Friday, August 16, 2013

Pluralism is not a dirty word

Courtesy - The Malay mail online.

AUG 12 — While I was listening to the Hari Raya Aidilfitri sermon at the National Mosque the other day, I was struck by its gloomy, depressing and combative tone. Rather than a message of celebration and rejoicing at the achievements represented by the conclusion of the holy month of Ramadan, the sermon was one which spoke in strident tones about the enemies of the faith, and attacks and threats to the ummah. 

One of the elements identified in the sermon as being a threat to Islam (along with secularism and feminism, strangely enough) was pluralism. 

Somehow, in less than 10 years, pluralism has become from being a proud attribute of multicultural and multi-ethnic Malaysia to one that has been vilified and has left certain people trembling in their boots. 

In case anyone is unsure, the Oxford dictionary defines pluralism as being a condition or system in which two or more states, groups, principles, sources of authority, etc., co-exist. In the context of Malaysia, a condition in which numerous distinct ethnic, religious or cultural groups are present and tolerated within a society. 

Somehow, someone, somewhere has deemed pluralism to be the equivalent of a four-letter word. 

Pluralism lives and breathes in Islam. It is embedded in the rich traditions of Islamic academia where from antiquity the religion prides itself in the diversity of views and the value of rigorous academic discourse and dialogue. Thus, the discourses and arguments of Muslim jurists and scholars of the likes of Al Kindi, Al Biruni, Ibn Sina are spoken in the same breath as the Greek and Roman philosophers such as Socrates, Cicero and Marcus Aurelius. (adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

The best example of religious pluralism in Islam comes from the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself who offered a delegation of Christians from the kingdom of Najran his own mosque, Al-Masjid al-Nabawi, for their prayers. What is this gesture if not recognition of the plurality of religion by the Prophet? Didn’t other religions not only survive but also flourish under early Islam? What does it say to others that pluralism is now considered a bad thing?

As I sat listening to this rather gloomy sermon, I was struck by how successfully pluralistic Islam has been and still is. Consider the fact that the congregation that morning was from all walks of life, composed of peoples of different ethnicity and from many countries, spoke at least a dozen different languages, and were all gathered together in one faith. This is what Islam and any of the other world’s religions are about: the diversity of their congregations is their strength. There is much to be proud of. Yet we have a sermon preaching that plurality is bad.

We do not live in a bubble. To deny pluralism in Islam is to deny what makes the faith one of the great religions of the world. The beauty of these religions is marked by the fact that they open their arms to all but bar their doors to none.

It’s strange that everywhere else in the world, the pluralism of Islam is a source of pride. Mike Ghouse of the think-tank World Muslim Congress recently highlighted this very issue in his article “One Ramadan Many Celebrations; Islamic Pluralism in Action” published in the Huffington Post. Yet, in our country, we are running down the very strength of this great religion. Why? What are we so scared about?

We seem to be scared of shadows and terrified of change. It struck me that it could be as simple as the powers-that-be had little or no comprehension as to the meaning of the word. Perhaps an officer had included the term and it has stuck there ever since. To any right-minded person, It just doesn’t make sense. And because we are ignorant and are unwilling to learn, we strike out at what we do not know. Ignorance breeds fear. What does that say about us?

There is a bunch of people promoting monism by virtue of disparaging and demonising pluralism. Monism is a state of mind which argues that the variety of existing things can be explained in terms of a single reality or substance. They insist that their perspectives, opinions and judgments are the only acceptable reality for all and may not be questioned. This arrogance is not what our faith is about. Neither is it about being rigid, regressive, dominant, tyrannical nor authoritarian. These are the antithesis of what Islam should and is all about. Oh, and these people often sound like children scared of the unseen bogeyman who lurks underneath the bed.

I later heard from someone who was watching the Raya prayers on television and who listened to the sermons. She decided midway to switch the channel to something a lot more festive and appropriate for the day. The tone of the sermon just felt wrong and depressing. So the next time the label “pluralism” is hurled at our feet as if it were something to be ashamed of, or something dirty and something to run away from, we should pick it up and wear it as a badge of honour and pride.

qSelamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Maaf Zahir dan Batin! -

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