to Islam's Roots
following is an edited excerpt from a speech by the prime
minister of Malaysia, delivered at the School of Oriental
and African Studies in London September 22. It was first
published in the Far Eastern Economic Review
we honestly say that the situation of the Muslim today is
good? It certainly is not. And if it is not, is it because
of Islam, because of its teachings? Or is it because changes
have been made to Islam so that it is no longer in accordance
with the original teachings of Islam?
the collapse of the Turkish Ottomans, Muslims every where
became divided and much weaker. In fact, for a time there
was hardly a Muslim country which was not colonised or dominated
by Europeans. Some Muslim reformers then began to question
the orthodox views of Muslim scholars. They wanted to “modernise,”
to emulate the Europeans. Some went so far as to believe
that only by discarding Islam and becoming secular could
Muslims regain their pre-eminence. They achieved very little
success in the face of strong opposition by the influential
orthodox scholars. The problem was that some of the reformers
were too influenced by the European concept of the separation
of state and church. This may be possible in the Christian
context. It is not in the Muslim world.
is a way of life, and a way of life cannot be compartmentalised
into spiritual and material areas. The system of government
of a country and its development is a part of the way of
life. It is entirely possible to be Islamic even if a modern
administration or system, including democracy, is adopted.
It is possible if we go back to the fundamentals of Islam.
The problem is that Muslims tend to emphasise and venerate
the form rather than the substance in the practice of everything.
clothing to cover the body is translated as the wearing
of the Arab dress. That other forms of dress can also cover
the body is regarded as being of no merit, un-Islamic. Reading
to acquire knowledge is interpreted as reading to acquire
Islamic religious knowledge only. Defence of the ummah [or
Muslim community] is interpreted as veneration of the ancient
weapons of war. But what is one to make of the neglect of
learning and defence in the Muslim world? Must Muslims forever
buy their weapons from others? Surely they must have indigenous
capacities to invent and produce for their defence needs.
To do this, they must learn science, mathematics, technology
and the rest. Far from regarding the pursuit of these subjects
to be not as good as the study of Islamic theology, it should
be regarded as an ibadah, which should gain merit for the
individual and the community.
to focus on the defence of the ummah will need political
stability and economic wealth. And so Muslims must learn
to restrain themselves and to make whatever system of government
they adopt, work. Democracy is compatible with Islam. The
Prophet left it to his followers to choose a leader from
among themselves. One can say that a system where the leader
is chosen by an electorate is much more Islamic than otherwise.
And having been elected, a leader must care for his people.
This means ensuring they have food, clothing, shelter
means peace. We wish peace upon each other. This is also
fundamental to Islam. We only fight against those who attack
us. When the enemy sues for peace, Muslims must respond
positively. But we are doing none of these fundamental things.
Today, Muslims are labelled terrorists. We don't think it
is justified. But the fact is that we are killing people
because of our anger, regardless of who we kill or the consequences.
Admittedly, we are desperate and outgunned and there is
very little else we can do to defend ourselves against injustice.
But should we just lash out indiscriminately, killing innocent
people, including those who sympathise with us? Shouldn't
we stop to think, plan and strategize with ultimate victory
as our goal? What have we got after almost 1oo years of
fighting? Nothing. Even our anger is not assuaged. We are,
in fact, getting more angry.
present predicament is not pre-ordained by Allah. It is
entirely due to our own doing. We have neglected and misinterpreted
the teachings of Islam. We rely merely on praying to Allah
for help when Allah has said in the Koran that we have to
help ourselves first before He will help us.
not have a need to reinvent Islam. Islam is
perfect and is for all times. Islam is relevant if we stick
to the fundamentals, if we interpret them correctly. The
problem is with the interpretation. It has not only divided
the ummah but has made the ummah practically illiterate,
incapable of dealing with even the simple problems of governing.
is still the perfect religion. It is Muslims, who are not
perfect, who have allowed themselves to misinterpret Islam.
Muslims must correct themselves. It is they who must change.
The Prophet brought to us only one religion of Islam. Today,
there are hundreds of Islams. We have to go back to the
one Islam brought by the Prophet.