Thursday, June 30, 2016

Have a meaningful Aidilfitri - Friday in The STAR

 I hated every minute of training, but I said ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’ – Muhammad Ali 
(1942 – 2016)

Have a meaningful Aidilfitri: Make Malaysia GREAT

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We have just concluded our Ten Principles for a Moderate Malaysian series. Today marks the beginning of the Make Malaysia GREAT series.

1.    Why set a goal for greatness?

Striving for the best with clear, meaningful expectations will help us achieve our true potential. The goal to be great connects what is deep within our hearts, providing a worthy reason to put aside politics, parochialism, provincialism and racial goals. When the nation achieves greatness, everyone benefits. We are ready to suffer now to be a champion later. A shared goal towards greatness clears our minds and hearts to clinically detail out key values, skills and behaviours needed to move forward.

2.    What makes a great nation?

We need to agree on what makes a great nation. We must define good citizenship and who is the exemplary Bangsa Malaysia. What is needed at the family and school level? What can be considered a successful economy? How should our infrastructures be built? Do we amass military might or develop diplomatic excellence? What about sports, arts and culture? How do we define maturity in politics? How do we organize social relationships? How do we define Unity? What are our standards for excellence, for values, skills and behaviours?

3.    How you can assist zubedy?

Start a conversation to Make Malaysia GREAT. We want to hear from you. Write to us, talk to us. Share your thoughts, experiences, hopes, fears and dreams. What should change, what should stay and what should we modify? Suggest alternatives. Focus on the positives and offer constructive criticisms and possible solutions. Not grumbles and complaints. Let us focus on WHAT WE CAN DO to Make Malaysia GREAT. Contact us at, visit us on or tweet us @makemygreat.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Enhancing syariah courts’ powers - SHAD SALEEM FARUQI

UNDER the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, the sentencing power of the syariah courts is limited to RM5,000 fine, six lashes and three years’ jail. This power is equivalent to the power of magistrates in our civil courts.

It is understandable therefore that PAS President Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang wishes for a law to enhance the status of syariah courts by increasing the penalties they can impose. However, the Private Member’s Bill he is promoting has more to it than catches the eye.

It re-ignites some critical issues of constitutional law, Islam and justice.

Criminalisation: Under the Constitution’s Schedule 9, List II item 1, state assemblies have power to enact Islamic law on 24 civil matters (like succession, marriage, divorce and Malay custom) and on one criminal matter, that is, “creation and punishment of offences by persons professing the religion of Islam against precepts of that religion”.

The power to impose criminal penalties appears to be confined to offences against the precepts of Islam. But under the “Hadi Bill” the criminal jurisdiction of the syariah courts is not limited to the violation of the teachings of Islam but can extend to “offences relating to any (of the 25) matters enumerated in item 1 of the State List”.

This appears to be a significant enhancement of power. Many matters like Malay custom which are not criminalised now, could possibly be criminalised in the future!

Federal-state division: Another issue is the demarcation of penal power between the Federal and state legislatures as outlined in Schedule 9, Lists I and II. States have legislative authority to create and punish offences against the precepts of Islam.

But in Schedule 9, List II, item 1 and List I, Item 4(h) this penal power of the states is limited by the words “except in regard to matters included in the Federal List” or “dealt with by Federal law”. Among the matters included in the Federal List are “criminal law and procedure”.

Most criminal offences like murder, theft, robbery, rape, incest, unnatural sex, betting and lotteries are in Federal jurisdiction even though they are also offences in Islamic jurisprudence.

Murder is covered by sections 300, 302 and 307 of the Penal Code. Theft is dealt with by sections 378 – 382A; robbery by sections 390 to 402; and rape in section 375 – 376.

Incest and homosexuality are covered by sections 377A to 377C. State Enactments on these Federal matters are ultra vires (beyond the powers of the states).

The Merdeka Constitution’s scheme was that the states are permitted to punish wrongs like khalwat, zina, intoxication and abuse of halal signs as these are not covered by Federal laws.

Unfortunately, most states are trespassing on Federal jurisdiction by punishing crimes like homosexuality, incest, prostitution, enticing a married woman, betting, lottery and gaming even though these wrongs are clearly part of the Federal Penal Code.

States are also setting up rehabilitation centres even though this power is solely Federal.
Regrettably, such ultra vires state laws are hardly challenged in the courts. In the rare application for judicial review, the superior civil courts are generally reluctant to invalidate laws passed in the name of the syariah.

The Hadi Bill must be seen in this light: it is enhancing penalties for crimes, some of which are far beyond the powers of the states.

Another unresolved issue is that state laws often criminalise acts that are sins, not crimes in Islamic theory. For example, Islam does not mandate criminal sanctions against those who skip Friday prayers or who in honest disagreement, question the desirability of a fatwa (juristic opinion).

Hudud punishments: Under the Bill, what penalties can the syariah courts impose? Specifically, can states impose “hudud punishments” prescribed in classical Islamic law?

The Bill is clear that syariah courts cannot impose the death penalty. Therefore, the non-Quranic penalty of stoning to death is impermissible.

But as the Bill permits “any sentence allowed by Islamic law” (without mentioning these sentences), there is a real possibility in the future of amputations, crucifixions, whipping up to 100 lashes, forfeiture of property, and imprisonment for unspecified periods till the accused repents.

No uniformity: In criminal law there should be uniform application of the state’s coercive powers against delinquents. In the Hadi Bill there is no emphasis on uniformity from state to state. Each state can pick and choose which penalties to impose.

This is a regression from the present position that only three types of penalties (lashes, fine and imprisonment) with strict upper limits can be prescribed in all states.

Kelantan Code: Due to the provision for “any sentence allowed by Islamic law” the Hadi Bill is clearly an adroit attempt to revive the Kelantan Syariah Criminal Code II (1993) which has been lying dormant because of constitutional hurdles.

It is noteworthy that the Kelantan Code of 1993 extends to consenting non-Muslims. This is a serious violation of the Constitution which proclaims that syariah courts have no jurisdiction over non-Muslims.
Jurisdiction is a matter of law, not of consent or acquiescence.

Fundamental rights: As our Constitution is supreme, all Federal and state legislation is subject to judicial review on constitutional grounds. Even if the Hadi Bill crosses the parliamentary threshold, if its content or its consequences are violative of fundamental liberties, judicial review is a distinct possibility.
Thus if two criminals in Kelantan, one a Muslim and the other not, are caught for stealing, the non-Muslim will be tried under the Penal Code.

The Muslim will face the music in the syariah court and may be liable to amputation. Unequal punishments for the same crime would violate the equality provision of Article 8 of the Constitution.

In sum, even if the Bill to amend the 1965 Syariah Court (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act secures a simple majority in Parliament, a Pandora’s box of questions and issues will continue to haunt the legal system.

We can only hope that before the Bill is passed there will be a thorough inquest in our Parliament of the constitutional implications of the Bill.

Thursday, June 9, 2016


In view of the introduction of a private member’s Bill that seeks to amend the Syariah Courts ( Criminal Jurisdiction) Act to increase certain penalties under syariah law in the Dewan Rakyat recently by PAS president, Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, it is legitimate to ask how important is syariah in garnering votes for his party.

The Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS) has since its formation in 1951 committed itself to an Islamic State which upholds the syariah. In the first two decades, PAS did not push for the implementation of syariah as its principal electoral issue. In the 1959, 1964 and 1969 General Elections, the party was concerned primarily about the Malay position. It felt that UMNO, the mainstay of the ruling coalition, the Alliance, had, through its generous conferment of citizenship upon the huge non-Malay population in the late fifties, undermined the interests of the Malays. It was mainly because it was seen as the champion of the Malay cause that PAS captured two preponderantly Malay states, Kelantan and Terengganu, in 1959. Though it was ousted from the seat of power in Terengganu in 1962 as a result of cross-overs, it retained its grip upon Kelantan through the next two elections. At the federal level, in parliament, it won 13, 9 and 12 seats respectively out of 104 seats in the three General Elections during that period.

In the 1974 General Election PAS was a member of the newly forged Barisan Nasional (BN) which was an expansion of the Alliance. It secured 14 parliamentary seats. There was no mention of syariah in its campaign. PAS failed to hold on to Kelantan in the 1978 Election mainly because of the 1977 Kelantan Emergency which led to a split in the party and the birth of a breakaway party, BERJASA, that teamed up with UMNO to capture power in Kota Baru. Political machinations had caused PAS’s downfall.

The 1980s saw a significant shift in PAS’s ideological approach. Because of socio-economic and demographic changes in the country and because of certain international developments, a segment of the Malaysian Muslim population became even more conscious of its Islamic identity. In reflecting this shift, PAS de-emphasised its concern with the Malay position and focused much more upon its quest for an Islamic state ruled by the syariah. However, its new focus did not translate into votes in the 1982 and 1986 General Elections.

It was only in the 1990 Election that it did relatively well, recapturing Kelantan through a landslide victory with the help of an UMNO breakaway group called Semangat 46. A crisis in UMNO which began in 1987 with the emergence of two factions, and its consequences, rather than PAS’s new commitment to a syariah based Islamic State were the real reasons for its creditable electoral performance. This was proven again in 1999 when PAS won 27 parliamentary seats in the General Election, its best record ever. There is no doubt that the assault on former Deputy Prime Minister, Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim, and the impact of his ‘black eye’ on an outraged electorate, buoyed PAS’s fortunes. PAS had also in that election forged a pact with three other parties which allowed the party to penetrate urban and semi-urban constituencies with sizeable Chinese and Indian voters as never before.

It was the willingness to work together with other parties that helped PAS enhance its electoral appeal in the 2008 and 2013 General Elections. In both the Elections, its enthusiasm for syariah, specifically hudud laws, was not put on display especially in ethnically mixed areas. PAS’s ability to cooperate with other actors, and more important, the benefits it has derived from UMNO’s internal problems --- its factions and its frictions --- have helped the party tremendously in its growth. Its espousal of syariah and hudud has not been a factor of any significance in the mobilisation of mass support.

What this means is that electoral politics cannot explain PAS’s attachment to hudud. The explanation lies in the deep attachment to dogma on the part of the party elite, especially Hadi. It is an attachment that he shares with the vast majority of ulama worldwide. Through the centuries the ulama have transmitted their obsession with the criminal dimensions of Islamic jurisprudence to the Muslim masses. It has now become an integral part of their collective psychology.

Nonetheless, the Muslim masses have time and again set aside dogma and responded to challenges in politics or economics or education or health guided by other considerations. The fact that the majority of Malay voters in Malaysia, while acknowledging PAS’s Islamic credentials, have invariably endorsed UMNO through the ballot-box shows that the ability to ensure peace, stability, a degree of inter-religious harmony and economic development is perhaps more important to the ordinary citizen than allegiance to dogma for dogma’s sake.

It is this attitude among Muslims here and elsewhere that gives us hope that when the chips are down, sensible, rational minds among the people will prevail and dogma camouflaged in religious garb will be rejected.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sleep in 60 seconds! - THE STAR

A fortnight ago, we talked about the benefits of good sleep. In this concluding article, let’s explore how we can sleep ‘easier’.

IN my last article, we discussed the importance of maximising sleep for health benefits. Today, we will focus on how to drop off to sleep as swiftly as possible.

But first, in order to have a greater respect for sleep, we need to better understand what goes on when the lights go out.

Understanding sleep

Here are some interesting sleep facts:

  • Did you know that sleep has five stages? These stages progress cyclically from 1-2-3-4 through to REM, then repeat again with stage 1.
  • A complete sleep cycle takes an average of 90 to 110 minutes.
  • The first two sleep cycles each night have relatively short REM sleeps, but longer periods of deep sleep. Later in the night, REM periods lengthen and deep sleep time decreases.
  • This 90 to 110 minute cycle is called the ultradian rhythm, and for optimum sleep recovery, we need to complete this cycle five times, which is why experts have always suggested we get seven to eight hours of sleep.

Stage 1 is light sleep where you drift in and out of sleep, and can be awakened easily. In this stage, the eyes move slowly and muscle activity slows.

During this stage, many people experience sudden muscle contractions preceded by a sensation of falling.

In stage 2, eye movement stops and brain waves become slower as the brain prepares for deeper levels of sleep.

Stages 3 and 4 are referred to as deep sleep (or delta sleep), and it is very difficult to wake someone during this stage. Deep sleep is when the body focuses on physical repair.

If we sleep after midnight or drink alcohol before, this restoration process becomes compromised, meaning we wake up feeling physically tired and looking awful.

New parents typically don’t get a deep uninterrupted sleep as they are on high alert for the sound of crying, and need to manage their sleep by taking turns on baby duty. This is why young parents age so rapidly when they have a baby.

The REM stage is the dream stage and the time when the brain is most active as the subconscious mind backs up information learned during the previous day.

This stage is also a time for problem-solving, hence the phrase “let me sleep on it and get back to you in the morning”.

REM sleep can also be compromised by late nights and mental stress, so ensure you get to bed in the best possible mindset you can.

As we age, the periods of REM sleep get shorter, which is why we become forgetful, so if you find yourself forgetting appointments, where you left your keys or your wedding anniversary, then read up and follow the guidelines on how you can boost REM sleep.

How to sleep easily

Ok, so now that we have a full appreciation of the processes at work while we sleep, let’s focus on some tips for passing swiftly into stage 1 of the sleep cycle.

Sleep is such a natural process that there should be no reason why we can’t drift off into blissful slumber within minutes of trying.

In fact, before the advent of street lamps in Paris in the 1870s, there were no recorded cases of insomnia. Now, there are millions of people around the world seeking medical help for the 11 different categories of sleep problems.

There is only one reason why the elixir of deep sleep eludes us, and even though the factors can be broken up into physical and mental, the underlying cause is the same: either the body or the mind is over-stimulated or under-tired!

Let’s start with preparing the body for sleep:

Exercise daily – Starting your day with physical activity “corrects” the endocrine system and ensures that your body is ready for rest and repair later in the day.

Don’t work out too late in the evening as rigorous activity may increase cortisol levels, speeding up your circulation. After your evening meal, you may go for a walk or do relaxing, low impact exercises like tai chi or yoga.

Have a hot bath – Heating the body lowers blood pressure by opening the blood vessels to the skin. Magnesium supplements work in the same way, which is why hot chocolate has always been a popular pre-bed drink (cocoa is high in magnesium) and magnesium oil sprays are all the rage for preparing the body for sleep.

Breathing! – Through breathing, we can control biorhythms and lower the heart rate to enable sleep. Try focusing on breathing in through the nose for a count of four to five seconds; hold for two exhalations; breathe through the nose for five to six seconds; hold for two exhalations; and repeat.

After you build a suitable rhythm and feel the pull of sleep, continue to breathe normally without focusing on counting until you drift off.

Avoid stimulants after 2pm – Coffee can have a half-life of six to eight hours for some people, so if you have trouble sleeping, then make sure you pass on the caffeine and other stimulants well before bedtime.

That includes ginger, green tea, aspartame and other sweeteners. If you crave a hot drink after dinner, then try a soothing tea like chamomile, lemon or lavender. Dinner should preferably be eaten between 6pm and 7pm – Eating a balanced lean proteinbased meal with brown rice and vegetables for dinner may provide you with the L-tryptophan needed for the production of melatonin and serotonin, providing the right mood for faster sleep.

The mind

If sleep is what you crave, then don’t bring any electrical equipment to bed. Text messaging, Facebooking and the exchange of any information will release cortisol, keeping you from the state you most desire, sleep!

This also includes chatting with your spouse. Getting into bed and bringing up the state of the family finances or any other topic is a huge no-no!

Instead, read a book, say a prayer or tell your spouse all the things that you were grateful for that day. Learn how to focus the mind to wind the body down into it’s most restful state.

The mind loves rituals and routine, so build your own windingdown routine for sleep and stick to it religiously. After a week or two of practice, your mind will get the message and understand that each and every time you take the first step of your routine, you are programming for sleep.

Start by organising your schedule for the following day at a set time like 10pm. It is super-relaxing for the control freak in us to have tomorrow prepared, so that we can hit the pillows feeling satisfied.

Ahhh, isn’t that a load off your mind?

The mind is like a TV, you can only watch one channel at a time, so focus your mind on something or someone that increases a sense of relaxation, and breathe!

In the UK, we were taught to count sheep – warm fluffy innocuous animals. How much sleep would we have missed if they had taught us to count spiders?

Yet, many of us are lying in bed thinking about people or events that create the same levels as stress as spiders have on children!

The room

This is where we can make or break our sleep patterns, so make some notes and try these tips out:

Sight – The room should be pitch black, so if you don’t sleep easily, get an eye mask and sleep in complete darkness. Even the faintest light from an alarm clock has been shown to stimulate cortisol in sensitive sleepers.

Smell – Try a soothing essential oil like lavender or vetiver, and run it in a diffuser to add humidity in dry climates.

Sound – This is a totally personal choice, and I have tried everything from whale song to crystal-healing bowl meditations. Experiment on this one, but make sure you leave the run time to an hour, with an auto switch-off.

Touch – Sleep position, number of pillows and Egyptian cotton sheets! Again, this is down to personal choice. I sleep on an earthing or grounding sheet with one pillow and highly recommend the earthing sheets to all my patients with sleep disorders or inflammation-based conditions like high blood pressure or muscle aches.

Temperature – Sleep experts recommend a room air temperature between 19-23°C, with a window open to ensure good oxygen flow during the entire night. Oxygen content is crucial to waking up feeling refreshed, so make sure you sleep in a well-aired room, even if that means investing in a good set of mosquito nets.

The bottom line

The hormone that induces sleep is called melatonin, and it works in opposition to cortisol. When one is high, the other is low, and that is why falling asleep is often an issue of cortisol or stress management.

Natural melatonin levels deplete with age and by age 40, many of us will be producing only about 50% of the levels we enjoyed as teenagers.

Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland, which itself can become calcified by ingestion of toxins such as fluoride found in water and toothpaste. If you have searched in vain for the ultimate soporific but still find slumber hard to come by, then research the following:

  • How to decalcify the pineal gland
  • How to boost melatonin levels naturally
  • Melatonin and valerian root supplements
Article taken from The Star.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Hudud: Central to Islam? - CHANDRA MUZAFFAR

The proponents of hudud laws have created the erroneous impression that hudud laws are central to Islam, that they define the character and identity of an Islamic state and society.

If we examined the growth and spread of Islam, how Islamic civilisation sustained its dynamic spirit for centuries, and what led to its eventual decline, we get a different picture of the role of hudud in the religion.

The spread of Islam from Spain to China within one hundred years of Prophet Muhammad's death more rapid than the spread of any other religion in history was not due to some inherent attraction to hudud laws. Islam came as a liberator to all sorts of people suffering from oppression and persecution. This was how the religion was perceived by the Persians, for instance, just as it brought a measure of equality to the Egyptians who for centuries had been groaning under the yoke of unjust social structures maintained by the Greeks and Romans. The promise of justice, equality and freedom, enhanced no doubt by the compassion and tolerance of Sufi saints, played a major role in the diffusion of Islam as a faith, an ideology and a way of life. Or, in the words of H.G. Wells, "Islam prevailed because it was the best social and political order the times could offer. It prevailed because everywhere it found politically apathetic peoples, robbed, oppressed, bullied, uneducated and unorganized and it found selfish and unsound governments out of touch with any people at all. It was the broadest, freshest and cleanest political idea that had yet come into actual activity in the world and it offered better terms than any other to the masses of mankind."

It was primarily because of what it did for human dignity and social justice that Islam flourished as a great world civilisation between the eighth and fourteenth centuries. There was, however, another reason too. At its zenith, Islam exercised overwhelming command over all types of knowledge. A vast corpus of knowledge applied to commerce and the economy, science and education, the military and administration gave Islamic civilisation the strength and resilience to withstand various trials and tribulations. Hudud, understood today as modes of punishment associated with criminal law, cannot claim to have helped preserve the quintessence of Islamic civilisation.

Even the decline of Islamic civilisation has no direct or indirect link to the observance or non-observance of hudud laws. As distinguished Muslim thinkers like Shah Waliullah have pointed out, elite corruption and oppression, apart from the devastation wrought by external invasions, were largely responsible for the downfall of Muslim empires in history. It is worth noting that most of these empires and kingdoms faithfully carried out hudud ordinances. But this could not save them from decline and dissolution since they had ceased to be loyal to the fundamental spirit of justice embodied in the Quran.

In fact, there are a few examples of Muslim regimes today which adhere strictly to hudud and yet their people remain trapped in poverty, ignorance and ill health. One of these hudud oriented societies in West Asia has an incredibly high rate of illiteracy, in spite of its huge oil revenue. It is also totally autocratic, does not even observe minimal public accountability and denies the ordinary people any form of participation in government. The ills of this and other Muslim societies cannot be overcome through the mere imposition of hudud laws.

Though it is only too obvious that the colossal challenges confronting most Muslim societies today, ranging from poverty and exploitation to authoritarianism and foreign domination, cannot be resolved through the promulgation of hudud ordinances, a significant segment of the ulama continues to believe that allegiance to these laws demonstrates fidelity to the faith. This is why they are even prepared to label as "murtad" (apostates) those who question the relevance of hudud to the eternal Islamic mission of protecting human dignity and promoting social justice.

Before we try to understand this attitude of some contemporary ulama, it is important to emphasise that by questioning the relevance of the modes of punishment prescribed in hudud one is not challenging the notion of right and wrong that underpins Islamic law or the Shariah. For a Muslim, murder or theft or adultery or consuming liquor would always remain morally reprehensible. 

Preserving and protecting the basic moral structure of the Quran embodied in its eternal values and principles is essential to the defence of Islam's fundamental ethical foundation and framework. Muslim reformers who regard various types of punishment in hudud ordinances as contextual have never been known to raise doubts about the validity and the authenticity of Quranic values and principles. Indeed, some of them would even argue that the obsession with meting out punishment in Hudud legislation in various Muslim countries today is inimical to the spirit of encouraging the wrongdoer to repent and reform which is germane to the Quran and the example of the Prophet (the Sunnah). After all, hudud itself is essentially a reminder to the human being of the importance of observing certain boundaries, certain restraints, in one's personal and social conduct. It is a way of persuading the human being to function within a moral realm. Hudud, in its philosophical sense, is not a rigid, dogmatic set of rules and regulations.

Unfortunately, an important section of contemporary ulama do not see hudud or Islamic law from this perspective. The vast majority, whatever their sect or inclination, adopt a legalistic, traditionalist approach to Islam. Laws -- not universal values or eternal principles -- in their opinion embody the sanctity of the religion. It explains why laws ---though only about 300 out of 6666 verses in the Quran deal with various types of laws --- are given so much prominence in the writings of the ulama. By overemphasizing laws, the ulama, who alone exercise authority over interpretation, enhance their own power. It is a power derived to a great extent from their role as the custodians of the whole tradition of Islamic law. And, in applying the Shariah to the contemporary situation, the ulama invariably adopt an unthinking, uncritical approach. Consequently, the Shariah in its entirety, and not just its Quranic root, is seen as divine and sacred. Indeed, there are rules and regulations in the Shariah, including some pertaining to the hudud, which are not in consonance with either the letter or the spirit of the Quran. For instance, the Quran does not prescribe any specific punishment for sukr (intoxication) but hudud laws do. Similarly, the Quran does not lay out any punishment for apostasy, though it condemns it in the strongest terms. In hudud, it is punishable by death. It is significant that most Muslims today accept these hudud punishments as divinely ordained. It goes to show that in reality, legalist, traditionalist Islam has a more powerful grip upon the Muslim mind than the Quran itself.

This is not an accident. It is a product of both history and contemporary developments. As the compassion and egalitarianism of early Islam slowly declined, Muslim rulers sought to legitimize their power through the manipulation of Islamic forms, symbols and laws. Very often, the ulama who served these rulers helped to buttress the latter's authority by formulating harsher modes of punishment for certain crimes or by providing more rigid interpretations to existing laws which often went beyond what the Quran, the primary source of legislation in Islam, and the Sunnah, its ancillary source, had intended in the first place. Consequently, a certain rigidity began to develop vis-à-vis the Shariah and public administration.

The situation was exacerbated by a catastrophic event which has had a profound impact upon the entire development of Islamic civilisation after the thirteenth century. This was the wanton destruction of Baghdad in 1258 by the Tartars led by Hulagu Khan. Baghdad was not only the greatest centre of learning in the Muslim world. In its time, it was undoubtedly a beacon of knowledge for the whole world. According to the Sri Lankan jurist and scholar, C. G. Weeramantry, "the great House of Learning (library) in Baghdad accommodated 800,000 volumes." But once the devastation took place, the spirit of learning and inquiry, of research and scholarship, began to wane. For it was not just Baghdad which was destroyed ; the Tartars, in an earlier wave of attacks, had annihilated other illustrious centres of art, culture and learning like Bukhara, Khwarizm, Samarkand, Balkh, Merv and Nishapur. As a result of these invasions which "shook the world of Islam to its very foundations," a conservative mood took root within Muslim communities in that part of the world. Because they had lost so much of their intellectual and cultural heritage, they were determined to preserve and protect what was left. They became afraid of reform and change. They were reluctant to question the wisdom of certain laws in the Shariah formulated by their ulama.

Another major setback occurred a few centuries later. The colonization of almost the entire Muslim world by Western powers starting from the sixteenth century onwards, further strengthened the conservative trend within the religion. Having lost control over their lands and their destinies, Muslims became very cautious towards ideas and practices from alien sources which might erode their collective identity as a religious community.

This fear of losing their identity has become even more pronounced in the post-colonial period. It is a fear which is not without justification. For Western domination and control of Muslim societies continues unabated. Indeed, Western cultural and psychological penetration of Muslim and other non-Western societies today is so much deeper than what it was at the height of colonialism. A huge portion of the Muslim populace has chosen to respond to the challenge by re-asserting what it perceives as its Muslim identity via attire, food, laws and so on. Adhering strictly to hudud and Shariah as they had evolved in the early centuries of Islam is part of this re-assertion.

While it is important to re-assert one's identity as a way of protecting Muslim autonomy and independence, it does not follow that this should lead to an unthinking, uncritical acceptance of each and every aspect of hudud and Shariah. Such an attitude will be disastrous for the Muslim community. For there are elements in the Shariah connected with basic human rights, the roles and rights of women, the rights of non-Muslim minorities and international relations which have to be re-appraised in order to bring them into some harmony with the eternal, universal Quranic commitment to human dignity and social justice. Hudud laws and other aspects of criminal justice should also be seen in that light.

This is a position which has been taken by some of the most outstanding thinkers in Islam. Shah Waliullah, for instance, argued that "every age must seek its own interpretation of the Quran and the traditions." He believed that "one of the major causes of Muslim decay was rigid conformity to interpretations made in other ages." Muhammad Iqbal was also of the view that "each generation, guided but unhampered by the work of its predecessors, should be permitted to solve its own problems in accordance with the level of its consciousness and the demands of the time." For Iqbal such an approach to the Shariah was important since the Quran itself teaches that life is a process of progressive creation.

Like Waliullah and Iqbal, Ali Shariati was also very critical of "traditional, formalistic Islam." He wanted to liberate the religion from the grip of those Ulama "who had imprisoned Islam by monopolizing it." Another twentieth century thinker, Mohammad Arkoun, had often lamented in his writings that "the general Islamic consciousness remains content with dogma."

It is because of this consciousness that the ulama and their followers insist upon the implementation of hudud laws as they are. But, as another recent thinker, noted for his brilliant scholarship, the late Fazlur Rahman, points out, "To insist on literal interpretation of the rules of the Quran, shutting one's eyes to the social change that has occurred and that is so palpably occurring before our eyes, is tantamount to deliberately defeating its moral-social purpose and objectives. It is just as though, in view of the Quranic emphasis on freeing slaves, one were to insist on preserving the institution of slavery so that one could earn merit in the sight of God by freeing slaves. Surely the whole tenor of the teaching of the Quran is that there should be no slavery at all."

It is this sort of fundamental re-thinking that is urgently needed in the Muslim world today.

First written in 1992, a slightly edited version of this essay appears in Chandra Muzaffar’s Rights, Religion and Reform (London: Routledge Curzon, 2002).