A typical narrative on the relationship between Islam and freedom in the West will undoubtedly focus on how draconian and inhumane Islamic laws are.
Islam is said to be incompatible with human rights and democracy, and the benchmark used to make this assessment is almost always Eurocentric.
In the Malaysian and Indonesian context, for example, uneasy co-existence between syariah and the civil courts has solicited much criticisms not only from the West but by human rights organisations as well.
A case in point is the punishment meted out to Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, a part-time model, by the syariah court in Pahang.
In July 2009, Kartika was sentenced to six strokes of the rattan cane and fined RM5,000 for drinking in public.
After much protests from the public, the sentence was reduced to three months of community service. In the Malaysian legal system, caning may be meted out as a punishment for particular breaches of syariah law, including adultery, the use of intoxicants (such as alcohol) and apostasy.
At present, three states — Pahang, Perlis and Kelantan — have implemented such punishments.
Hudud (in Arabic, hadd, which may be defined as a limit or prohibition, is a punishment fixed in the Quran or Hadith for crimes considered to be against the rights of God) laws were first formulated in Kelantan (1993) and Terengganu (2002), where the Islamic party, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia , formed the state governments.
A similar pattern can be observed in Indonesia where local governments have created a range of syariah-inspired by-laws, most of which are directed at matters of public morality.
In the province of Aceh, where the right to implement syariah law was part of a broader autonomy package intended to put an end to a decades-long civil war, an Islamic criminal code has been implemented since early 2000.
From a Western perspective, these developments can be interpreted as a sign of the increasing strength and appeal of political Islam, in combination with the influence of transnational organisations and networks, or explained as a result of the growing anxiety about religious identities.
But they also indicate changing interpretations of the “proper” relation between state and citizen. The implementation of syariah-based laws in Malaysia and Indonesia amounts to conceptualisation of the positions of the individual citizen vis-à-vis the state and other citizens.
From a liberal secular perspective, they amount to a massive infringement of personal freedom, an attack on women’s rights, an unwarranted foray of state institutions into religious matters, and an intrusion of the state into the private sphere.
From forbidding women from going out after dark, punishing homosexuals and penalizing extramarital sex to banning alcohol and prescribing modest dressing, they do not just impose physical punishments for moral transgressions but also aim to regulate several aspects of people’s private lives. As such, they institute a form of differentiated citizenship, imposing different behavioural standards on Muslims.
Increasing Islamisation in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei is seen by the West as something retrogressive and as going against Western ideas on the rights and duties of individuals vis-à-vis their communities.
The discourse that gives a high priority to Western ideals will naturally always privilege Christian and Western beauty, knowledge, traditions, spiritualties and cosmologies while deeming as inferior and subaltern the non-Christian and non-Western beauty, knowledge, traditions, spiritualties and cosmologies.
Those subjects rendered inferior and subaltern by these hegemonic discourses will develop their own “identity politics” as a reaction to racism by the former.
The dominant discourse at the global stage also paints the image that European tradition is the only one that is naturally and inherently democratic, whereas the non-European “others” are presumed to be naturally and inherently authoritarian, denying democratic discourses and forms of institutional democracy to the non-Western world (which is, of course, distinct from Western liberal democracy), and as a result, supporting the political authoritarian racism of the former.
This process is necessary as part of a process of self-valorisation in a racist world that renders “the other” inferior and disqualifies their humanity.
We will fall into this vicious trap should we accept the Eurocentric fundamentalist false premise that the only democratic tradition is the Western one.
This merely reproduces an inverted form of Eurocentric essentialism.
As with syariah law, the hudud in particular, the so-called “cruel and unusual” punishments that are often tied to it should be seen in a broader context of a just and credible legal system that places a stringent requirement on witnesses and the evidence adduced.
Put in another way, the continued inferiorisation of syariah law is nothing but a case of epistemic racism whereby the thinking and practices of the non-West are considered unworthy of emulation.
Epistemic racism allows the West to unilaterally decide what is best for Muslim people today and obstruct any possibility of serious inter-cultural dialogue.
Islamophobia as a form of racism against Muslim people is not only manifested in the labour market, education, public sphere, global war against terrorism, or the global economy, but also in the epistemological battleground about the definition of the priorities of the world today.
Dr Azeem Fazwan Ahmad Farouk is the director of the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia
Published in: New Straits Times, Sunday 7 July 2019
The exaggerated image of Islam as “uncivilised” and “violent” in the Western media has been instrumental in stirring the wave of anti-Muslim racism linked to Islamophobic discourse.
The said discourse has manifested itself in the form of cultural racism before and after the Sept 11, 2001, attacks against the United States.
Put in another way, anti-Muslim racism has been around for centuries and Muslims living in the West, especially in the US, are feeling the heat of Islamophobia.
It is worth noting that Islamophobia is multidimensional, and that the inferiorisation of Muslims had gone through many phases.
When, for example, the relations between the European empires with the Islamic empires turned from an imperial relation into a colonial relation, Muslims in the late 15th century Al-Andalus were seen as people with the wrong God.
This racist imaginary was then projected and transformed in the post-colonial and post-civil rights era in the form of cultural racist discourses against Muslims.
Today, one of the cultural racist arguments levelled against Muslims is their “patriarchal and sexist abuses of women”.
This is essentially a continuation of the manufactured image of Muslims as inferior human beings in relation to Western peoples.
On their part, Western patriarchs and conservatives have tried very hard to portray an image as the defenders of feminism.
Former US president George W. Bush’s main argument to invade Afghanistan, for instance, was the need to liberate brown women from the atrocities of brown men.
The hypocrisy of this argument is crystal clear for all to see when the Bush administration was actively defending Christian patriarchal fundamentalism, opposing abortion and women’s civil and social rights during the eight years of his administration, while using a women’s rights argument against the Taliban to invade Afghanistan.
The rhetoric of “white men as saviour of women of colour from coloured men’s patriarchal abuses” goes back to colonial times.
It has served historically to conceal the real reasons behind colonisation of the non-West.
We now know that the real reasons behind the Bush administration’s invasion of Afghanistan and president Barack Obama’s continuity are due to geopolitical strategic location and importance in terms of its closeness to oil and gas in South Asia.
Immediately after the invasion, occupied Afghanistan provided legal permission to transnational gas and oil corporations to build pipelines over its territory.
Islamophobic representations of Muslims as savages in need of Western civilising missions are the main argument used to cover up global, imperial, military and economic designs.
The colonisation of Islam by patriarchal tendencies is not unique. We can see the same abuses against women among Christian and Jewish men.
We can also find many patriarchal and sexist arguments in Christian, Jewish or Islamic texts.
What is presented in the Western media, however, is solely the image of Islam as sexist and patriarchal while there is a self-censorship on the patriarchal oppression of women as practised by Judaism and Christianity in the West.
It is worth highlighting that Islam is the first religion in the world to grant women the right to divorce. I am saying this not to justify patriarchal abuses of women done by some Muslim men but to question the stereotypical racial representation that highlights Muslim men as the source of abuses against women.
The stereotypical image of Muslim men is false and it only serves Western global and imperial designs.
What we have today is not a clash of civilisations, but a clash of fundamentalism and a clash of patriarchies.
The Bush administration defended Christian fundamentalist arguments to characterise the Islamic enemy as part of the crusade wars, while Islamic fundamentalists used a similar language.
The former defend a Western form of patriarchy while the latter defends a non-Western form of patriarchy.
Islamic feminists, however, have argued that patriarchal versions of Islam are inherently un-Islamic and this is primarily due to the fact that the interpretation of the Quran and Hadith were monopolised by men throughout the history of Islam.
The same thing could also be said of the Jewish and Christian sacred texts whereby interpretations that were controlled by the patriarchs became the dominant perspective in these religions.
It is therefore misleading to talk about a single patriarchal system in the world when there are multiples patriarchies in the sense of several systems of gender domination of males over females.
It is therefore important to keep in mind that Western views of Islam are informed by racist exotic and inferior representations.
These orientalist representations of Islam after the 18th century were preceded by 300 years of occidentalism (the superiority of the West over the rest).
Orientalism has enabled the West to construct with authority the Islamic “other” as inferior.
This is crucial because Islamophobia is not exclusively a social phenomenon but it is also an epistemic question.
Unless and until epistemic racism is challenged, Islamophobia will continue to dominate the imaginary of the West.
Dr Azeem Fazwan Ahmad Farouk is the director of the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia
Published in: New Straits Times, 16 June 2019
Brunei’s decision to implement syariah law was met with intense criticisms by not only the West but liberal leaning Muslims as well.
Such a negative reaction and notion by these parties is only to be expected. This is due to the fact that accolades from the West on anything Islamic are an exception and not the norm.
Brunei’s implementation of syariah law has also solicited the ire of Hollywood celebrities ranging from Elton John to George Clooney. These Hollywood superstars have called for a boycott of Brunei-owned hotels. The condemnation of the Brunei move by the celebrities is a reflection of how prejudice and stereotype figure into our ill-informed judgments.
To be clear, fears about syariah are a manifestation of Islamophobia, and these fears are purposely fanned by certain segments of Western society.
Syariah law has been described by the Western press as inhumane, barbaric, and cruel. Syariah, according to the West, promotes an eye for an eye justice.
The coverage of syariah in the West usually focuses on the criminal justice provisions, known as hudud, developed in the seventh century. Theft was said to merit amputation of the right hand, fornication earned a hundred lashes, and falsely accusing someone of the same offence was punishable by eighty strokes.
The gravest crime, the waging of war against Islam or spreading of disorder in the land, was attended by an entire battery of punitive possibilities: exile, double amputation, suspension from a cross, and decapitation.
In the case of other acts of violence, a victim of the next of kin was formally authorised to act.
These punishments look distinctly pre-modern from a twenty-first century perspective, but it would take either naivete or ill will to characterise them in terms worse than that.
Corporal punishment was a feature of the age, while crucifixion owed its popularity in the Middle East to centuries of Persian and Roman practice and among Muslims, at least in later years, it was intended to be a non-fatal means of humiliation rather than a method of execution.
Torture, which was routine under Christianised Roman law of Byzantium, found no place in the Quran. As a matter of fact, the Quran was suffused with more general concepts of mercy. Repentance was often reason enough to exclude punishment for hudud.
Where an offence gave someone a right to seek vengeance, retaliation was limited by the original crime, and victims were urged to accept compensation or exercise mercy instead.
The rules, for all their rigour, also reflected the ancient notion that responsibility was a matter of honour, and less was expected of those lower down the social pecking order: someone who had unlawful sex having never before been married was subject to lashing than stoning, and the number of strokes inflicted for adultery and intoxication was halved if the convict was a slave.
The most striking fact of them all is the one that today is most likely to be overlooked — physical punishment was authorised just five times in the entire Quran.
The system’s relative leniency is paradoxically illustrated by its harshest prescription — the stoning to death for a married or divorced person who had sex out of wedlock. The penalty itself had been known since at least 2,350 Before Common Era when the king of Mesopotamia stipulated in the world’s oldest known laws that promiscuous women should be executed with rocks bearing their names, and the Israelites notoriously adopted the punishment to kill adulterers as well as blasphemers, witches, wizards, and disobedient sons.
Islamic procedures were novel only in so far as they made it harder to impose.
In order for fornication to be proved against a defendant who denied guilt, four witnesses had to attest to the actual act of penetration in explicit terms and the evidential hurdle was as challenging as it sounds.
Put in another way, the narrative on syariah has to focus on mercy and restraint as opposed to punishment.
As a legal instrument, syariah is constituted by moral law. Unlike the Western legal system, syariah is a moral system in which the law is a tool and technique that is subordinated to and enmeshed in the overarching moral apparatus, but not an end in itself.
In syariah law, the legal system is the instrument of morality and not the other way around. Being constituted by ethical and moral values, syariah strives towards the realisation of moral ends.
While syariah aims to achieve certain ideals, it is not almost always fully achieved in the real world. But rather it appears as benchmarks against which reality is not only measured but pressured.
Syariah law was promulgated within an ethical conception of the world. The premise underpinning syariah is that human beings live in the world not beyond it. The Islamic juridical system is therefore a clear reflection of how Islam conceives the world and its relations with humans.
In syariah, humans are charged with custodianship of this world, and are bound by moral and ethical duties and not rights.
Dr Azeem Fazwan Ahmad Farouk is the director of the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia
Published in: The New Straits Times, 22 April 2019
One week on from the terror attacks in Ōtautahi, Hala Nasr reflects on growing up Muslim in Aotearoa.
I woke up to a surreal realisation. It feels familiar, deep in my bones yet disembodied in the anxious discourse of dismissal, from friends, colleagues, and even people from my community. In Aotearoa New Zealand, we are not exceptional, we are not a utopia far from the world’s problems, we are its mirror reflection. Our problems are local and situated, but also global and messy. I can’t shake the thought: I told you so. Why didn’t you believe me?
I grew up centred by Tīkapa Moana and Islamic bedtime stories. Playing netball (goal attack for life) in a miniskirt, and Friday prayers in a hijab with my baba. Parties on Saturday night and Arabic School on Sunday. When I hear tuis sing or see pīwakawaka dancing, my heart literally leaps. Do you see me?
When I was eight, drawing my self-portrait, a Pākehā girl in my class grabbed the beige crayon out of my hand, telling me to use the dark brown crayon instead. I refused to go to school that week. I never told my mama why.
When I was eleven, I watched a terrorist attack unfold on a television in class. That day, my predominantly Pākehā classmates connected me to the terrorists, and for weeks asked me why my mother wore a scarf on her head. I would hide in the library at lunch times. I never told my mama.
When I was 19, a boy I liked told me it wouldn’t work because I was a Muslim, and my family were Muslim. His mother wouldn’t approve. I didn’t bother telling him: neither would mine.
When I was 20, a university lecturer told my third-year Political Science class that Week 10’s class was on Muslim terrorism. I asked about right-wing terrorism. He told me to sit down and shut up. I looked around at my predominantly Pākehā peers, no one said anything. I left.
When I was 25, my mama, who wears a hijab, was assaulted in Milford Mall (our local for over 25 years), and told to “get out of New Zealand.” The management staff did nothing despite our complaints.
When I was 26, Neo-Nazis delivered boxes of pig heads to the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, while saluting Hitler and calling for Muslims in Aotearoa to be ‘culled.’ I felt uneasy visiting Christchurch for work. I didn’t feel I could tell my boss or colleagues.
When I was 27, white supremacists were given platforms to visit and speak to sold-out venues in Australia and Aotearoa. When Muslims objected, we were told that we were exaggerating, that we were the enemies of freedom. In the end, their freedom of speech was prioritised over our lives.
I’m 28 now, and on that Friday night, my mother said to me: “I can’t have 80 children’s lives on my conscience, ya Hala.” She had decided to cancel Sunday School that weekend. She has volunteered, managing and teaching Arabic and Islam to children in the Muslim community of the North Shore, for almost 20 years with other women in our community – ten years of which my sister and I attended. The police have asked that the Sunday School stay closed till further notice.
My sister told me not to worry, “I brought our cats inside in case they want to target Muslim cats, too.” We laughed, and then we cried.
Since Friday, grief has come in waves, as has the awhi from Pākehā and non-Muslims. I understand the need Pākehā and non-Muslims feel to make up for their past indifference or to reiterate that Muslims are just as much of here as anyone else. But the culmination of my lived experiences, and many others which I can’t bring myself to repeat, rests under the surface of my discomfort with the ‘They Are Us’ solidarity statements.
It feels like negation, not just of my own lived experiences, but also of our own history as a nation. Because, while Friday was a dark day, maybe one of the darkest, Aotearoa’s settler-colonial history is a long white-supremacist storybook. I will not pretend it is new, that it is exceptional, that I didn’t see it coming. I did, and you should have too.
Even now, even in wake of the terrorism against my community, some Pākehā and non-Muslims have found it hard to hear this. I have experienced their endless need to ‘explain’ my feelings on this away. In one breath, mourned and warned.
In this moment in our nation’s history, there’s nothing else to do here but learn from the past and do better:
Honour the Treaty.
Hold racists accountable (describing the racism you witnessed to your non-White friend after the fact does not count).
Vote in more representative politicians.
Join and organise with your local anti-racist, anti-colonial organisations.
Learn to recognise and dismantle your white privilege and entitlement (Me and White Supremacy Workbook by Layla F Saad is a good start).
Actively listen and privilege the knowledge and experiences of Māori and non-White migrant communities.
He waka eke noa – we are all in this together.
Published in: The Pantograph Punch, 24 March 2019
Illustration: Huriana Kopeke-Te Aho
Expressions of Islamophobia range from outright confrontation involving subjugation and killing to various forms of punitive actions.
Such repressions could be communal or state sponsored as a form of external aggressions from people of different faiths or within the same faith.
These have resulted in both covert and overt actions ranging from sanctions to their physical appearance, speeches, practices, banning them from visiting certain countries, restricting their movements to specified areas within a country to outright massacre and genocide.
The massacre of the Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine State of Myanmar is a cause celebre.
Myanmar’s government has systematically maimed, tortured, raped and killed the Rohingya Muslims who are denied citizenship despite the fact they are the original inhabitants in the state.
Less known and out of the glare of the international media and covertly executed is the persecution and subjugation of the Uighur Muslims of Turkish origin in Xinjiang, China.
Out in the Middle East, Israel with the connivance of America are persecuting Palestinian Muslims, torturing and killing them, having occupied their lands and incarcerated them in a prison-like blockade of land, sea and air.
Unlike the covert subjugation of the Uighur Muslims in China which was put under wraps and disguised as acculturative re-education, the Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians are cause celebre, but with a different slant.
In this case the Jewish American-controlled media distorts the facts, creating the perception that Israel is the victim while the Palestinians are the aggressors. This is an overt form of Islamophobia.
There are other covert intimidating forms of Islamophobia in so-called democratic countries that are supposed to have freedom of religious and secular expressions, pretending to tolerate differences of belief and lifestyle and celebrate unity in diversity.
Another aspect of Islamophobia is the prejudice within the Islamic community. One is between nations and the other is within nations.
In both cases, the conflict is between Sunnis and Shia, which dates back to the time of the emergence of the four Caliphates. It is prejudice and animosity between these two denominations of Islam.
Sunnis believe Muhammad is the last Prophet, while the Shia regard Ali as the anointed successor of Prophet Muhammad. Shia-Sunni relations have been volatile, resulting in violence confrontations.
Such confrontation occurs when one country has an overwhelming Shia or Sunni population as in the case of Iran and Iraq or a proxy one as in the case of Saudi Arabia and Iran.
This sectarian conflict is also replicated within a nation having both Shia and Sunni populations as in Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon and Azerbaijan, which have a majority Shia population, and a minority in Pakistan, Syria and Yemen.
It is a known fact that Shia and Sunni can co-exist peacefully but the underlying dormant tensions can be exacerbated into internecine conflict when political agendas are factored into the equation. This has been the case in Iraq and Syria.
Even within the exclusively Sunni Muslim population as in Malaysia and Indonesia, there are conflicts the result of different groups giving different interpretations in the practice of Islam based on their political ideology. Political parties that misused Islam purveyed their own brand of the religion and regard all others who are at variance with their religious and political beliefs as infidels.
Islam as a religion has attracted so much negative attention, perceptions and animosities. Its believers have been persecuted, subjugated, maimed and killed in certain countries. It has been touted as a religion of violence and linked to terrorism.
The beauty and the true image of Islam has been tarnished by unscrupulous leaders who hijacked the religion to serve their political agenda.
The regional and world organisations such as the United Nations, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and Asean seem unable to solve the plight of the Muslims.
The Muslim community is fractured, each having its own earthly agenda and forsaking the true teachings of Islam as enshrined in the Quran and Hadiths.
And the western powers have taken advantage of the economic weakness of the Muslim countries as well as the greed of the despotic and corrupt rulers of the wealthy countries to perpetrate dissension and confrontation among the Muslim countries, especially those in the Middle East.
It is imperative that Muslim countries cast aside hostility towards each other and reconstitute the ummah to be a military and economic force that is able to exert influence and secure the safety and security of Muslims beyond individual geographical borders.
Muslim countries must have physical, economic and intellectual strength to counter the covert and overt confrontation of Islamophobia.
The writer is an emeritus professor at the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang
Published in: New Sunday Times, 3 February 2019
MISPERCEPTION: People's failure to distinguish between true Islam and extremism is the real problem. ANTI-MUSLIM voices are rising all across the world. In many countries, including the United States, Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Denmark, Spain and Germany, new measures are being taken almost daily because of the reactions against the presence of Muslims. The increasing reactions are leading to serious divisions in societies....................Download the full article in pdf attachment (below)