January 21st, 2015

Divine source, human interpretation

Islamic law is not a purely human product because it is based on the Quran which, to Muslims, is absolute in nature.

VIEWS concerning the position of Islamic law in the country raised recently by a group of Muslims attracted debate and discussion among many. It touches a few issues related to the administration of Islamic law and its position vis-à-vis civil law and the Constitution.

Among the issues raised is the nature of Islamic law.

The argument put forward is that since Islamic law is the result of human interpretation of the divine revelation, the law is, therefore, not divine.

It is, on the other hand, influenced by human subjective reasoning which is not absolute and subjected to error and differences in opinion.

Because of its human nature, the interpretation of Islamic law must also not be monopolised by only one group of people. It must be open to the views and scrutiny of many people based on the spirit of ijtihad and freedom of speech in Islam.

The underlying concern of the proponents of this idea is the tendency among those who uphold Islamic law as purely divine to become extreme and intolerant, especially in pushing and arguing for Islamic law to be fully implemented.

Some fail to look at the contextual needs and obstacles before trying to implement the law. As a result, its implementation sometimes may not bring true justice to the people, despite the fact that its spirit is to guarantee justice and the betterment of mankind.

While some of the points in the argument have a valid practical basis, especially against the strict interpretation of religion which causes confusion and injustices in society, some other premises need critical evaluation.

First, it is quite obvious that the interpretation of divine sources of Islamic law is carried out by human beings. Nevertheless, it does not make Islamic law a purely human product.

This is because, unlike civil law, which is built solely from the human rational and intellectual process, Islamic law is based on the Quran, the divine speech of God which, to Muslims, is absolute in nature.

Second, this divine speech is revealed in a clear language and beyond any crookedness. Although there are verses which are categorised as ambiguous, the majority is clear (muhkamat).

Verses which are related to legal matters (ayat ahkam) are categorised under the clear verses.

Hence, although it is done by human beings, the interpretation may not deviate far from the meaning intended by the revelation.

Third, even in cases where interpretation is needed due to ambiguity of the meaning of the verses, still, according to the science of the Quran, the best way to interpret the verse is to compare it with another divine source, which is other verses of the Quran (tafsir al-Quran bil-Quran).

This is to ensure the understanding is not so distant from the spirit of the whole Quran.

Having said that, it is equally important to stress that the clarity of the source does not indicate that there is no room for dissenting views in interpreting Islamic law.

Differences in opinion mainly take place within the subsidiary or the secondary aspects of the law, especially when the sources, namely the Quran and hadith (sayings of the Prophet) do not provide definite and specific solutions to the problems.

It is in this respect that ijtihad and fatwa are needed, where human interpretation in terms of comparing the new cases with the principle from the main sources (qiyas) plays a big role. And as far as this intellectual process is concerned, all the views are regarded as true as long as they are based on proper proofs and arguments.

It is in this respect that the existence of many legal schools (madhhab) in Islam is more appreciated.

The problem of the interpretation of the Quran took place when the narrow-minded and extreme group with self-interest was trying to explain the meaning of some verses to suit its own interest.

As a result, it deviated from the original meaning intended by the divine revelation and created its own understanding of the Quran.

But in these cases its interpretation will be easily recognised and rejected by the majority, as in the case of a number of deviated teachings in the Muslim community, either in the past or present.

On the other hand, the true interpretation of the Quran is preserved through moderate interpreters who present a reasonable elaboration of the legal verses out of which proper Islamic law has been built.

These interpretations are accepted by the majority of Muslim scholars and regarded as authoritative by the community of Muslim scholars.

The implication of regarding Islamic law as not divine is that it will open the flood gate where the interpretation of the Quran will be done by anybody, without having proper knowledge which is necessary for this important task. This ultimately will lead to the rejection of authority in the understanding of the Quran.

Just as we are very much concerned with the interpretation of Islamic law by extreme radical groups who create injustices in the community, we also worry about those who try to comment on Islamic law without sufficient fundamental knowledge of the source of religion.

Dr Mohd Farid Mohd Shahran is Director of Ikim’s Centre for the Study of Syariah, Law and Politics. The views expressed here are entirely his own.  The STAR Home News IKIM Views 13 Jan 2015

The right criteria for the best results

Although PT3 is only one of the levels of assessment in the secondary schooling system, it will be the litmus test for the system to be applied at a higher level.

RESULTS of the recent Form Three Assessment, PT3 (Pentaksiran Tingkatan Tiga), were the first for students under the new Malaysian Educational Plan (PPPM) which the Government embarked on in 2011.

The seemingly unremarkable results have caused dissatisfaction among some parents, especially when they are compared with that of the Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) results of previous years.

To compare PT3 with PMR is quite unjustified, as both assessments are different.

While PMR was still mainly an exam-oriented and centralised assessment system, PT3 is based on the new School-Based Assessment (SBA or PBS) framework.

It focuses on the continuous assessment method, emphasises higher order thinking skills and adopts the student-based learning approach.

Thus, the only way to fairly assess PT3 is to compare it with the results of PT3 in the following year.

More important, perhaps, is for us to be concerned about how students cope with the new system and how it can help them move to a higher level of learning as envisioned by the new plan.

Among the criteria of the new plan is to produce students with higher order thinking skills.

Based on the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), a standard taxonomy on student thinking ability by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Malaysia has been ranked fairly low.

In the latest 2012 assessment, we were ranked 52nd out of 65 countries.

By measuring students’ abilities in reading, mathematics and science literacy, Pisa emphasises functional skills that students have acquired as they approach the end of compulsory schooling.

Its measurement includes general or cross-curricular competencies such as problem solving.

As a country that is moving towards becoming a fully developed nation, Malaysia has to produce citizens who can think in an advanced manner.

Like all illustrious civilisations, including the Islamic tradition in the past, the achievements of a country hinge on the creativity and innovation of her people at every level.

In this respect, although PT3 is only one of the levels of assessment in the secondary schooling system, it will be the litmus test for the system to be applied at a higher level.

As a matter of fact, the same approach has already been in place at the tertiary education level in this country since the Higher Education Strategic Plan (NHESP) 2007-2020 was introduced, aimed at driving higher education institutions towards developing human capital with the capacity to create, innovate, generate and exploit new ideas as well as to apply technology and exercise superior entrepreneurial skills.

Hence, with the introduction of a new educational plan at the school level, which manifests its maiden fruition in the form of PT3, what Malaysia is trying to do is to apply the tertiary level method to the secondary level so as to expedite the process of producing a thinking generation in the country.

Nevertheless, the question rem­ains as to how prepared are our students, who were used to the old exam-oriented system for so long, to deal with the new system?

The PT3 results might be a good indication of the difficulty students faced.

How about the preparation of the teachers to teach, prepare questions and assess students’ performance within the new system?

Indeed, this is crucial as the new SBA system allows teachers in high-performance schools a far greater role in evaluating the whole process of learning, including the assessments of the final examination.

Interestingly, the teachers themselves have never undergone a similar education system before.

Thus, this poses a challenging task for them to teach within the framework, while simultaneously learning it for the first time.

Another challenge posed is the support system that students receive from surrounding institutions including the family, media and society at large.

Do such institutions dance to the same rhythm in motivating students towards becoming a thinking generation?

Several recent issues reported by the media concerning politics and race might not help contribute towards this objective.

Similarly, the irresponsible trend of spreading unconfirmed sensational news to gain publicity in the social media will only destroy the noble aim of producing a thinking society.

In essence, education is about building a culture. It needs to be nurtured in a concerted manner which involves both formal and informal players.

Schools with a proper system and curriculum will only be successful if they are strongly supported by other social institutions that share their educational vision.

In the case of the new educational plan that aims, among others, to produce a society with the culture of higher order thinking, unless all the players of society, including parents and teachers, understand the true vision of this plan, it will remain a Herculean task to be accomplished.

Dr Mohd Farid Mohd Shahran is Senior Fellow/Director of Ikim’s Centre for the Study of Syariah, Law and Politics. The views expressed here are entirely his own. The STAR Home News Opinion IKIM Views 20 Jan 2015

Ummah berilmu mampu tangani segala cabaran

Dalam masa sedekad dua ini, isu berkaitan agama Islam amat sensasi. Isu yang mencabar bukan sahaja orang Islam sebagai komponen masyarakat, tetapi lebih daripada itu. Cabaran terhadap akidah Islam sendiri dan institusi Islam amat hebat. Soal undang-undang Islam juga menjadi perkara yang dibangkitkan.

Tiada lagi yang berselindung mengenai segala macam pandangan terhadap Islam, ahli agama, akidah dan institusi Islam, seperti Mahkamah Syariah dan JAKIM. Keadaan ini menuntut keberanian umat Islam menghadapinya. Umat Islam hendaklah berani mendepani isu sebegini.

Sama ada apa-apa pernyataan itu persepsi atau isu benar, umat Islam hendaklah berani menghadapinya. Umat Islam juga perlu mengambil pendekatan proaktif atau sekiranya perlu menjadi defensif mengenai isu-isu tertentu.

Tetapi, umat Islam tidaklah perlu menjadi defensif setiap masa. Walaupun ada kalanya institusi Islam tidak dapat dinafikan mempunyai kelemahan tertentu. Saya fikir, ini bukanlah perkara luar biasa.

Banyak lagi agensi atau institusi lain yang mempunyai kelemahan. Apa yang penting ialah institusi Islam itu perlu menerima teguran dan kritikan dan tidak menjadi terlalu defensif walaupun defensif itu juga ada kalanya perlu dalam menangani persepsi.

Tanggungjawab ummah

Umat Islam keseluruhannya perlu sedar bahawa institusi Islam adalah milik semua yang beragama Islam. Ia adalah tanggungjawab semua umat Islam. Ia bukan milik mana-mana parti politik. Institusi Islam bukan milik pemerintah sahaja.

Islam itu milik semua dan institusi Islam itu juga milik semua. Justeru, apa juga tindakan dilakukan institusi Islam itu akan menggambarkan agama Islam, agama semua umat Islam. Ia bukan semata-semata mereka yang mentadbir institusi itu yang perlu menjawab segala lontaran kritikan terhadap institusi Islam.

Dan institusi Islam tidak seharusnya menjadi sasaran kritikan sesama Islam. Sekiranya telunjuk dituju oleh orang Islam kepada institusi Islam, maka telunjuk itu juga menyasar kepada seluruh umat Islam, bukan hanya pihak yang berada dalam institusi Islam itu sahaja. Jika ada yang tidak kena, nasihat adalah wajib.

Mereka dalam institusi Islam pula hendaklah juga menerima kedudukan itu sebagai kedudukan yang bertanggungjawab menjaga Islam bagi pihak seluruh umat Islam. Mereka bukan mewakili yang lain, kecuali agama mereka sendiri, iaitu agama Islam.

Mereka juga hendaklah berani dan terbuka untuk mendepani segala persepsi dan kritikan dari pelbagai perspektif. Keberanian umat Islam, sama ada mereka di luar institusi Islam atau di dalam institusi Islam itu adalah menjadi kewajipan. Keberanian mereka menjadi lebih mudah kerana Islam dan institusinya disokong oleh perundangan.

Apa yang diperlukan daripada mereka ialah ilmu, ilmu mengenai Islam sebagai agama dan juga ilmu mengenai perundangan negara yang menjaga Islam. Oleh itu, pendekatan yang perlu diambil oleh semua umat Islam ialah dengan mengambil kira dan memahami dengan jelas mengenai agama Islam itu sendiri.

Sikap bersatu untuk Islam

Mengenali isu dan hakikat semasa berkaitan agama Islam. Umat Islam hendaklah mempunyai sikap mahu bersatu untuk Islam. Seluruh umat Islam di negara ini hendaklah memahami mengenai kedudukan Islam dalam sejarah negara. Kepentingan mengetahui dan menghadam sejarah Islam ini amat jelas kepentingannya.

Dalam apa bidang sekali pun, sejarah adalah 'guru' dan perlu diteladani atau menjadi sempadan. Umat Islam juga perlu faham dan hadam mengenai kedudukan Islam dalam Perlembagaan serta perundangan negara. Mengetahui dan menghayati peruntukan Perlembagaan mengenai Islam ini saya kategorikan sebagai satu kewajipan ke atas setiap umat Islam.

Ini adalah hakikat semasa memandangkan kedudukan agama Islam serta isu berkaitan Islam sentiasa dikaitkan dengan peruntukan Perlembagaan sebagai undang-undang tertinggi negara. Selain itu, dalam perkembangan semasa, masyarakat kita sekarang lebih suka membawa isu berkaitan agama Islam ke mahkamah.

Apabila dibicarakan di mahkamah sudah tentu ia memerlukan pemahaman yang jelas mengenai pengisian Perlembagaan mengenai Islam. Justeru, mengenali dan memahami agama Islam, sejarah dan peruntukan perundangan berkenaan Islam itu menjadi satu perkara wajib. Ia bukan sahaja tanggungjawab rakyat untuk memahami dan mendalaminya malah, yang lebih utama ialah pemimpin dan pembuat dasar.

Dr Shamrahayu A Aziz ialah Felo Utama Kajian Syariah, Undang-Undang dan Politik, Institut Kefahaman Islam Malaysia (IKIM). Berita Harian Kolumnis 21 Jan 2015