Response to Clive Kessler’s Article

Response to Clive Kessler’s Article
by Dr. Mazeni Alwi and SL Pang @ Farah Abdullah

The Editor

Dear Sir

We read with interest Clive Kessler’s “The struggle between “gentle Islam” and “ungentle Islam” within Malaysia may have more than local significance” in your recent issue of Aliran Monthly (Volume 25 2005) Issue 9). It is unfortunate that he has stooped to use labels “backward” and “regressive” on those whom he disagrees with. That an emeritus professor of sociology is not above employing such infantile rhetoric is all the more regrettable.

One of the Muslim Professionals Forum’s (MPF) objectives is to contribute to current discourse that concerns Islam and Muslims in our society. We endeavour to present the view points of traditional mainstream Islam in matters that are increasingly being contested, such as the interpretation of Islam (in the area of praxis) in the modern world.

Liberal Islam is slowly but surely encroaching into the public debate. Its ideas of how Islam is to be interpreted in certain areas of praxis are in contradiction to what is regarded as consensus teachings by traditional mainstream Islamic scholars.

Our seminar on “Liberal Islam – A Clear and Present Danger” attempted to dissect these issues in a scholarly manner. The three major presentations have been written as full papers and are available online at All 3 papers are also available in our conference proceedings. Anyone is at liberty to critique the ideas presented therein. At all times we have been careful to maintain our professional decorum by refraining from labeling any organization or personalities in our country as proponents of Liberal Islam.

We are not averse to any individual or organization wanting to re-interpret Islam for the modern world. Anyone is welcome to present what he/she feels is the correct interpretation. Muslims have their own dynamics in evaluating interpretational claims based on scholarship of the sacred texts and the corpus of knowledge on kalam (theology), ibadah (worship), fiqh (jurisprudence) and akhlaq (excellence of conduct).

Professor Kessler seems to think that the Muslim women NGO whom he describes as “less protected”, “courageous” and “principled” are victims of persecution and onslaughts of slander. On the contrary, the said NGO has been enjoying undreamt of access to the major English press in Malaysia. Their statements, letters and views do not seem to have any problem getting published while the same cannot be said for those with more traditional “backward” or “regressive”, i.e. mainstream view points. Nevertheless we commend the said NGO for its efforts in highlighting the weaknesses in the administration of Islam, especially those that concern the plight of disadvantaged Muslim women.

The Prime Minister’s vision of Islam Hadhari in multi-ethnic and multi-religious Malaysia is encapsulated in the following mission statement:

“Islam Hadhari is an approach that emphasises development, consistent with the tenets of Islam and focused on enhancing the quality of life. It aims to achieve this via the mastery of knowledge and the development of the individual and the nation; the implementation of a dynamic economic, trading and financial system; an integrated and balanced development that creates a knowledgeable and pious people who hold to noble values and are honest, trustworthy, and prepared to take on global challenges”,

Provided that it is implemented in a sincere, honest and transparent manner; rising above partisan politics and parochial racial sentiments, it would be readily supported by our Muslim professional community.

Those who take the effort of objectively evaluating the papers presented at our Liberal Islam seminar will easily recognize Professor Kessler’s malicious slander, “…. the Muslim Professionals Form held an all-day event to give unbridled rein to such criticism of the Prime Minister’s religious orientation and supporters under the banner “Liberal Islam: A Clear and Present Danger”. To equate Liberal Islam with Islam Hadhari is most preposterous and highly irresponsible. Suffice for us to highlight one simple fact which escaped Professor Kessler – the keynote address at our seminar was delivered by respected scholar Muhammad Uthman El-Muhammady, distinguished fellow at ISTAC, formerly a fellow at IKIM and the government’s most recognizable spokesperson for Islam Hadhari. It is plain obvious that he had not read the conference papers. His is a mere gut reaction based on a blind support for a particular interpretation of Islam which has little acceptance among Muslims.

Dr. Mazeni Alwi and SL Pang @ Farah Abdullah
Founding directors
Muslim Professionals Forum