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Human Face Reflections for Ramadan


By Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Philippine Daily Inquirer

First Posted 00:24:00 09/04/2008


Close this One of the 2008 Ramon Magsaysay Award recipients I was able to interview recently was Ahmad Syafii Maarif of Indonesia. He received the award in the Peace and International Understanding category.


The banner headline last Monday was “Fighting continues as Ramadan begins.” Just below it was my article with the title “Terrorists hijack God, says RM awardee.” I thought it complemented the banner story.


Here was a revered Muslim scholar and activist, trying all his best to help restore the good name of Islam which has been tarnished by terrorists. “Terrorism is not the authentic face of Islam,” Maarif keeps stressing again and again. “The terrorists hijack God.”


These “hijackers” kill with the name of Allah on their lips. They invoke the name of Islam to justify their extreme causes. At this time when Islam is suffering a bad image because of the extreme behavior of some its adherents, a voice—brave and loud—calling for moderation is hard to find.


Maarif is a leader of Muhammadiya, an Islamic reformist movement founded in 1912, and the founder of the Maarif Institute for Culture and Humanity which aims to project Islam as a religion that is inclusive, tolerant and respects plurality.


A respected intellectual and teacher, Maarif has written books and many articles on Islam from which many can draw inspiration and guidance.


As there was not much space in last Monday’s article for excerpts from Maarif’s written works, I am sharing them here. In this holy month of Ramadan when Muslims fast, pray and purify themselves, it behooves the extremists to listen to the voice of reason.


Islam versus terrorism: The brutal and inhuman actions committed by some Muslims through bombings and hijackings are no doubt the representative of their misbehavior and misconduct, and therefore have nothing to do with Islam. The public image, however, produced by their misbehavior has misled millions of people, whose knowledge of Islam is very shallow and limited. In other words, for these people, Islam is identical with terrorism, or, it is a religion of war and violence. By implication, to combat terrorism can mean to combat Islam. This accusation is extremely painful for the Muslims and those who understand Islam….


Islam and dialogue: Can Islam actively participate in civilizational dialogue? The answer is, of course, certainly affirmative. According to Islam, the very aim of the creation of mankind with different colors, tongues, racial and cultural backgrounds is that they may know one another, exchange experience, and live in peace. For this point the Qur’an has made it clear to us: “O men! Behold, we have created you out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware.”


Islam and modernity: Unfortunately, since the rise of the Renaissance in 16th century Europe, religions have gradually but surely begun to lose their power and sensitivity to cope with the aggressive force of modernity. Christianity has, to a great extent, adapted itself, willingly or unwillingly, to the wave of this force. Other religions, Arab Islam in particular, have failed to come to terms with this modern development… There are Muslims groups who have showed the attitude of total rejection to modernity and hidden themselves “in their past historical greatness, (and) the result is inevitable: a brooding anger and frustration.” Osama bin Laden’s phenomenon is the most recent instance of this, though the root of this is more complex and deep-rooted.


Islam and combating violence: What role should Islam as a revealed religion play … in combating violence which is now overwhelming some parts of the Arab world and other Muslim countries…? The Muslims all over the world, in Arab countries in particular, should rethink honestly and seriously that Islam always means peace, in theory and in practice. Therefore, any violation of the doctrine of peace, by committing violence and terrorism, for instance, is no doubt a serious betrayal of the very teaching of Islam…


The truth: The mental attitude of monopolizing the truth, no doubt, constitutes one of the main causes of religious conflicts in history. Of course, each religion offers the absolute moral principles to humanity, but the interpretation of which can never reach the absolute position. The absoluteness and finality are not humans’ but entirely God’s. In other words, those who claim to have reached the absolute truth and finality are perhaps not believers in its true sense but liars in the garb of revelation. This attitude is certainly very dangerous to the principles of peace and brotherhood. Being aware of this fact, the Qur’an, in two verses offers a reasonable solution to the primacy of cooperation between the followers of religious: “Compete in goodness.” Let’s then compete in goodness, not compete in accusing others of believing in false religions and worshipping a false God.


On religions: In a world split apart, the role of religions as sole transcendental anchor for humanity should have been decisive and more effective. Only religions can provide human beings the final answer of the meaning of life and death. Philosophers and scientists can only speculate about it without offering any certainty so far… Islam as the youngest religion after Judaism and Christianity shares many of the principles of moral imperatives of its older sisters and predecessors to offer a clear guide to mankind. This is not a surprise … because these three religions historically took their moral teachings from the same prophetic source, that is, from the Abrahamic spiritual office.


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