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Islam and democracy

Posted: 09 Sep 2013 05:56 PM PDT

To understand this discourse, one needs to know the point of divergence between Islam and democracy and how certain practices in democracy may not be acceptable to Islam.

The acceptance of democracy in Islam has largely been on its basis as a political process and form of political system. Islamic scholars see no problem in recognising the term democracy in this specific Islamic viewpoint. Even principles of equality, justice and human dignity are not alien to Islam.

Enizahura Abdul Aziz, The Star

THE discourse on Islam and democracy has always been vibrant, whether it is in the Muslim world or even among scholars and practitioners of the democracy in the West.

The reason behind this is that Islam, as a religion, has some basic principles that might not be compatible to the sets of idealisms pursued by democracy. However, in order to understand this discussion, one needs to know the point of divergence between Islam and democracy and can practices in democracy be acceptable in Islam?

Basically, there are three perspectives on the relationship between Islam and democracy.

First, there are those who reject democracy outrightly, claiming that democracy and its secular nature are actually legacies of western imperialism on Muslims states.

Second, there are groups that embrace democracy in its entirety, believing that religion should remain outside the political sphere.

Finally, there are those who differentiate democracy as a political mechanism for forming legitimate governments from it being a set of values and principles for individuals to hold on to.

Modern democracy is a political reality that besieges most free nations today. It has evolved through history since the ancient Greek period, resurfaced in importance and modernised during the revolutions in America, Britain and France and further post-modernised through periods of world wars and the new world order.

Democracy also has many forms ranging from parliamentary, federalism and America's very own. Some may be particular in its process and forms but many modern democracies today are very concerned about the fundamentals of democratic principles: sovereignty of the people, individual liberty and equality.

Leon P. Baradat, in his book, Political Ideologies: Their Origins and Impact, categorises these as process democrats and principles democrats. Baradat explains that process democrats view democracy as a form of decision-making and the rule of majority.

They claim that there is no real philosophy or theory of democracy. Principle democrats on the other hand, argue that democracy has a strong theoretical foundation and the procedure or process of democracy is secondary to the philosophical objectives of democracy.

In Islam, politics remains in the realms of the religion. This reflects the exact feature of the religion as a way of life that encompasses all areas of human interactions including his/her interaction with Allah the Almighty and his/her interaction with fellow human beings.

Therefore, politics in Islam must meet the objectives of the Shari'ah (Maqasid Shari'ah) which includes the preservation of the religion, life, mind, offspring and property.

In analysing the correlation between Islam and politics, Allal Al-Fassi explains that: "The general higher objective of Islamic Law is to populate and civilise the earth and preserve the order of peaceful coexistence therein; to ensure the earth ongoing well-being and usefulness through the piety of those who have been placed there as God's vicegerents; to ensure that people conduct themselves justly, with moral probity and with integrity in thought and action, and that they reform that which needs reform on earth, tap its resources, and plan for the good of all."

Several Islamic scholars believe that the essence of democratic process is actually compatible with Islamic principles. Prof Khurshid Ahmad, in his take on Islam and democracy, argues that Muslims should understand democracy as "rights of a people to self-determination and self-fulfillment" and this is in line with Islam. Meanwhile, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradhawi firmly states:

"The tools and guarantees created by democracy are as close as can ever be to the realisation of the political principles brought to this earth by Islam to put a leash on the ambitions and whims of rulers."

It is further agreed by many contemporary Islamic scholars that democratic tools and principles of elections, consultations, consensus and independent reasoning are also central in Islam.

The acceptance of democracy in Islam has largely been on its basis as a political process and form of political system. Islamic scholars see no problem in recognising the term democracy in this specific Islamic viewpoint. Even principles of equality, justice and human dignity are not alien to Islam.

However, the most important element that should surround this relationship between Islam and democracy is the understanding of the Tawhidic framework that ultimate sovereignty only belongs to God and the roles of human beings as His khalifah (vicegerents) on earth.

Realising this point of departure on the principles of liberalism, secularism and people sovereignty in democracy from the absolute sovereignty of God in Islam, how then can Islam position itself in modern democracy today?

One thing for sure, Muslims must realise that democracy is a mechanism, not a destination and not even a destiny. Although it is a political reality especially in those areas of the Muslim world that were once colonies of Western imperialists, there must be boundaries to the acceptance of this reality.

Throughout history, we have seen failures of democratic governments which brought about discussions on new forms of democracy, hence indicating that countries have freedom to determine democratic practices suitable to them. Even western democracy was born out of the polemics and conflicts that plagued the western world.

Therefore, on positioning Islam in democracy of the Muslim world today, Muslims must be critical enough to adopt the democratic principles that would best suit the conditions, history and heritage of the Muslim world.

On the other hand, Muslims' acceptance of democracy as a tool for effective participatory in politics and means for governance must be acknowledged and respected.

Weaknesses and failure of democracy that we see happening in some parts of the Muslim world today are not about the compatibility between Islam and democracy but more about those who destroy the system under the pretext of democratic rights and liberties.

> Enizahura Abdul Aziz is Senior Research Officer at Ikim's Centre for Study of Shari'ah, Law and Politics. 


Looking at the All-Ireland Fleadh in a new light

Posted: 09 Sep 2013 02:17 PM PDT,1223753094,1/stock-vector-illustration-of-people-and-music-sheet-18733567.jpg

A culture that wishes to move forward cannot do so by looking back – but a thriving nation will never create a sustainable identity if it leaves the past entirely behind.

Susan Gedutis Lindsay, special to the British Irish Reporter

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA, and HONG KONG – In August, the Malaysian Ministry of Education announced its Education Blueprint (2013-2025), a plan built upon six attributes, one of which is national identity. Earlier in the week, while in Malaysia on an educational/business visit with the Berklee College of Music, I sat beside Tuan Haji Zainudin Abas, Malaysia's Director of the Department of Curriculum and Arts, at a press conference luncheon at the International College of Music. In informal conversation, he pondered one of his charges under this new plan. He wondered aloud, "How can Malaysia establish formal performance and learning benchmarks in the study of its native traditional music?"

May I humbly suggest: Look no further than Ireland, Minister. Therein may lie your answer.

Today in Malaysia, school music educators, depending on their location, may teach both traditional music and/or Western European music. Malaysia has a lively marching band scene and several universities at which students can study music, and traditional Malaysian music is also practiced actively throughout the nation. Still, as yet, there is no governing body to oversee standards within its traditional music.

Worldwide, there is a centuries-long example of the teaching and learning of Western music, not to mention conservatories on every continent whose curriculum is similar, by and large, regardless of country. Aspiring musicians study theory and harmony, musical analysis and music history, Bach and Beethoven, counterpoint and serialism. They master their instruments using methods tested and proven through centuries of study. Pianists have Hanon; violinists have Suzuki. What do traditional musicians have?

In Malaysia right now, nothing, it seems, at least not from the government. But it appears that the Ministry of Education is interested in establishing benchmarks in Malaysian traditional music similar to those used in the study of Western European music. This would help the national board measure the performance of both students and teachers of traditional Malaysian music, and it may also serve the greater nationalistic purpose of legitimizing traditional Malaysian music and culture as the county establishes its unique identity in the wake of several centuries of British rule.

How familiar this sounds, yes? Sixty years ago, policymakers in an Ireland only recently liberated from centuries of British rule faced a similar challenge. They had been stunted on the world stage by centuries of colonialism that had denied the country its ability to establish a national identity. Fully aware of the implications of culture on national identity and political strength at the dawn of its nationhood in the early 20th century, Ireland's first taoiseach, Éamon De Valera, set national identity on a pedestal beside politics as he crafted an independent government. De Valera saw religion and language as dual crucibles, but many in Ireland still looked to Europe and America for the coveted essence of modernity. As they did so, traditional music and arts began to wane and a small group of pipers in Mullingar began to wring their hands. By the late 1940s, it appeared that traditional music was in decline.

In 1951, these musicians convened a summit of sorts, and together, they founded two efforts that today are the hallmarks of Irish traditional music: first, an organization that was to become Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and, second, the annual festival, the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann. Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, which literally translates to "Society of the Musicians of Ireland," was founded to promote Irish music and dance in all its forms worldwide, and to foster and promote the language. Over time, Comhaltas established the Scrúdu Ceol Tire, a graded system of 12 progressive exams utilizing teachers certified in a national diploma course to teach Irish traditional music.

Every year, students gather for the Fleadh Cheoil to compete for the All-Ireland, a coveted title that rewards musicians who best represent the performance standards set by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. Sixty years later, branches of Comhaltas have been formed in every county in Ireland and in 15 countries and 4 continents. These branches host concerts, offer courses, and sponsor sessions in their local communities, ensuring that the Irish diaspora remains as connected to the traditional ethos and style as it is "back home."

The standards set by Comhaltas have played a pivotal role in the survival of Irish traditional music. Setting standards and awarding achievements for exemplary performance has helped to protect the purity of the central canon, the most traditional aspect of the music, from outside influences. It has also helped to elevate and legitimize the traditional style of teaching, which to some might appear old fashioned. In most cases, worldwide, traditional musics – often also referred to as "folk" musics – are taught and learned through the oral tradition, by ear, directly from teacher to student, with no notation to intervene. Like countless traditional music styles, native Irish music was most often taught in a close master/student "apprenticeship" in which the master is the arbiter who ensures strict adherence to the conventions of performance technique and repertoire. Though many continue to learn in the "old way," over time Comhaltas has established schools, courses, and books that suggest a central repertoire and approach.

If we allow a whiff of Western European musical colonialism to waft in, we may notice that once a music can be written down and learned according to notated, articulated performance standards, it advances its position on the world stage. Dress it up and you can take it anywhere. Do you question this? Well, take seven brilliant traditional musicians, add tuxedos, take them away from the hob, put them on a stage, and voilá: a contract with National Public Radio and a CD/DVD that will be given away to wealthy arts patrons during the next fund drive. This is no longer your granny's kitchen, lads.

In Irish music this attempt at standardization and this glorification of "model" representation of the Comhaltas standard has led some Irish musicians to complain of conservatism and "Machiavellian" tactics in the Ivory Tower of Irish music. Many resent the control that Comhaltas exerts over Irish music as a whole, its perceived role in the dissolution of regional accents in music, and its apparent institutionalized denial of outside influences. Maybe. Maybe not.

But let us remember why Comhaltas was formed in the first place and celebrate its immense successes: It has managed to bring Irish traditional music from the hearth to the world stage and it has helped the music to survive intact, despite the relentess pounding of newer influences, particularly in popular music.

Still, we must leave room for innovation. Prince Charles Alexander, a Berklee professor, music producer/recording engineer, and two-time Grammy winner, was also in Malaysia on the Berklee trip this week. Prince Charles is a thought leader in the world of music innovation, and he came to Malaysia to speak with music educators and young music teachers about music production and innovation. Specifically, he wanted to encourage young Malaysian musicians to explore how they might fuse traditional musical sounds with modern innovations like hip-hop as a way to help bring the nation into the future. He suggests that within every tradition, we should create an "innovation zone" where visionaries can create something that is informed but also innovative—evolutionary but also revolutionary—without fear of retribution from the guardians of the tradition.

Interesting. What would happen to the popularity of Irish traditional music worldwide if we decided we wanted our music to reach not just thousands but millions? What would happen if we sampled a fragment of a concertina riff and gave it a hip-hop beat? (Is there a doctor in the house! Bring your man Paddy here some smelling salts.) What if we allowed ourselves to act on this question, "What if?
I hear you: The rhythm of traditional music is part of what defines it, not just the melodies. And nothing will ever replace the sound of a fiddle and a concertina together in a quiet room, jigs and reels wielded with the same skill Michelangelo used when he painted the Sistine Chapel. If we remove that rhythm and that spirit, do we still have that music? If we only sample two bars out of a tune's typical 16, do we still have the Irish thing? Or do we have something else? And if so, is that ok? Is there room for that? To be fair, some exceptionally talented musicians have attempted to explore that question in their music –Kíla, Damien Dempsey, and Michael McGoldrick's Wired project come to mind—but as yet, the attempts are limited and not genre changing. And perhaps that is as it should be. But it would also be a pity if the vast majority of young Irish people felt that the traditional music was not relevant to their experiences.
What, then, of this national identity? Comhaltas may yet have more to offer. Malaysia can look to Comhaltas as an example of a successful method to standardize, protect, and preserve its traditional music. But to help restore its national identity and to help it emerge on the world stage, it may need more than preservation. It may also need to leave the doors open to "non-members"… to fuse what is most sacred and most essential to its tradition with outside influences. From here, a unique and modern national identity may emerge along the continuum of its own rich history.

If we wish to use music to nation build, we must think differently. If we forge radical, disruptive innovation, we are not selling out. We are buying in. We must celebrate all that Comhaltas has done and will continue to do, but also leave room at the table for the innovators. A culture that wishes to move forward cannot do so by looking back – but a thriving nation will never create a sustainable identity if it leaves the past entirely behind. 

The following post was written by Susan Gedutis Lindsay, Associate Director for Instructional Design (Online Learning) and author of "See You at the Hall: Boston's Golden Era of Irish Music and Dance" (University Press of New England, 2004). It was originally posted in the 
Boston Irish Reporter. She plays Irish traditional music on flute, whistle, and (gasp!) saxophone. 

Talk about what Anwar?

Posted: 09 Sep 2013 09:45 AM PDT 

Anwar's call for talks with BN is to buy time so that he can cook up something else to make him remain relevant to Malaysians and to Pakatan.

CT Ali, FMT 

The time elapsed from that first statement by Anwar Ibrahim about him quitting politics for the academia should he lose the 13th general election to the one where he said 'Lets talk" to Najib Tun Razak, is just a matter of months.

You will have to decide on the veracity of Anwar's words uttered in the past. You will have to ask yourself what you can and cannot believe when Anwar speaks today, and you will be the final arbitrator if there is any 'udang sebalik batu' (secret agenda) in Anwar's recent 'Lets talk' olive branch extended to Najib.

The measure of any leader can be seen in the manner they hold fast to their convictions, adapt to the realities of prevailing circumstances and yet hold true to the principles they have enunciated from time to time.

For Anwar, what he has been saying before the elections, during the elections and after the elections have precluded any possibilities of working with Najib and Barisan Nasional.

Now, just three months after the elections, he decides that the time has come to sit and talk with Najib.

Talk about what Anwar?

Tell me Anwar, what are the issues you want to deliberate with Najib, and what comprehensive solution will you be proposing?

Take us with you as you go into discussions with Najib – that is if Najib does want to discuss anything with you!

Tell us what policies, what promises and which vision that Najib and Barisan Nasional have had for the future of Malaysia that you agree with, and what you do not agree with.

Tell us which of Barisan Nasional government policies will be supported by you because it is in the interest and common good of the people of Malaysia.

And having identified them, will you give your undertaking that you and your Pakatan Rakyat colleagues will work with Najib and the BN coalition he leads, to make these policies happen.

Would you and Najib agree to work together in creating jobs, increase incomes and combating corruption? Do you and Najib agree that the price of petrol should drop?

Show us Anwar by your actions and your deeds that nation building is your priority and that you, as leader of the opposition, will work with Najib – even if you are not offered a DPM's post!

Anwar, let me call your bluff.

I say that all you are doing is posturing! All you want to get out of this "Let us talk" overture to BN is to buy time so that you can cook up something else to make you still relevant to the people of Malaysia and to Pakatan.

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