Sunday, October 11, 2009

Revelation and History: Comment on Che Det and Hukum Allah

Over the weekend, I surfed Che Det and read this simply written yet profound article entitled 'Hukum Allah'. I find the article of great significance for Malaysians, both for Muslims and non-Muslims alike, as it raises very fundamental questions on the place of religion in our lives and the nature of our religious orientation against the backdrop of a fast changing world. Being struck by the significance of the questions raised, I tried to respond and comment, but alas failed. When it comes to IT, I am ashamed to say I am a kind of a dinosaur, still grappling with the rudiments of it. Admittedly I am of that old school more comfortable with pencil and the brown school exercise book for jotting down my thoughts. So excuse me if I merely jot down my response to Che Det's excellent and significant piece here, more in the way of personal note. I hope however people should visit Che Det and read the thought provoking article 'Hukum Allah' for yourself.

The specific example of fasting, its rituals, the permissible of it or otherwise aside, Che Det's basic argument runs as follows. These days there are many who are prone to prescribing religious precepts and rules of conduct, all in the name of 'Hukum Allah' or 'God's Law'.Yet, he noted, upon further investigation or reflection, there is nothing really in the teaching of Islam to suggest so. He extends his observation to other social practices like banning education for women, killing women deemed to have 'dishonored' the family by their indiscretions, and so on. Then Che Det raised the fundamental questions:  Shouldn't we ascertain  if indeed certain precepts prescribed by theologians are indeed 'God's Law'? Could there be misinterpretation or misrepresentation, deliberate or unintentional? If indeed the precepts decreed by them are 'God's Law', how do we account for the discrepancies among theologians? How do we account for the excesses? Doesn't Islam enjoin fairness and justice in its teaching and laws? Could there be vested interests hiding behind the veneer of religious authority and aura?

I find such probing to be significant as it raises the following fundamental points. There is a big gap between revealed religion and laws in the concrete texture of living.The gap is as wide as that between Revelation and human action in history. The one,  truly of God, while the other of human will and human agency. While Revelation sets down basic broad guidelines and principles, the translation of these into laws, norms and values are undertaken by man acting and living in history. Now the compounding of the two, of God and human agency, of Revelation and history, is the root cause of many human conflicts in the past, as well as in contemporary societies.

Come to think of it, in our more mundane world of secular living, we do make such distinctions between legitimate authority and misrepresentation, between what's legitimate and what's fraudulent,  of legitimate power and the usurpation or abuse of it. Sometimes I wonder,  shouldn't we be even more discriminating and uncompromising when it comes to the fundamental question of God, Revelation and history? Failing to do so is to compromise God and Revelation,  allowing some men to usurp and  misrepresent, enabling them to 'play god' in society.

Now the kind of responses or comments evoked by Che Det's article is as interesting as the article. They are indeed very revealing of our religious orientation. To begin with, the voluminous response or comments clearly suggest that people are strongly attached and deeply rooted in religion, in this case Muslims and Malays. This is further confirmed by the intensity or vehemence of the comments, be it in support or objection to the article. Then the respective position taken by the commentators, broadly falling in three categories. Quite a significant number find the article objectionable, plainly telling Che Det to 'butt out' from the field of theology, bordering on charging him with blasphemy! He is disqualified from thinking on his religion  on the following grounds: he is a medical doctor, not a theologian, of limited knowledge in religion, and delving in an exclusive area reserved for the divinely appointed few.

Then we have the more polite, diplomatic and word mincing kind of opposition, gently and kindly counselling Che Det to render to the Lord the things that are His, and to render to  Ceasar the things that are Ceasar's, differing only in tenor, not in substance from the first category. Thirdly  we have the occassional support and endorsement of the article. On the whole, the first and second category can be said to constitute the majority.

In other words, if we were to adopt the article as a sort of 'election platform', definitely it would not end in an election victory. Now isn't this a somewhat sad statement on the nature of our religious orientation, and the place of free will and legitimate human judgement in it?

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