Monday, December 20, 2010

What place is there for the freedom of conscience in PAS's Islamic State?


"Islamic state is the best, not just for Muslims but also for non-Muslims," so said PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang.

Neither should we agree or disagree with Hadi's statement at this moment. What we need is explanation, as requested by Hadi. May be PAS really has a good Islamic political theology to offer for Malaysia's context. Unless they explain and we listen, this matter will stay stagnant.

So yes, PAS should be given time to explain what they mean by that statement.

On the side of the non-Muslim Malaysians, we have to learn to listen with open ears and solidarity with the awareness of the limitation expressed in the past Islamic political theology, especially when it concerns the liberty of individual's conscience (the freedom to convert out of Islam).

Personally, I do not think multiculturalism, as broadly defined, is feasible. The logical end of multiculturalism is extreme individualism where individuals are endowed with legal rights to claim privatized culture at the cost of common good, for example the allowance of consented cannibalism.

I do not endorse the idea of 'programmatic secularism' as well. Such secularism lacks the moral authority to govern and police. The state under such program will end up with (1) violent and arbitrary policing over religious communities, and hence (2) provoke the rise of extremist terrorism.

On one hand, people need to be empowered to avoid tyrannical oppression. On the other hand, rulers need to be empowered to avoid being overruled by democratic follies.

If these two poles cannot be compromised, does that mean we need a third authority to negotiate the tension between the two? And who in our society can be entrusted with such great power?

From a Christian perspective, the third authority lies (surprisingly?) in the Christian vision of time. What time is it now?

At present, we are inhabiting in a world full of ambivalence and ambiguity. Augustine calls the present time as the saeculum, where the restrainment of executive authority of rulers as well as people lies in the anticipation of the arrival of the finality of history. (Augustine, City of God [UK: Penguin edition, 2003], p.46)

It is this restrainment that prevent a tyrant and a group of fools from destroying each other. The created space out of this restrainment enables the cohabitation of both the tyrant and the fools, and so allows the freedom of conscience for all concerning religious conviction.

So it is still to be seen what kind of polity does PAS has for us Malaysians.

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