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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Friday, July 01, 2005

God's Laws and Man-Made Laws

God's Laws and Man-made Laws

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M. Bakri Musa


(Reprinted from www.malaysia-today.net, June 24, 2005)

Thank you for taking your time to comment on my recent essay, “The Path to a True Islamic State.” I will address some of the issues raised.

I am always dismayed when someone proclaims with such certitude that Hudud and Sharia are “God's laws.” The implication is that such laws are perfect, immutable and far superior to what we mortals could craft. We should therefore not tamper with them.

It is more correct to say that Hudud and Sharia are what some Muslims, specifically Arab male scholars of the 7-10th century, proclaimed to be God’s laws. They based their conclusion on their reading of the Quran and Hadith (sayings of the prophet s.a.w.). To Muslims, the Quran is the word of God, as revealed to His Last Messenger, Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. That is a matter of faith. We cannot claim to be a Muslim if we do not accept this. All religions are based on faith, and for Muslims, this is the basic article of our faith.

Out of over 6,000 verses in the Quran, less than 600 are concerned with the law, and most of those cover such matters as prayers and rituals. Only about 80 verses deal with such traditional legal issues as contracts, inheritance, family law, and crime and punishment. Clearly the Quran is not a legal tome but a general guide on how to build a moral and just society.

It is an enduring tribute to the intellect and wisdom of those ancient Muslim scholars that they were able to fashion out of the Quran and Hadith a coherent and consistent body of laws that is the Sharia. In its time the Sharia represented a quantum leap in intellectual, legal and social achievement. The status of women, for example, was a thousand times better with the Sharia than with the prevailing norms. Sharia granted women a share of the inheritance, whereas before THEY were the inheritance. They were chattels or properties of their husband, to be traded or passed on accordingly. Sharia emancipated women. Its system of criminal justice was also light years ahead of the prevailing “an eye for an eye” ethos; likewise its treatment of slavery and indentured labour.

Those wise scholars successfully crafted, based on the Quran and Hadith, an enlightened body of laws far superior to the existing ones. We rightly owe them an immense debt of gratitude. In our reverence for them, however, we should not fall into the trap of ascribing what they had done as perfect, immutable or infallible. Those are properly the attributes of Almighty Allah, not of mere mortals. Yet in proclaiming that Hudud and Shariah are God’s laws, we are in effect saying that their crafters who were mere humans are also God or have God-like qualities – a blasphemous assumption.

Similarly with the Hadith; they are widely proclaimed to be what the Prophet had said. It is more correct to say that the Hadith are what some ancient scholars (in particular Bukhari, Daud, Muslim, etc.) claimed to be what the Prophet s.a.w. said. Even Imam Bukhari, whose collection of Hadith are deemed most sahih (authentic), was modest enough to admit that he may have included some hadith that are not true and excluded others that are. Such modesty and humility are sadly lacking with today's commentators.

Today we should strive to craft a similarly enlightened body of laws based on the Quran and Hadith to meet the current challenges facing our community. The Quran and Hadith teach us through the use of anecdotes, parables and similitude. The late Fazlur Rahman suggested that we should emulate those ancient scholars and deduce from the particularities of the Quran and Hadith the underlying guiding principles, and then apply them to our present problems. This would entail considerable thought, a much more intellectually challenging endeavor. Instead of being fixated on such contentious issues as Hudud and Sharia, we should instead focus on the other areas that we can agree upon. Indeed Tariq Ramadan has called for a moratorium on implementing Hudud as it is such a divisive issue.

There are so many other pressing issues facing the ummah: alleviating poverty, reducing corruption, improving education, and preparing our young to be productive citizens. Yet, at the recent PAS Muktamar, hardly a word was said on these important issues. Instead, the preoccupation was whether the delegates should dress in Arabic robes or Baju Melayu (Malay costumes) and whether women were ready for senior leadership positions.

PAS would get my vote once its leaders articulate coherent polices addressing those major issues and once they have shown some modicum of competence in managing a modern state. After decades under PAS, Kelantan and Terengganu remain the most backward in the nation. Infant mortality remains the highest in those two states. That is not God's will but PAS incompetence.

Nik Aziz has the arrogance to proclaim that he is leading Muslims in Kelantan to Paradise when he could not even lead them out of their living hell right here on earth. I have tremendous regards for Nik Aziz as ulama (scholar), but as the chief executive of a state, he is a dismal failure. The people elected him to be Chief Minister, not Khatib. Sadly, the man lacks the necessary humility to recognize his own limitations. Out of reverence his followers will not tell him either.

How will PAS solve the lack of competitiveness of and increasing inequities among Malaysians, specifically Muslims? How would PAS revamp the education system? How do PAS leaders plan to uplift Malaysians, in particular Muslims, from the dehumanizing clutches of poverty? Present coherent and workable policies to achieve these and PAS would be able to bring the nation that much closer towards an Islamic State.

Were PAS to be successful, all – Muslims and non-Muslims alike – would applaud.


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