1Malaysia or 1Ummah, Which Nation do we belong to?

Dr. Azam Che, 14/1/14

Malaysians, with its multicultural and pluralistic nature, have grown tired of empty rhetoric purported by political masters and at times, conveniently echoed by the shoe polishers, those self proclaimed Islamists not exempted.

The sudden emergence of a hardliner, far-right Nationalist-Islamist group pre- and post-PRU13 has certainly been worrying. Identified by their ideological coupling (or rather, muddling) of the Malay-race superiority and Islamism ideals, they have stirred and sowed the seeds of national disintegration at worst and caused much confusion about the real teaching of Islam at best.

Ummah being hijacked?

The false narrative of Islam and Malay-Muslim heritage being under constant threat which they propagated seems only to further emphasize their purported claim of being the Protector of the Ummah. They provoked and toyed around the issue of Allah’s name and goes as far as saying that the Christians citizen of Malaysia can migrate to other country if they are dissatisfied with the ban of non-muslims using Allah in their Bible.

While the call for all parties to respect the court ruling is appreciated, some thought must be spared on the perplexity and complexity of the rulings which state that Sarawakian and Sabahan may continue to use Allah in the Bible and the Christians in peninsular may not. Thus it seems, this issue which has been fanned by such hardline groups, acted more like red-herring which distract from the real problems plaguing this country.

Some commentators drew parallel between those far-right Islamist group and fascist group in the like of Hitler’s Nazi and Mussolini’s fascist party. They cited similarity in the group’s ideological romanticism of their nation past (real and imagined) glories and the obsession with (real and imagined) threat from other ethnics/cultures.

While I do agree with some of the parallels but I would not go as far as labelling them fascist group simply because such label bring with it negative connotations and would be counter productive in persuading them to return to middle-path (wassatiy) understanding of Islam. Besides, the act of labelling other groups with derogatory names has been their modus operandi and it would be best to avoid reciprocating and stoop at the same level as them.

Re-discovering the spirit of Ummah

In navigating through the confusion caused by Nationalist-Islamist propaganda, this article call upon all Muslim to re-examine and re-discover the concept of Ummah. Typically, various parties claimed to be the upholder of Muslim Ummah or the Protector of The Ummah. In such rhetorical titles, the word Ummah seems exclusive only for Muslim thus giving the impression that a Muslim is obligated to act in kindness upon another Muslim and the non-believers are the enemy. It would be quite surprising for most Muslim if they discover that during the early formation of Madinah as a city-state, the newly drafted Constitution of Madinah mentions that all signatories to the charter were One-Ummah.

Madinah Al-Munawarah (Medina, the City of Light) was the first country ever in history that was build upon a written constitution that considers the rights of various parties and ethnic groups. It was definitely multicultural pluralistic country in the modern sense, which in fact quite surprisingly similar to Malaysia. During its formation in the year of 1 Hijrah, and according to the said constitution, Madinah was different from our current understanding of Islamic State (Darul Islam) which stipulates that non-believer to be Dhimmis (the protected) upon whom the Jizyah (non-Muslim tax) was obligatory. It is interesting to note that the term Dhimmis emerged in usage only around the 8 Hijrah, the year of the Liberation of Makkah, and the verse regarding Jizyah was revealed by the Almighty Allah s.w.t in Surah At Taubah , after the battle of Tabuk circa 9 Hijrah. In the early years of Madinah as country based upon ideals, the Muslim Arabs, together with the non-Muslim Arabs and the Jews, were considered as One-Ummah. This is shown in articles (1) (2) and (25-35) of the said constitution:-

In the name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful.

(1) This is a document from Muhammad the Prophet (governing the relations) between the believers and Muslims of Quraysh and Yathrib, and those who followed them and joined them and labored with them.

(2) They are one community (Ummah) to the exclusion of all men.

(25) The Jews of the B. ‘Auf are one community (Ummah) with the believers (the Jews have their religion and the Muslims have theirs), their freedmen and their persons except those who behave unjustly and sinfully, for they hurt but themselves and their families.

(26-35) The same applies to the Jews of the B. al-Najjar, B. al-Harith, B. Sai ida, B. Jusham, B. al-Aus, B. Tha’laba, and the Jafna, a clan of the Tha‘laba and the B. al-Shutayba. Loyalty is a protection against treachery. The freedmen of Tha ‘laba are as themselves. The close friends of the Jews are as themselves.

Thus, it seems that the real spirit of Islam teaches Muslim to treat fellow citizens of their respective country as equals, regardless of ethnic, culture and religion. They all bear the same responsibility as citizens and the all deserve to treated the same way. Further examining the documents will reveal this egalitarian fact:

(39) Yathrib shall be a sanctuary for the people of this document.

(45)(b) Every one shall have his portion from the side to which he belongs.

(47) This deed will not protect the unjust and the sinner. The man who goes forth to fight and the man who stays at home in the city is safe unless he has been unjust and sinned. God is the protector of the good and God-fearing man and Muhammad is the apostle of God.

Umar the Upholder of Truth

Even after the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him), when the legal status of non-Muslim in the conquered land was regarded as Dhimmis, their rights were still considered as sacred to the state. This is evidenced in the declaration made by Umar Al Khattab upon entering Palestine after the Muslim forces liberated it from the Byzantines:

This is the assurance of safety which the servant of Allah, Umar, the Commander of the Faithful, has granted to the people of Aelia. He has granted them safety for their lives and possessions; their churches and crosses; the sick and the healthy of the city; and for the rest of its religious community. Their churches will not be inhabited nor destroyed. Neither they, nor the land on which they stand, nor their cross, nor their possessions will be confiscated. They will not be forcibly converted, nor any one of them harmed…”

Statement above is taken from the assurance given by Umar to the people of Aelia (historical name of Palestine) which was named Al Uhda Al Umariyya (Umar Assurance of Safety). It is of significant importance to note that the sanctity of religious buildings must be protected by the Muslim, even if they came as a conquerer, as it has been decreed by the Almighty God himself:

(Quran, 22:40) “Had there not been Allah’s repelling some people by others, certainly there would have been pulled down cloisters and churches and synagogues and the mosques in which Allah’s name is much remembered.”

Interestingly, in describing the necessary protection of house of worships against tyranny, the religious buildings of others were mentioned first before the mosques. This was the main reason why Umar Al Khattab refused to pray in the Church of Holy Sepulchure so as not to be taken as precedent for future generations of Muslim to forcefully enter and take-over the non-Muslim’s house of worship. Umar had specifically forbidden the Muslim from confiscating any religous items belonging to the other faith. I wonder what he would say if he was here in Malaysia the day when a church was entered forcefully and copies of the Bible were confiscated. He would certainly turn in his grave.

Which Ummah do we belong to?

So long as the political leaders are sincere enough and take serious actions to root out the fringe and extreme narrative of superiority of any particular group in this country, the much hyped slogan of 1-Malaysia has the potential to bind all citizens together in this country akin to the concept of One-Ummah shown by the Prophet (peace be upon him),

Let not the 1-Malaysia slogan be a purely academic, empty rhetoric, used for only for convenience in times the government wants the subject to pay more taxes as patriotic service for their country while at the same time the dangerous ideas espoused by many anti-multiculturalism groups have been given place in the mainstream media.

Dr.Azam Che is a researcher and analyst at STRATA Consulting, an advocacy and think tank outfit specialising in Strategic Research and Trends Analysis.

Further readings:

  1. Composite Nationalism and Islam – Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani

  2. The Constitution of Medina – Dr Ali Khan

  3. The Life of Muhammad. A translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah – Dr Alfred Guillaume

  4. The Rights of Non-Muslim in Islamic State – Dr Muhammad Nazeer Kaka Khel

  5. Protecting Non-Muslim: Its Implementation During Early Muslim Rule of Islamic Jerusalem – Dr Roslan Mohd Nor


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