In a multi-racial society, the principle of accountability to the people should be the priority, says a Kelantan scholar.
NIK Abdul Aziz Nik Hassan may be one of G25’s newest members, but he comes from a line of alim (“the wise”) and reformers from Kelantan which stretches back through the 19th century.
Datuk Faridah Khalid, former deputy president of the National Council of Women’s Organisations, invited him to join the grouping of Malay Muslim professionals calling for a rational discussion of the role and position of Islam, in line with the Federal Constitution.
Nik Abdul Aziz was asked to play a role as an Islamic scholar and give input, he explains, and he joined late last year since he agrees with their platform.
G25 talks about good governance, as well as political, social and economic justice, which “is in line with the spirit of the Quran, and changing the Malay worldview in line with Islam”, he says.
Unlike his ancestors, the Kota Baru-born academic did not become an ulama. In the past, he lectured in the History Department at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (where he earned a Masters degree) and headed the Department of Preaching and Leadership there. Now he writes and gives lectures.
In his three books, he has emphasised understanding the Quran and hadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad), and consensus of the ulama.
“We need scholars to be brave and settle problems,” he urges. “Islam is very important in Malay society. If they subscribe to conservatism and dogmatism, they will find it difficult to lead society.”
His great-grandfather, Tuan Tabal, a Sufi scholar, studied in Mecca and returned to introduce the Ahmadiyah doctrine in Kelantan in the latter part of the 19th century.
His grandfather, Haji Wan Musa, was “a great reformer who encouraged people to go back to the Quran and the hadith and to interpret them according to their space and time”.
Around 1937, his uncle Haji Nik Abdullah, son of the former mufti Haji Wan Musa, was summoned to Istana Sri Cemerlang by the Raja (Regent) of Kelantan, Tengku Ibrahim Ibnu Sultan Muhammad IV, to give an opinion about whether dogs are unclean for Muslims to touch with their bare hands.
“The Raja asked whether dogs could be reared or not,” says Nik Abdul Aziz. “Haji Nik Abdullah replied that if the dogs were considered very necessary for the safety of the household, he could follow the Maliki school of thought which allows that and they could be reared by family members.”
His views were supported by Haji Wan Musa, Singapore’s kadi (judge) Haji Abbas Taha and PAS president Dr Burhanuddin Helmi. His uncle Haji Nik Mohd Salleh was taken to the syariah court in 1949 by the Islamic Religious Council of Kelantan, which banned his book Falsafah Rumah Tangga (Philosophy of the Home). He lost the case and had to pay a fine. His uncle had written that well-managed homes were key to creating a civilisation.
“He said women were very important and, even if they had to stay in the home (with which he disagreed), they had to be well educated and exposed to the world,” said Nik Abdul Aziz. “Children’s education begins at home and they spend the most time with their parents. Women have to be sent to school – even English-medium schools – and to university and involved in all activities, even politics, because half of the population are women and if half are ineffective and unproductive, the country will be unproductive.”
He wrote that wearing purdah was not compulsory because it was not based on the Quran, hadith and consensus of past scholars: “What women wear is up to them, but they must be decently and properly dressed. A decent baju kurung and kebaya are good enough.” And, Nik Abdul Aziz recalls, the wives of PAS president Dr Burhanuddin and deputy president Zulkifli Muhammad back then did not wear mini-telekung or purdah.
His uncle’s book also talked about Islamic governance.
“He said administration and management have to be fair to all races and religions,” Nik Abdul Aziz reports. “We cannot deprive them of their rights. When it comes to religious matters, leaders have to have interfaith dialogue. They cannot force people but have to come to a good conclusion.”
Nik Abdul Aziz, who studied with his uncle, says he agrees “100%” with his philosophy, and points out that his uncle was supporting women’s rights back in the 1940s.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, scholars in the Malay Peninsula, including Haji Wan Musa, Haji Wan Musa’s son Haji Nik Abdullah and Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s grandfather Syeikh Abdullah Fahim, “called for people to go back to the Quran and the Sunnah (the words and actions of Prophet Muhammad), and to practise ijtihad (independent reasoning) to bring the meaning of the Quran and hadith to our space and time”.
The Kelantan scholar, like his fellow G25 members, worries that in spite of these early reformers, the Islam projected today emphasises penalties rather than justice and mercy. For example, he refers to the proposed amendments to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act (RUU 355).
PAS has highlighted that the proposed amendments are a stepping stone towards hudud, he says, but what’s important in a multiracial society at this juncture are the problems of corruption, good governance, political financing, abuse of power, crimes, economic hardship, and the gap between the haves and the have-nots becoming greater.
“The principle of accountability to the people should be the priority,” he stresses. “Settle these problems first and the penalties can come later.”