Originally published at the Islamic Renaissance Front
NOV 8 — We at the Islamic Renaissance Front condemn and lament the irresponsible mischaracterisation of Nurul Izzah Anwar’s statement on religious freedom.
She merely summarised the gist of the well-known Quranic verse in Surah al-Baqarah which clearly stressed that there is to be no compulsion in matters of faith, for truth and error has already been clearly stated.
Because of that she has been subjected to the crudest level of character assassination from those seeking to stoke controversy and gain political mileage for the upcoming elections.
Islam is not an ethnicity
In particular, the danger lies in the unmistakably ethnic nature of the sentiments that are motivating the on-going smear campaign against her. The erroneous assumption being encouraged is that Malays can only be Muslims.
This, to be sure, goes against the elementary confusion of an ethnicity with a religion. Here, we should pause to reflect on how that very confusion is also discernable in conservative Zionist thinking, which some Malay Muslims who are so enraged by Nurul Izzah’s statement are also supposed to oppose.
More importantly, the smear campaign is un-Islamic in how it particularly contravenes a clearly stated principle in the Quran which calls for the freedom of conscience: no human being is to be forced to believe in something he or she does not want to.
The evidence is plain for all to see. Consider another example in the following passage:
“And [thus it is] had thy Sustainer so willed, all those who live on earth would surely have attained to faith, all of them: dost thou, then, think that thou couldst compel people to believe”. [Quran,10:99]
In other words, the belief that Malays must be made to remain Muslim goes against the principle of reason and justice — the cornerstone of Islamic epistemology.
It thus makes no sense to believe that the principle of non-coercive assent is to be upheld only for non-Muslims and it would be null and void once a person converts to Islam. Those who believe that are mistaking Islam for Hotel California, where you can check out anytime you like, but can never leave.
More worryingly, that outlook all too easily assumes that Islam is morally inconsistent; never mind the problem that it would also require a strong Islamic state to force Muslims into conformity.
Virtue is only virtuous — and not opportunistic, accidental, foolish or political — when it is done out of free will.
Thus, rather than police and threaten others into good behaviour and belief, much time, effort, cost, conflict and ill will can be spared through compassionate and transparent communication whereby our convictions and the ethical choices we make, emerge from out of a clear grasp of the principles and values that colour our moral horizons.
This — seeing the straight path after the seriousness, honesty, patience and labour of inner reflection — is enlightenment.
We believe it takes no moral, social or political cost at all to err on the side of charity and trust, and let every individual set on his or her journey to arrive to that very point of self-consciousness. After all, no one forced Muhammad to the cave.
All this, very sadly, is far from the minds of Muslims today. Muslims all too easily react in anger, without taking any time to consider the ethical ramifications of their demands. They mistake self-righteousness for injustice; the suppression of freedom for happiness and in the process they cannot tell the difference between on one hand, the inner monologues of victimisation that has shaped their egos and on the other, their conscience.
In that frenzy of rage, the personal has been drowned by the political. There is no Muslim condition to speak of, just enraged mobs. The only “winners” to speak of in the meantime are those seeking to exploit religion for ethnocentric ends.
The Islamic Renaissance Front calls upon all our friends and comrades who believe in the freedom of conscience to speak out against the rising tide of religious chauvinism and speak truth to power.
* This letter was also published by the Malaysian Insider and bears the names of Ahmad Farouk Musa, Ahmad Fuad Rahmat, Rizqi Mukhriz, Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, Ehsan Shahwahid, Muhammad Anas Danial and Shawn Syazwan .