Scholarly discourses on the current Islamic issues must also be rooted in the tradition of Islamic intellectual heritage (turath Islam). That was the gist from a meeting with Shaykh Taha Jabir al-Alwani (1935-2016) that was also attended by Anwar Ibrahim during the early days of 1990s. Based on that turath, a new and fresh interpretation or restatement should perhaps be attempted taking into account the new development that has taken place.
Speaking at an International Conference on Social Islam on 23 January 2020 at UniSZA Campus in Kuala Terengganu, Anwar Ibrahim welcomed UniSZA’s initiative to hold such a conference. He also applauded initiative taken by UNISZA in inviting Shaykh Ahmad Raisuni (born 1953), internationally-known Muslim scholar in the field of maqasid al-shariah to UniSZA as a visiting scholar and organized a lecture tour at other Malaysian institutions. The Conference was attended by more than 1,000 participants and featured prominent speakers from Indonesia, Singapore, Libya and Malaysia.
During his Keynote Address entitled “Retracing Contemporary Human Sciences Discipline in the Eastern Intellectual Root”, Anwar Ibrahim who is also the Chairman, International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), referred to the works of Shaykh Muhammad al-Ghazali (1917-1996) and Shaykh Ahmad Raisuni in the fields of maqasid al-shariah (the higher objectives of Shariah) that have provided fresh analysis on al-Muwafaqat of Imam al-Shatibi (1320-1388). The introduction of maqasid al-shariah (a field that has been pioneered by Imam al-Ghazali (1058-1111)) to the local Malaysians in the last 10-15 years has been undertaken with the support of Datuk Haji Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat (1931-2015) (former Chief Minister of Kelantan) despite the fact that the grassroot Muslims were not so familiar with these works. Anwar Ibrahim reiterated Nik Abdul Aziz’s concern that unless these works on maqasid al-shariah were introduced to local Muslim scholars, they would still get focused only on certain traditional kitab, without exploring other knowledge frontier which in fact was also part of the Islamic legacy.
Reflecting on George Makdisi’s The Rise of Colleges (1981), Anwar Ibrahim espoused the need for universities to continue with the tradition pioneered by the Muslims in expanding the intellectual and knowledge horizon, encouraging the students and scholars to engage in discourses, removing the institutional shackles that hinder the thinking creativity and creating an environment that welcomes vibrant debates and differences in thoughts. He also acknowledged that whilst unnecessary excesses should be admonished, the due processes should not allow us to get obsessed (taksub) with certain modes of thinking without due regards to other opposing views.
For instance, even though maqasid al-shariah was not a new discipline, it was rather subdued in the past – waiting to be revived. It was within this context that Muhammad Iqbal’s Reconstruction of the Islamic Thoughts (1877-1938) was relevant in enticing the learned Muslims to engage in ijtihad. Opening up this intellectual space was also endeavoured by Muslim scholars such as the Palestine-born Ismail Raji al-Faruqi (1921-1988) who was concerned with the issues of the Ummah which he called the 'Malaise of the Ummah'. According to Faruqi, the malaise of the Muslim ummah has been signified by poverty, lack of good governance, corrupt administration, economic mismanagement, low educational attainment, and oppressive polity. This ‘malaise’ called for our scholars, students and intellectuals to search for a viable solution. One of the solutions proposed by Al Faruqi and then promoted by IIIT is the Islamization or Integration of Knowledge where knowledge is viewed from a wholistic rather than from a secular perspective.
Anwar Ibrahim further challenged that the boundary of Islamic economics should go beyond zakat, and sadaqah. Whilst issues such as Islamic banks and Islamic insurances (takaful) were mooted in the past, Muslim scholars such as Nejatullah Siddiqi (born 1931) reminded that what is known as the Islamic economics encompasses more than just the Islamic banking and finance. Maqasid al-shariah requires us to widen the boundary to include support system to the grassroot communities that could bring them out of poverty. Essentially his challenge was summed up as follows: “What is the relations between our Islamic banks and the poor farmers or fishermen? None!” The grassroot communities cannot feel the benefits of the Islamic institutions that were set up to improve their living standards in the first place, because they lack the social and human dimension (karamah insaniah).
The notion of ummatan wasatan, mooted by Seyyed Hossein Nasr (born 1933) and Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi (born 1926) since 1960s appears to sound hollow with the prevalence of corrupt regimes and how the environment was denuded. It is within this notion that Anwar Ibrahim called for the equilibrium or balanced approach in the economic management and leadership administration during their pursuits to provide the basic needs (education, healthcare, housing, welfare) for the people so that whilst the Muslim governments are pursuing the economic development, they should not unnecessarily inflict untoward misery to the people.
Muslim countries have enough riches and resources to accommodate their people with appropriate policies. But in reality, the people are still suffering, simply because there has been a neglect of social dimension in the public policies, as reflected in the value system. This has been raised by Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana (1908-1994) in his book, Values as Integrating Forces in Personality, Society and Culture (1966). A development concept without integrating the social challenges facing the people is indefensible. This is where the public policies developed out of the Islamic values would play their vital roles. Development concepts are not mere intellectual exercises or political slogans; they must be conceptualised taking into consideration the social and morality dimensions, as often reminded by Muhammad Natsir (1908-1993) and Soedjatmoko (1922-1989). Muhammad Natsir strongly reminded us that while we are engrossed in building factories and infrastructures, we forgot the social and human dimension of the workers. Low wages and poor living conditions led to various social ills and personal problems. This is what Muhammad Natsir called, “sambil membangun, kita robohkan” (while developing, we destroying). Anwar Ibrahim stressed that “whatever we do, we must do it the right way to achieve the right goals.” He stated that the current development concept should therefore embrace the maqasid al-shariah.
As a parting thought, Anwar Ibrahim concluded his 30-minute Keynote Address with the following: “What is more pronounced ... is that a meaning to democracy comes from the habit of the heart. Alexis de Tocqueville use this term “habit of the heart” which means when you talk about justice and for Muslims, [when] you talk about maqasid al-shariah, you talk about society, social dimension. It must stem from our inner belief. A phrase used by Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) in terms of the initial success of democracy in America because it is the habit of the heart; it is not the habit of lectures by politicians or political leaders. It is your conviction, your belief, your strong desire to apply and believe the conviction to implement these high principles of freedom, justice and virtues!”