UMNO members have becoming increasingly Islamic nowadays compared to in the 1990s or earlier. Majority of them are now supportive of the Islamic way of life even though they disagree with PAS on the tactical approach.
By GE15 the Muslim population in Malaysia will EXCEED 70%. We will then have the 2/3 necessary to alter the constitutions to allow for the implementation of Islamic laws in totality.
Satan threatens you with the prospect of poverty and commands you (wayamurukum - وَيَأْمُرُكُم ) to do foul deeds; God promises you His forgiveness and His abundance…. (2:268)
[A]nd whoever follows in the footsteps of Satan should know that he enjoins (yamuru - يَأْمُرُ ) only indecency and evil. (24:21; see also 4:118-119, 2:168-169)
Those familiar with the Qur’an will know that Satan’s command has nothing to do with force or compulsion, because God has assured readers that Satan “has no power over those who believe and put their trust in their Lord; he has power only over those who are willing to follow him” (16:98-100). In another passage, Satan’s tactics are described in more detail:
And when everything will have been decided, Satan will say: … I deceived you. Yet I had no power at all over you: I but called you (da’awtukum) – and you responded unto me. Hence, blame not me, but blame yourselves.”(14:22)
How can Satan “command” people when he “has no power” over any being except “those who are willing to follow him”? The obvious answer is that his “commands” are not enforced; he only “calls” to people – and they choose to listen. Thus, the Qur’an makes clear that “enjoining” something does not mean enforcing it, but rather promoting it.
Just as “commanding” or “enjoining” good does not imply coercion, neither does “forbidding evil.” The Arabic word for “forbid” (based on the root n-h-y) is used in three different ways in the Qur’an. In a metaphorical sense, it refers to exerting self-control or making oneself “immune” to bad inclinations. For example, the Qur’an describes a type of person who “feared the meeting with his Lord and restrained (wanaha - وَنَهَى ) himself from base desires” (79:40), and tells Muslims are to pray regularly, because prayer “restrains one (tanha - تَنْهَىٰ ) from indecency and evil” (29:45). Both examples illustrate a more abstract, spiritual meaning of “forbidding evil” — to shield oneself from becoming vulnerable to evil.
The third, and most common, usage of “forbid” (n-h-y) is in reference to revelation. Scores of verses (such as 6:56, 4:31, 7:157, 7:166, and 11:61-2) describe God “commanding” and “forbidding” through His prophets and scripture. As with the word “enjoin,” we should not understand forbiddance as an act of force, but rather, an act of communication. Many translators, for example, render “forbid” in verse 11:116 as “speak out against” or “warn against”:
Why, then, were there not among the generations before you upright men who would speak out against (yanhawna - يَنْهَوْنَ ) the [spread of] corruption on earth—except for the few whom We saved?” (11:116)
The Qur’an often employs the words “forbid” or “command” in the context of a person using his or her intellect. These passages show that enjoining and forbidding depend on reason and conceptual understanding, rather than force:
Say, “I have been forbidden (nuhitu - نُهِيتُ ) to invoke those whom you invoke besides God—seeing that clear signs have come to me from my Lord.”(40:66)
Other verses describe people being “commanded” by their own beliefs (2:93) and “ordered” by their reason (52:32). It is interesting to note that the word “understanding” (al-nuha, seen in verses such as 20:54 and 20:128) shares the same Arabic root (n-h-y) as the word “forbid” (nahy).
Radicals like Sayyid Qutb (and Ayaan Hirsi Ali) may insist that Islam’s holy book commands Muslims to enforce “Islamic law” through state power, but it seems their views are not grounded in careful study. The Qur’an does not require Muslims to force their morality on others when it tells them to “enjoin right and forbid wrong.
Keep up the prayer, my son; command what is right; forbid what is wrong; bear anything that happens to you steadfastly: these are things to be aspired to. (31:17)
Elsewhere in the Qur’an, the ideal believers are described as those who “enjoin good and forbid evil” (9:112). The following is merely one of several verses sprinkled throughout this holy book that echo this message:
The believers, both men and women… enjoin what is good and forbid evil, they attend to their prayers and pay the alms and obey God and His Messenger. On these God will have mercy, for God is Almighty and Wise. (9:71; see also 3:104, 3:110)
Muslims interpret this principle in many different ways. Some believe that “commanding” and “forbidding” mean giving sound, sincere advice grounded in Islamic tenets to friends and family. Others apply the principle to government, assuming that the state should legislate Islam. Striking a balance between these two poles, others still read the injunction as a call to public preaching and educational outreach, or a general obligation to speak against oppression. Many radical thinkers, like the influential Egyptian ideologue Sayyid Qutb, gave politicized readings of these passages. In the second volume of his famous exegetical work, Fi Zilal al-Quran, Qutb writes that “[a]nyone may be able to invite to what is good, but no one can enjoin and forbid unless he is equipped with real authority” (p. 165, emphasis added). For him, “enjoining” and “forbidding” amount to state enforcement. The straightforward logic of this conclusion is certainly attractive, but in actuality, this line of reasoning finds little support in the Qur’an.
Arabic words are based on a system of trilateral roots. The root of the word “enjoin” is a-m-r, and its variations appear dozens of times throughout the Qur’an, usually translated as “enjoin,” “command,” or “bid.” Some readers assume that an element of force is involved in “commanding,” but the word’s usage throughout the Qur’an suggests otherwise.
In a passage about Moses and Pharaoh, the word “command” is used in a way that removes all possibility of force. Pharaoh, growing wary of Moses’ burgeoning influence in his kingdom, consults his advisors about how to proceed, asking them, “What, then, do you enjoin (tamuruna - تَأْمُرُونَ )?” (7: 110) According to the Qur’an, Pharaoh was a supremely arrogant, narcissistic man who forced his people to worship him as a deity (26:29, 28:38). If the Arabic word for “enjoin” suggested force or coercion, Pharaoh would never have used it when speaking to his advisors, over whom he had absolute authority.
In another passage, the careful reader finds that the word “enjoin” is distinguished from compulsion even more clearly. Verses 34:31-33 describe an exchange between two groups of sinners in the afterlife, with the weaker ones blaming the stronger for leading them to hellfire: “…it was your scheming, night and day, enjoining us (tamurunana - تَأْمُرُونَنَآ ) to disbelieve in God and set up rivals to Him” (34:33). But had the weaker group truly been forced to rebel against God, God would not banish them to hell in the first place. After all, the Qur’an warns that “one who denies God after he has believed, with the exception of one who is forced to do it, . . . shall incur the wrath of God” (16:106, emphasis added). Obviously, by virtue of their abode in the afterlife, this group of people does not fall within the category of those coerced into disbelief. They were not compelled to reject God, but only encouraged (see 39:64 for a similar usage).
The Arabic word which specifies coercion in verse 16:106 is ukriha (أُكْرِهَ), from the root k-r-h. In the Qur’an, this root denotes true compulsion (see 4:19, 10:99, 20:73, 24:33), and it most famously appears in verse 2:256, which declares that “there shall be no compulsion (ikraha - إِكْرَاهَ) in matters of faith.”
Underlying these ratings is a deep partisan divide with the attitudes of Obama and Romney voters toward Arabs and Muslims being mirror reflections of each other. For example, while those Americans who say they intend to vote for Barack Obama give Arabs an 51 percent favorable/29 percent unfavorable rating and Muslims a 53 percent/29 percent rating, those who say they will vote for Mitt Romney give Arabs and Muslims ratings of 30 percent/50 percent and 25 percent/57 percent respectively.
On closer examination, this partisan divide is grounded in a generational and racial divide. Younger voters (from the ages of 18 to 29), whom my brother John Zogby refers to as "the first globals," give Arabs and Muslims 50/34 favorable/unfavorable rating and Muslims a 53/34 favorable/unfavorable rating. On the other hand, older voters (over 65), whom John calls "the private generation," give Arabs and Muslims much lower 26/39 and 30/48 favorable/unfavorable ratings, respectively. These ratios are matched by the gap between white and "minority" voters -- with, for example, only 38 percent of white voters viewing Arabs favorably, as opposed to 51 percent of African American, Hispanic, and Asian American voters who report having a favorable view of Arabs.
All of this has an impact on the acceptance on Arab Americans and American Muslims as full participants in American society. When asked to describe their attitude toward an Arab American appointed to a government post, 54 percent of Obama voters express confidence that an Arab American could do the job, with only 21 percent expressing the concern that Arab Americans would let "ethnic loyalty influence their decision-making." Among Romney voters, attitudes are exactly the reverse. And the assessment given to American Muslims is even worse, with almost six in ten Romney supporters fearing that Muslims would let "their religion influence their decision-making," and only two in ten confident that a Muslim could do the job to which they were assigned.
This suspicion of and unfavorable attitude toward Arabs and Muslims has its origins in bigotry and ignorance. Public opinion was clearly impacted by the hostile campaign that has been waged in recent years, including: the 2010 anti-Park 51 hysteria that was utilized by some Republicans as a "wedge issue" in that year's Congressional election; the effort in 24 states to pass laws banning Sharia; the call for a special loyalty oath for Muslims seeking government employment that was endorsed by three of the contenders in this year's GOP presidential primary contest; and the witch hunt launched by some Republican Members of Congress against American Muslim Hill staff and government employees.
But bigoted campaigns only partly account for this deep divide. As the AAI polldemonstrates, ignorance is also a factor. Six in ten Americans say that they do not know any Arabs or Muslims. But while one-half of young voters and "minority" voters say they do know members of these groups, three-quarters of older voters and white voters say they do not. And it is important to note that those who do know any Arabs and Muslims have significantly more positive attitudes toward these two communities than those who do not. For example, 56 percent of those who know an Arab or a Muslim have a favorable view of Muslims, while among those who do not know any Arabs or Muslims, only 32 percent had a favorable attitude toward Muslims.
It is striking to compare this year's poll results with those of earlier years. Since most Americans still do not know the difference between Arabs and Muslims, the favorable/ unfavorable ratings given to both communities continue to closely track one another. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that 9/11 is not the cause of these negative attitudes. Attitudes toward both communities were actually better in 2003 and they held steady until 2010 when the organized campaign of incitement against Muslims reached a crescendo with the anti-Park 51 campaign. That year was the turning point in which we recorded the lowest favorable attitudes toward both communities. Ratings have drifted slightly upward since then, but are still below where they were in 2003.
The lesson is as clear as it is dangerous. Left unchecked, those who prey on ignorance and fear to spread hatred, and those who sow the seeds of division and intolerance threaten to tear apart the very fabric of our nation and compromise the values of openness and inclusion that have made America united and strong. The purveyors of intolerance also put at risk the rights and security of entire communities of Americans to operate in our society as full and equal citizens without fear of discrimination.
Egypt has just seen its first Ramadan with an elected, civilian president. Political events aside (and there have been many, quite important ones at that), its been an interesting month to see the way that religion has interacted with the public sphere. In several ways, religion has been evident in the public arena in a way it hasn't quite been before.
As we look at all of that, it's important to keep a few things in mind. With regards to this president: he is, after all, an Islamist president. He comes from an Islamist political party that is not particularly discreet about being as such -- so, it's not particularly unusual that he would utilize religious discourse to engage the citizenry. Indeed, a third of his first 100 days in office were in the month of Ramadan, the most holy month in the Muslim calendar: for an Islamist president not to engage in religious rhetoric in some way during such a period would probably have been met with accusations of hypocrisy. The Muslim Brotherhood is not exactly known for being subtle about religion, after all.
Additionally, of course, many political leaders in democracies around the world do use religious discourse on occasion (including in the United States, most prominently). Religion in politics, it seems, is not peculiar or unique to Egypt, in and of itself.
Nevertheless, one might hope, based on the continual exhortations of the Muslim Brotherhood, religion advocates wisdom. Egypt is not simply Muslim, but Coptic Christian as well. That's a community that is part and parcel of the Egyptian fabric, and over the past year, has felt more and more targeted, particularly in the rise of purist Salafi political activity. It does not require much in the way of wisdom to perceive that delivering religious speech after religious speech on national TV, often in religious environments (like mosques or on religious occasions) might not exactly reassure them as to the equality of their citizenship.
One might also wonder about the engagement of the new Islamist presidency with the existing religious establishment: Azhar University, the office of the Grand Mufti and the Ministry of Endowments (which administers many of the mosques in Egypt). Egypt has historically been firmly attached to a particular Sunni religious heritage, exemplified in what is described as the 'Azhari approach.' It's an approach that is ecumenical, pluralistic, and is considered to be thoroughly mainstream within the Muslim world (unlike the purist Salafism that originates in Saudi). In the new governmental cabinet, selected by the newly appointed Prime Minister of President Morsi, there is a new minister of endowments -- and it seems there was a bit of a tussle for the position, which resulted in other than a representative of the 'Azhari approach' being selected. The first nominee was a hard-core, purist Salafi preacher, and then after pressure from Azhar, it seemed that a scholar close to the present Shaykh al-Azhar (the most senior scholar in the Azhari educational hierarchy) had been chosen. Hours before the swearing in of the cabinet, another scholar was chosen -- one who sits on the board of a Salafi charitable organization.
Why the change? Is this indicative of the country's new leadership aiming for a gradual top down change within the religious establishment? Is the next Mufti going to be, likewise, someone who takes Egypt away from its Azhari, mainstream Sunni heritage, and moves towards a more Saudi style of purist Salafism? Is the final target the office of the Shaykh al-Azhar, in which case, the repercussions affect not only Egyptians, but the many hundreds of thousands from around the Muslim world who come to study in Azhar?
Finally, there is the direct use of religion for clearly partisan and political ends. At a recent conference in Cairo, a preacher from the north east of the country, Imam Hashem, announced a religious verdict (fatwa) with regards to an imminent protest due to take place this week on the 24th of August. The protest, aimed at criticizing the new Islamist president, is being supported by several anti-Islamist forces -- Imam Hashem declared that those who participated in the protest would be guilty of high treason and brigandry, and ordered that the Egyptian people at large go out to oppose the protestors. If the protestors resisted, and there was bloodshed, then those who resisted would be in paradise, while the protestor's families should not be compensated.
Its not incredibly unsurprising that in the aftermath of his statements, the Ministry of Religious Endowments, as well as the Azhar University contradicted the preacher's claim that he had any connection to the Azhar University, beyond the fact that he is a graduate, and that his opinion was not to be given attention. The Muslim Brotherhood, to which President Morsi belongs, also rejected the fatwa.
In the aftermath of the delivery of this fatwa, I contacted a scholar at the Tabah Foundation in the UAE -- a scholar who had earned his specialist license to deliver fatwas from senior scholars in the Azhari establishment, including the Grand Mufti of Egypt himself. It was an interesting exchange, considering that this scholar, Shaykh Musa Furber, is not an Egyptian, and has no particular political partisan viewpoint on Egyptian politics. Throughout the conversation, he was concerned, as one might expect, with the standards of discourse in the community of his peers.
He did not seem particularly impressed. As we discussed the nature of the fatwa, how it was delivered, and what was contained therein, he made it clear that a basic understanding of the rules of issuing religious verdicts would have halted this preacher from delivering anything of this manner. Protests, in and of themselves, could never be considered as high treason or anything of the sort. Even if they were, the verdict would have to delivered, as non-binding advice, to the state authorities responsible for maintaining law and order -- not to the 'Egyptian people,' thus encouraging vigilantism. In issuing a statement in this fashion, the preacher was encouraging less law and order, not more, and civil strife. The 'fatwa,' as Shaykh Musa described it, was null and void, and the Azhar should consider re-evaluating Imam Hashem's credentials, if he had them.
The question that remains, however, is whether or not this is a good development, or a bad one? If we look at the glass as somewhat half full, then perhaps it is a good one, as that the Azhar and the Ministry of Endowments (led, as mentioned, by a Muslim Brotherhood sanctioned appointee) both rejected the statement, and are trying to bring in Imam Hashem for questioning over his views. As such, one hopes, such unsavory statements in the future posing under the cloak of religion shan't be left unchallenged in the new Egypt.
Of course, any individual can engage in discourse -- but statements that are akin to incitement to violence are generally not protected under the law. Moreover, when Imam Hashem spoke, he did so (wittingly or not) as a representative of the Azhar establishment -- an establishment that, whether it likes it or not, has a particular responsibility in the new Egypt. There is a consensus in Egyptian society, both on the grassroots as well as within political parties, that Azhar should be the reference point for Islam in Egypt (even while motivations for this may vary). If that is the case, then Azhar has a responsibility to protect its brand, especially if that brand is being used to promote political positions.
What is furthermore intriguing, however, is the response of the non-religious and non-Islamist in all of these episodes. It was, of course, predictable that many of the non-Islamist sections of Muslim society in Egypt were unimpressed with President Morsi's use of religious discourse to engage in the public arena. They're incredibly unenthusiastic about religion being used by the Muslim Brotherhood for partisan ends. But they're not consistently against the engagement of religion.
When the purist Salafi parties became more engaged in the political arena, many within these sections of Egyptian society were very vocal in their calls for the Azhar, as the mainstream Islamic viewpoint of Egypt, to engage more vigorously in Egyptian public life. Their response to purist Salafism wasn't less religion -- rather, it was more religion, but from a more mainstream perspective. There was no real attempt from any quarter to not even have, for example, a minister of endowments responsible for any religious administration, which you might have expected from hard-core secularists. When Imam Hashem made his comments, it was a committed anti-Islamist campaigner for Mubarak's last Prime Minister, who insisted the Azhar get involved in the fray. There continues to be no real political movement aimed at removing mentions of religion in the constitution -- only about how it is mentioned. The new center-left political party of al-Baradei, Hizb al-Dostour, which one might have assumed to be secularist in orientation, saw no contradiction in handing out flyers about its party at prayers.
That is Egypt. In fact, it is probably the Arab world. It isn't that the Arabs at large are Islamists -- they are not, and it would be a mistake to characterize them as such. Nevertheless, religion in Egypt in particular, and in the wider Arab region, is very important to the local population. It always has been, and it will doubtlessly continue to be so.
The question is, how is it going to be utilized, and how will people be mobilized along its lines? Will it continue to be utilized within the domain of identity politics? Will it impact more on legislation? How will different political groups and personalities react and engage with it? None of this is certain in the flux that continues to characterize post-Mubarak Egypt -- but it is clear that there are bound to be challenges to Egyptian notions of secular, liberal, secularism and liberalism, along the way. Dr. H. A. Hellyer is a Cairo-based analyst is on the MENA region, and was previously at Gallup, the Brookings Institution, and Warwick University