January 21, 2013

Gentle Note 1 : Political Islam in Malaysia

At least in the past 20 years, it is hard to find something in Malaysia’s political scene that is aligned perfectly to Islamic guidelines. In fact, in recent years Muslims have suffered more than ever as a consequence of political tug-of-war between Muslims parties in fighting for power. Many factors contributed to this situation. Some of them were intended and some of them were done out of ignorance.

This situation of heavy practicing of ‘realpolitik’ and Machiavellian style of politics played by Muslim politicians, often left the Muslims in Malaysia in doubt about the true nature of politics in Islam.

While few might have paved their way to finding out the truth and the answer, most of our Muslim society in Malaysia do not even bother to understand it, so long that their material needs are addressed in the manifestos. I prayed to be in the former.

* * *
In between my hectic daily schedules, an Arabic book about political education caught my attention. Awrāq Fī At-Tarbiyyah As-Siyāsiyyah (Notes On Political Education, 2011) is a simple book written by Fathī Shihāb Ad-Dīn, with its foreword written by Dr. ʿEssām Al-ʿEryān (now VP of Freedom & Justice Party in Egypt).

In his foreword, Dr. ʿEssām wrote:
“Our politics is not just a mere theory or skill of deceiving. It is in fact a well-mannered politics (siyāsah akhlāqiyyah) which obeys the guidelines of Islamic law (sharīʿah islāmiyyah). Therefore, our concern towards the conscience and the inner thoughts of a politician (which control his behaviour), is among the notable thing which strikes the difference between Islamic politicians (Islamic in his deeds and references) and those who followed the principle of Machiavelli – ‘The end justifies the means’ – or those who followed the principle of modern Pahlavi – ‘Whatever brings you to victory then make use of it’ (alladhī taghlibu bihī ilʿab bihī).”

This short paragraph by Dr ʿEssām’s carries more than what it seems. He differentiated between Islam and the others in the field of politics. The elements of politics in Islam were outlined here - the thought, the concept, the value - and they are difficult to be matched with any political systems available today.

Furthermore, his words are not merely a philosophy or a theory, as it came from the mind of a Muslim politician who had already spent a long time serving the cause of Islam in the field of lopsided politics in Egypt. This is a common trait shared by most prominent politicians in Islamic history such as Al-Māwardi, Al-Ghazāli, and At-Tūsi (Nizām Al-Mulk) alike. This is of great importance in understanding the true nature of politics in Islam, as explained in detail by Dr Fathī Ad-Dirrīni in his book, Khasāis At-Tashriʿ Al-Islāmi Fi As-Siyāsah Wa Al-Hukm (The Special Characteristics Of Islamic Law In Politics And Governance, 1982).

This act of balancing between almost every thinkable matter in human mind – Objectives, victory, reality, philosophy, strategy, etc. - could not be found in political systems, except in Islam  and in only few selected Muslim politicians.

Thank God I’ve seen most of these selected politicians here in Egypt. I’ve seen a lot of Muslim politicians here especially from Freedom & Justice Party who excelled in politics and at the same time truly understand the correct calculation of politics that upholds Islam and its causes. The current President of Egypt, Dr Muhammad Morsy, who was internationally chosen as the best parliamentarian in the years 2000 - 2005 due to his effective parliamentary performance also came from that party.

* * *

As I wade deeper into the book written by Fathī Shihāb Ad-Dīn, I found another interesting note about political education in Islam. He wrote in brief about the institutions that can be used effectively in educating the right attitude and understanding towards the true nature of politics in Islam.

Ranking above all others is the family institution. In my personal experience, this is by far the first time I noticed such a great concern was given to family institution when discussing politics.

“An Islamic family – which is cultivated with Islamic values – is the one that generates in the minds and heart of the children their loyalty towards their own family, their extended family, their homeland as a family, and the whole family of Muslims in this world. Family is the one that instil the value of loyalty in the children towards those variety of ‘extended’ families. This sense of loyalty will then create and nurture further their political realization and their pride towards their religion, Islam.”

I am lucky to see a living example of this theory. Once I went to visit an Egyptian family here in Cairo. Upon entering their house, I noticed that the walls inside their house were decorated with so many posters. Some bore the flag of Egypt, some bore the flag of Palestine and Syria and some were scribbled with children’s handwriting.

I asked the father about what were those posters all about. He told me that the other day his wife organized an election among their children to elect a new ‘president’. The new ‘president’ must understand Islamic values and know the issues of the Muslim world, especially what’s happening in Palestine and Syria now.

His story of what had happened inside this small happy Islamic family had broadened my view on political education. I started to realize that this kind of thinking – political education in family – is not common among Muslims in Malaysia. We are used to getting political education more from ‘ceramah politik’ and campaigns by political parties and some NGOs. Even in our schools and universities, not much was taught especially about the true nature and the true conduct of politics according to Islam.

* * *
I made a simple conclusion after reading this simple book: the way Islam sees politics is distinctively unique in all aspects. Be it in political thought or political system, or even in political education.

The understanding towards the true nature of Islamic political conduct and Islamic political education can only come from similar quantity of understanding towards the true nature of Islamic law itself. This Islamic law which is mainly comprised of the element of comprehensiveness and the element of piety towards The Almighty Creator, must be fully understood starting from its deepest root, even before we can achieve the correct understanding of politics in Islam.

Here I asked myself: Are Muslim politicians in Malaysia - mostly - build their political records upon this required noble ground or are they no different than other politicians who followed the script written by irreligious and atheistic thinkers?

Do you have the answer?


  1. In the days of the Khalifah Ar-Rasyidin, those who became Khalifah had wisdom and deep understanding in the matters of syariah laws. Wass it because of their deep understanding they became Khalifah, or they became Khalifah then they understood the syariah laws more deeply? One can only speculate.

    But even then, even their decrees were not without controversies. Some ulamas disputed their decrees, although they took care not to cause a big fitnah.

    But this had happened today.

    Then, came the days of Umayyah and Abbasiyyah and others. the khalifah wielded political and military might but Few of the khalifah then had deep understanding of the syariah. Some did not have the right akhlak even. But they were guided by the ulama.

    Ulama disputed the decrees made by the Khalifah. Imam Malik, Imam Shafie et al went against the Khalifah when the Khalifah was wrong. They suffered because they would not follow the Khalifah's will.

    So, what that tells you?

    Allah has said, He gives things to whomever He wanted. Money, happiness, wifes. It actually extended to right to rule, political charisma, ability to give public speech, wisdom in the ways of Islam. Everything. Allah gives everything to anything to anyone He desires.

    Some He chose above others. He gave charisma, ability to entrance an audience and political power, but not wisdom in the ways of Islam. Some He gives the wisdom in the ways of Islam but not political charisma.

    In a perfect world, we would have more of Khulafa' Arrasyidin. But Allah did not give us that.

    Allah has gave us ulama, but our leaders today would not heed the words of the ulama. The leaders of today would rather have ulamas who would listen to them by their side. In turn, this ulamas would rather be silent.

    So, where does that leave us? An administration that is corrupt and needs to return to Allah.

    There is a party who would return to Allah, they would listen to the ulamas but few supported them. You would not support them.

    So, where does that leaves us?

  2. 1. Regarding the speculation about their understanding towards the essential knowledge of Islamic Law, that's absurd. It is clear for us that all Khulafa' Ar-Rasyidin are specially trained to understand Islamic Law under the Prophet's (pbuh) seupervision himself. How then could Saidina Umar r.a said (Tafaqqahu qabla an tusawwadu - Understand deeply before you lead)?

    2. And about your last question, the answer is somehow clear and simple : Why are we trapped in either parties available now? Is politics just about parties, or to be specific, between two parties? For me, I found no parties available right now to be fully qualified to provide a real solution for Islam (unless these parties make big changes). Why not we create a solution by ourselves? Or more, why not we be the solution we need?
    Well of course you might say that this words aren't realistic. Yes, I agree. Ideally, this is the way we should think. Realistically, if we need to choose, then we choose the one who will bring less damage and less trouble to our project of creating the true solution.

    You may disagree but I hope that you try to keep these words in mind, and let's see how it works charmingly in the near future.

    Thank you.

  3. *correction :
    Saidina Umar's words in Arabic :
    تفقهوا قبل أن تسودوا
    Tafaqqahu qabla an tusawwidu/tasuudu

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