form of prevention.
The collision between Islam and other faiths in Malaysia is undeniable. This is best exemplified in the unilateral conversion of minors, as was seen in the Indira Gandhi case. What is Abim’s stand on the issue?
Conversion is a legal matter that is quite convoluted. This problem has arisen because we inherited a legal system from colonial times. A way out has to be found.
As far as Abim is concerned, we are prepared to support any solution that is able to provide justice to all parties involved. That is the most important Islamic principle we need to fulfil.
You mention the legal aspects of Islam in Malaysia. We currently have two sets of laws: syariah law, under which Malaysian Muslims are bound, and civil law, which governs all Malaysians. Is this ideal?
It is time for one system of law. The source for this system should be syariah law, while still retaining the principles of civil law that do not conflict with syariah. The time has come, and there are signs that the process of harmonising the two has begun.
I want to emphasise that Abim believes that syariah law is inclusive, and capable of delivering justice to everyone, whether Muslim or non-Muslim.
What are your plans for Abim, moving forward?
We will continue our efforts in educating and training youths in moderate Islam. We will also involve ourselves in efforts to reinforce fair democratic systems, and step up our political programmes to do this. One of our focuses is the development of Muslim women, to become a force to be reckoned with.
Most important is that we address the problems and social ills affecting youth at all levels. Drugs, crises of identity, a lack of direction in life. All these put them at risk.
Abim needs to provide them with alternatives. We want to focus on Muslim youth development, so that they can be citizens who are able to contribute to the country.
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