Let’s Call a Spade a Spade
By Prof. Mohd Nazari Ismail, University Malaya.
The on-going political turmoil taking place in Egypt has elicited a variety of responses from various quarters. Not surprisingly, Islamist groups such as PAS, ABIM and IKRAM are very vocal in condemning the military coup that resulted in the fall of President Morsi, the first democratically elected leader of the country since the time of the Pharaohs.
However, what is sad and disappointing is the muted response from many groups which hitherto were vocal supporters of the democratic process. Such groups include the US and European governments. But these also include pro-democracy groups in Malaysia.
Why is this the case? In a recent article by Nicholas Chan of the Penang Institute which appeared in the Malaysian Insider[i], one of the reasons expressed is the worry over the phenomenon of `Creeping Islamisation’. Since Morsi is from the Muslim Brotherhood, the on-going turmoil is perceived as a negative outcome of the Islamisation process in Egyptian society. As a result, not only was the writer, who incidentally belongs to a pro-democracy organization, unwilling to express any condemnation of the military coup which toppled a democratically elected leader, he also expressed his worry over the process of `Creeping Islamisation’ in Malaysia. Moreover, his perception is that Islamisation is an undemocratic phenomenon. He wrote:
“ This coercive branding of Islam arbitrarily set by a small group of “learned” individuals, and then relentlessly propagated and imposed on the people, both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.”
There are two issues that need to be clarified here.
First, as many honest and sincere analysts of Middle East politics have written, we have to call a spade a spade with regard to what has happened in Egypt. The fact is a military coup has taken place in Egypt. Basically what had happened was that a bunch of non-elected people, under the guise of having the support of `millions of Egyptians’ decided they don’t like the winner of the previous election. They then worked in cahoots with another bunch of non-elected people, that is the military, to topple the elected president of Egypt.
Even though they had agreed previously to an arrangement where the leader of the country can only be decided by an election process which is supposed to be held every few years, they reneged on their agreement. It is as simple as that. The argument that `millions of people’ took to the streets to express dislike for President Morsi is simply not an excuse to get rid of him for the inescapable reason that there are millions other Egyptians who want him to continue as President. The only way to decide whether the majority of Egyptians prefer to have Morsi as their president is through the ballot box. Otherwise there will be chaos.
The dislike for chaos in our political and social system in Malaysia is the reason we use the ballot box as the only way to choose our leaders. As in Egypt, There are also millions of Malaysians who also do not want the country to be run by BN leaders. In fact more than 50% of the voters in PRU13 said so. But they have all also agreed that the first-past-the-post election process will decide who the leader will be. So even though millions of Malaysians intensely do not want BN leaders, they abide with the outcome of the first-past-the-post election process which is that Dato'Seri Najib and other BN politicians are mandated to lead the country for a maximum of five more years regardless of how bad the social and economic conditions are going to be. Moreover, they will never entertain for one second the idea of creating chaos in the streets or of approaching the military to intervene to topple the BN government.
In other words, supporters of the democratic process in Malaysia have no choice but to take a principled stand and condemn any military coup including the one that has taken place in Egypt, and to ask for the democratically elected Morsi to be reinstated as president of Egypt. Any ambiguous or equivocal stand towards the matter is tantamount to either double standards or a hypocritical attitude towards democracy.
Double standards and hypocrisy can be expected from the US and European governments. That is nothing new. They are supportive of democracy in other countries only if the outcome is palatable to them. If the outcome of an election is Islamists getting into power, then this is a bad thing for them as far as they are concerned.
But we certainly do not expect such attitude to also exist among people who claim to be supporters of democracy in this country since they have been exposed to Muslims and Islam for such a long time - unless they still do not really understand what Islam stands for due to the bad attitude and practices of many Muslims in this country, especially from among the nationalist Malays which may not be reflective of what true Islam is all about.
The second issue is regarding the nature of Islamic teachings – whether it is in line with democracy or not. Many Malaysians, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, fail to realise that Islam as a religion is in reality a very democratic religion. For example, unlike Catholicism, there is no figure in Islam such as a `Pope’ who, while elected by the cardinals, is not elected by the mass of Catholics around the world. The leadership in Catholicism is a top down arrangement and the masses have to accept what has been decided by the Church.
There is no such arrangement in Islam. Islamic teachings are not decided by a `Pope’ or a group of non-elected priests. In Islam, the teachings are decided by the scholars (ulamaks) who have to justify what they say based on their reference to the Quraan and Hadith (traditions of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him). Some may ask, who decide who are the ulamaks? The answer is also very simple - the Muslim massess around the world. One instance is the issue of whether the word `Allah’ can be used by non-Muslims. or not. The real teaching of Islam on that issue is not what some officials at JAKIM or JAIS say about the matter but what the leadings scholars, such as Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, whose credentials have been accepted by the masses of Muslims, say about the issue.
Of course JAKIM or JAIS officers may still come to a decision contrary to the opinion of the leading scholars. So how do we deal with this matter in this country? The answer is simple: the democratic process. If we feel so strongly about the issue of the usage of the word `Allah’, we have to make sure we promote politicians who are willing to champion our cause and try to make them become the leaders of this country through the election process. At the moment one of the main problems lies with the fact that the issue is being ultimately decided by some non-elected people. This has to change.
Now, what if our elected politicians decided to fulfil their promises to us and enforce the right of non-Muslims to use the word `Allah' but this is opposed by a minority others who still insist that non-Muslims’ have no such right. The last thing we want is for them to approach some generals and ask them to take over the country through a military coup in order to enforce their views on others who prefer to follow the opinions of scholars, such as `Sheikh Qaradawi, who are accepted by the masses of Muslims around the world and who incidentally do not object to the usage of the word `Allah' by non-Muslims. That is the reason why any military coup anywhere in the world must be condemned. This is the only way we can ensure it will never take place in this country.
In conclusion, honest and sincere supporters of the democratic process should not fear Islam or `Creeping Islamisation’. What they should be focused on is to call for greater democracy in this country and elsewhere including in Egypt.