The Happy Arab News Service

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Chinese Factor and Peaceful Co-existence in Malaysia

I am posting here fragments of an online debate in which I and one Indonesian guy took part. These are only fragments and so they can appear somewhat disconnected. This post is supplemental to the first one with the same name.

The points illustrated by this debate are self evident. The conventional wisdom (wisdom?) suggests that globalization and spread of literacy should be weakening religions such as Islam. So many are at loss to explain the current surge of Muslim fundamentalism. In particular, in a country that has already experienced a significant development like Malaysia.

In reality there are compelling reasons to see the process working just the other way around. Muslim masses are generally ignorant of their religion. The spread of literacy and improved education actually had the opposite effect of exposing for the first time large sections of the population to the contents of their religion. Without going into the silly debate of what the real Islam is about, it is reasonable to suggest that what real Muslims often find in the texts is not what Western liberals will see as a very tolerant and flexible approach.

And I would take the whole thing even further and claim that the whole text based approach with its attention to logically coherent interpretation and application of the religion is new to many sections of the Muslim world. As this conversation shows a logically consistent approach, based on unity of practice and theory, was introduced into Javanese Islam and was not present there from the beginning. It takes a relatively modern mind to make one a fundamentalist.

People should take with big reservations the conventional wisdom of how literacy and development are going to eradicate Muslim fundamentalism.

Lutfi said:

Up to a point...

In Indonesia there is a fairly interesting debate between reformers and conservatives, between the urban Muhammadiyah and the rural NU. For me it is part and parcel of globalization - the reformers believe that the conservative's javanese/mystic flavoured islam is gay, and that a modernist, text based islam should be followed. So it isn't just a West based thing. There isn't particularly a debate between the reformers and the Jemaah Islamiyah (the fanatics in Indonesia), because they are outside debate these days, almost by definition. Ironically, it is the conservatives who argue for liberalism in matters of religion, because of the syncretic nature of their faith - and the fact that they put more stock in cultural/ national identity as Javanese or Indonesians, not in identity as Muslims.

Recently my parents-in-law (both Haji) got told off by a (young) reformist cleric for their habits of giving offerings to volcanoes, meditating, and their belief in reincarnation. My MIL is still a practicing Muslim, but my FIL was so affronted that he has basically switched to Buddhism, which, with Hinduism, was the previous religion in those parts anyway

But overall the reformers are "winning" because their version is hip, global, and can be backed up by the Quran.

Nobody said:


very interesting post of yours ... u say the reformists are actually less tolerant than the traditional Javanese Islam ... how actually serious are these people about the strict following of the texts and how less tolerant are they ??? would u define many of them as incipient or actual fundamentalists ???

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Nobody said:


the interesting thing about Lutfi post is that the Javanese Islam is apparently what all those new agers are looking for .. something vaguely defined , mystical ...a mixture of esoteric practices and pagan rituals ... i know many western people who are into this sort of things , i mean to mix everything up ...

and apparently the so called reformists there are taking the opposite direction ... text based , consistent , logical ... no ambiguities and self contradictions

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Nobody said:

well guys

if u read lutfi post it works the other way

they had their peaceful and tolerant Islam there combined with making offerings to mountains and blissing out in meditations ... then the modernization started and the reformists came and started checking the old ways with the Koran at hand and making all sorts of quite intolerant and unenlightened conclusions

Lutfi said:

Nobody - yes, the reformists are incipient fundamentalists, as once you start going back to the text/ hadith, well, that is fundamentalism. They also are less tolerant of unorthodoxy and other religions

Kmir - the reformist movement in Indonesia dates back about a 150 years or so, when travel to the middle east became more feasible. Scholars could go study at, say, Al Azhar, and return to preach a more pure version of Islam - e.g. do a search on the "Padri Wars" of 19th C Padang. No evidence that the West is or was pushing it. So I take "reform" to mean the process of removing additions and accretions - note how down (in general) reformists are on the tradition of veneration of saints. And most reformists here would argue there is a central authority - the qur'an and hadith. The debates between the two schools here can get silly - one of the biggies is whether or not a mosque should drum for magrib prayers at the end of every fast day, or just the last one (the reformists reckon that a call to prayer is the only thing allowed, and drumming is wrong) It is all just part and parcel of globalization, IMHO, and as you say, the tension between continuity, transmission and change.

Here in Indonesia, interesting to see the contrast with the Balinese, as Hinduism has no central text - they've only had the cultural side of globalization to deal with. I think there was a movement in the 50's to try and reconcile Balinese & subcontinent Hinduism that got nowhere - e.g. the Balinese do not regard cows as sacred in the slightest degree.

Yes, Javanese Islam is quite "new age" due to the syncretic nature and strong parallel belief in spiritualism. Kyai (javanese ulema) are often held to have healing/cursing powers, that the reformists regard as superstition


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