Islam Hadari and the Politics of Banning

By Farish A. Noor

There are ideas, and there can be stupid ideas; but to ban an idea simply because of its stupidity seems to be a rather stupid thing to do in itself.

Among the ideas that circulate in the congested bowels of Malaysia’s public domain is the somewhat nebulous idea of ‘Islam Hadari’; loosely translated at times as ‘civilisational Islam’ or ‘societal Islam’. Others of a less charitable bent have dubbed it ‘theme park Islam’, ‘Crystal mosque Islam’ and even ‘Badawi’s brand of Islam’. Branding aside, it would appear that this brand of Islam has come under close scrutiny and admonition of late. In May the Pakatan-led state government of Selangor announced that henceforth the state would no longer promote Islam Hadari and this was later followed up by a similar move on the part of the Pakatan-led state government of Penang.

The rationale behind this prohibition leaves us with some unanswered questions that might as well be raised at this point. Who called for the prohibition of Islam Hadari and on what grounds? And if Islam Hadari is to be banned by the Pakatan-led state governments, what does this entail for the Muslims and non-Muslims of Malaysia? What, in the final analysis, was the objective of this ban?

Now this academic would hardly call himself a fan of Islam Hadari, as anyone who has read these columns would realise. Time and again we have pointed out the shortcomings, contradictions, double-standards and downright hypocrisy between the ideals of Islam Hadari and what has been put into practice. Islam Hadari – as a broad statement of inter-related intentions crafted in the form of a statist religio-political discourse – promised us the opening of the Muslim mind, the creation of a more open civil space, the protection of pluralism and difference and the promotion of gender equality.

Yet what we have seen thus far falls short (and very short, mind you) of the abovementioned objectives. In Trengganu I walked into the Islam Hadari theme park that seemed more like a vulgar imitation of Disneyland than a concrete affirmation of rationalism and the spirit of enquiry. The famous ‘crystal mosque’ that accounted for the whopping price tag of the whole theme park failed to impress and was certainly a pale mimic of what Islamic aesthetics could achieve. And one wonders how such grand and money-devouring projects would serve the ends of opening up the Muslim mind when all we see are posters and banners celebrating the ego and image of the man said to be the mastermind of the grand logic of Islam Hadari itself, the Prime Minister.

Criticisms like these, however, serve to keep the powers-that-be in check and to remind them of their public commitments to ideas and values that they fail to practice in office. How, pray tell, can you open up the minds of Malaysians when the very same government that preaches Islam Hadari remains as a passive witness to the spate of book-banning and the narrowing of discursive space in the country?

This, however, should not be taken as the license to simply ban Islam Hadari – or any other ideas or interpretations of Islam – outright. For if we were to say that Islam Hadari is wrong in toto simply because the people who thought it up don’t even understand it themselves, then would we not also be rejecting some of the better ideas and values that have been inculcated into the general framework of the project itself? Islam Hadari, on paper at least, calls for the respect of difference and pluralism and the promotion of gender equality between men and women. Are these ideas to be rejected too, simply because they have been brought within the ambit of Islam Hadari? For my part, I am quite happy to see any party or politician, be they of the ruling parties or those in opposition, endorsing pluralism, democracy and gender equality at any time of the day…

Which leads us to the actors and agents behind the prohibition of Islam Hadari in Selangor and Penang. Now according to reports, the calls for the ban on Islam Hadari have come from those who claim to be representatives of the Muslim community and this includes members of political parties, Muslim lobby groups, Muslim NGOs and former Muftis. The justification for the ban, we are told, is that some of these individuals feel that “the teachings of Islam are perfect as they are” and that “there is no need for supplements”. Their calls for the prohibition of Islam Hadari, it would seem, is fuelled by the desire to “return to the true teachings of Islam”. But this immediately leads us to the obvious question: Is defending gender equality, promoting openness and recognising pluralism and difference (both among Muslims and between Muslims and others) not essentially Islamic anyway? How, pray tell, does promoting gender equality amount to ‘supplementing’ or ‘deviating’ from the teachings of Islam?

Despite assurances that this move to prohibit the promotion of Islam Hadari is not political, we find it ludicrous to suggest that the move is void of any political motivation. Islam Hadari itself began as a political project – to politically engineer the opening of Muslim discursive space, though this did not happen – and the reactions to it have been political as well.

Those who claim that any modern revisionist attempt to re-think Islam is deviant or dangerous, and that Islam is perfect as it is, are obviously missing the point: We all know that Islam in its essential, fundamental, literalist form conjoins and promotes equality, freedom and justice. But a cursory overview of the normative religio-cultural and social praxis of Islam in the daily lives of Muslims the world over today will show that the Muslim world is riddled with the problems of sexism, racism, feudalism, communitarianism and sectarianism. The appeal to ‘return to the Quran’ or the fundamentals of the Muslim faith ring hollow when we look around us and see how the politicisation of Islam has served only the agendas of elites who manipulate the sentiments of the majority, who have organised and led pogroms against racial and religious minorities, who have been the first to accuse other Muslims of being ‘kafirs’, ‘munafikin’ and apostates. Why, all this talk of Islam being singular and perfect makes me glance to our neighbours next door in Indonesia where at this very moment the Ahmadiya minority are being labelled as deviants, apostates, enemies of Islam, etc. while the self-proclaimed ‘true Muslims’ are calling for them to be banned, their mosques burned to the ground and their members harassed, attacked and murdered.

So let us not kid ourselves with the worn-out cliché that Islam has not changed over the past fourteen centuries, or that Islam does not require a modernist interpretation that meets the needs and reflects the realities of the modern age. For Islam to remain a meaningful and dynamic belief and value system today, it has to undergo a process of serious, thoughtful, objective and critical interpretation that allows it to reflect the complexity of Muslim social life in the present. This means evolving a contemporary theology and orthodoxy that reflects the strides that have been made in promoting gender and racial equality, the advancement in Muslim thought, the openness of Muslim society today. We don’t need some conservatives telling us to go back to the Golden Age of Islam 1,400 years ago, because frankly I would rather live in Malaysia in the present, thank you.

And if Islam Hadari is to be criticised – and it deserves to be criticised constantly, too – it should be for the reason that those who have tried to promote it have failed to meet the standards they have set for themselves. Cakap tak serupa bikin, as they say. I don’t need some tawdry crystal mosque to impress me about Islam, Prime Minister. Lets see you lift the ban on the Ahmadis and recognise other Muslim groups like the Shias, and maybe my opinion of you might be revised somewhat.

The Pakatan-led state governments, on the other hand, would do well to focus on real issues such as governing this country well; as the previous lot obviously had no idea how to do that. The banning of books, ideas, belief and value-systems and alternative cults and sects should be relegated to the past and the dark ages of the Barisan Nasional government. The March 2008 elections was a vote for a new Malaysia, one where pluralism and diversity would be defended. Lets not let this vote be misunderstood as an endorsement for an Islamic state shaped according to the mould of UMNO, PAS or any sectarian Muslim party or organisation. Banning should be a thing of the past, like the BN; and if Islam Hadari is to be dumped into the dustbin of history, it should be relegated there on account of its contradictions and mis-application by incompetent politicians, and not because some Mullah wanted it so.

  1. #1 by k1980 on Thursday, 12 June 2008 - 2:37 pm

    Sustainable democracy is based on more than just elections. It requires a functioning civil society that has confidence in government institutions, is willing to work on the basis of compromise and respects the law. Stated more simply, unless you have rule of law and competent politicians free of corruption, you don’t have democracy.,1518,558832-2,00.html

  2. #2 by oknyua on Thursday, 12 June 2008 - 2:44 pm

    Islam Hadhari, as non Muslim I translate it as “Islam when it is convenient.” The Islam that I know encourage fair-play, tolerant and in matters outside its jurisdiction, considerate. The Islam that I know frowns upon all forms of corruption, encourages moderate lifestyles and prohibits all forms of excesses. The Islam that I know treats neighbours as his fellow friends.

    What intention was Hadhari introduced, I don’t know but what I interpreted it to be is from what I see. As a Christian, I judge a tree from its fruits. The fruits of Hadhari are best seen in the lives and words of its prime promoter, the Prime Minister himself. Probably the Selangor and Penang Government see what I see, hear what I hear and read what I read. Thank you.

  3. #3 by CheeseBall on Thursday, 12 June 2008 - 2:57 pm

    Hey.. if this version of islam enables me to blatantly steal from anyone, kill people I don’t like, lie through my teeth, ban things I don’t like, eat pork, drink alcohol, have mistresses, have sex with prostitutes (paid for by others), lie through my teeth (did I repeat that?), embezzle funds and launder money… where do I sign up!!!??

  4. #4 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 12 June 2008 - 3:13 pm

    What are Pakatan-led Selangor and Penang state governments doing – are they not promoting Islam Hadari or banning it ? Not favouring or promoting is one thing – banning is another! Farish A. Noor is not clear whether he meant the two interchangeably …

    Obviously if representatives of the Muslim community behind or within Pakatan-led Selangor and Penang state governments do not understand Islam Hadari, they cannot be in the position to ‘promote’ it. However not being in the position to promote does not imply banning it, carrying the necessary implication that if employees of these state governments read, talk, espouse or practise what they perceive is Islam Hadari they will be punished by transfer, cold storage or denied promotion.

    Which is which?

    We certainly don’t expect Pakatan-led Selangor and Penang state governments to “ban” in the sense above Islam Hadari for reasons well set forth by Farish.

  5. #5 by i_love_malaysia on Thursday, 12 June 2008 - 3:24 pm

    What ever is good and noble should be adopted and what ever is bad and evil should be discarded no matter who and where they originated. If AAB said that we should speak the truth, We should not ban what he said by saying that we should not speak the truth or at least dont promote that, else he will be credited for promoting to speak the truth!!! bottom line is we should know how to discern and not to take things in in total and ended up as followers/yes men without the capacity to think!!!

  6. #6 by k1980 on Thursday, 12 June 2008 - 3:25 pm

    The PM Hadari has found the wondrous way of eradicating poverty in this country. It is really very simple: When you cannot afford the ever-increasing high costs of food, fuel and neccessities, all you need to do is “GO CHANGE YOUR LIFESTYLE” and everything will be solved. For instance, schoolkids who walk to school because they can’t afford bus fares need to change their lifestyle of walking to school to running to school….

  7. #7 by i_love_malaysia on Thursday, 12 June 2008 - 3:32 pm

    Love your neighbours as yourself – time to think whether it is stated in the Quran to install speakers in the mosques to disturb the neighbourhood 5 times a day!!!

  8. #8 by i_love_malaysia on Thursday, 12 June 2008 - 3:47 pm

    Seriously, we really need to change our lifestyles, not because AAB said so, but to change for the better i.e. if we are taking softdrinks when ever we sit down at restaurant or teh tariks at mamak stall, we should order plain water instead (or to bring our own filtered water) or to reduce the amount of sugar. Lifestyle is not only limited to using transportation etc., but everything. We should not damage the environment further even if we can afford to drive the biggest cc car in town etc. , time to change our lifestyles for the good of our planet and future generations. We are entrusted to take care of the planet that we live in.

  9. #9 by darcwil on Thursday, 12 June 2008 - 4:04 pm

    Leave the Islam Hadahri issue to the religious officers. We have no right …we in the first place have no clear understanding of Islam Hadhari (or even BASIC Islam at that).

  10. #10 by Samuel Goh Kim Eng on Thursday, 12 June 2008 - 5:49 pm

    There will not be any need to march
    If life is not so sticky as starch
    When there’s not enough food in the stomach
    Then the feet still have to leave behind their marks

    (C) Samuel Goh Kim Eng – 120608
    Thur. 12th June 2008.

  11. #11 by deadabdul on Thursday, 12 June 2008 - 5:55 pm

    why must people’s freedom and faith being banned ???

    i just don’t understand what Pakatan Rakyat led government done or what to prove ??!! want to be hollier than thou like BN led government ..

    let us decide what we want to choose …its our own choice .. its our own life and grave we talking about ..
    but i always want my body burned to ashes without any grave, .. when i died.. let the ashes swim to an ocean ….

    if i don’t believe in God .. let me be !!!
    if i want to worship satan … let me be !!!

    as long i don’t commit any civil crime laws ..

    religion and politics shouldn’t be mixed..

  12. #12 by deadabdul on Thursday, 12 June 2008 - 6:12 pm

    by the way .. there’s no problem with islam hadari or islam hari hari or what its going to be call after these … the problem is when alots of people’s money wasted for unnecessary thing’s.. and where we know its benefit for someone pockets .. filth rich bastards …

  13. #13 by wag-the-dog on Thursday, 12 June 2008 - 6:21 pm

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  14. #14 by isahbiazhar on Thursday, 12 June 2008 - 8:09 pm

    We do not need any new form of Islam.We want our fellow Muslims to respect any form of religion even it means they discovering something new like Ayah Pin.Let Muslims feel free to practise whatever they want as long as they do not threaten or harm others.If Abdullah wants Islam Hadhari he can have his followers and live peacefully.We do not want one sect telling that they are the real Muslims and others not.In Malaysia we had become a government within a government where religion is concerned.We want to listen to the Ulamas to be uniform but the Ulamas are not united.In this case let us listen and read the different views and accept whatever we want.We cannot be dictated anymore.We can see how billions had been spent and miilions collected but if you go for the SUboh (dawn) prayers it will be difficult to get one row or even the quorum.What does it show?People have n ot changed.They extol the material and spiritual is left to the old age when death is approaching.

  15. #15 by k1980 on Thursday, 12 June 2008 - 8:18 pm

    This happened when civil servants, in this case police personnel, get a second job….

  16. #16 by bernadette on Thursday, 12 June 2008 - 9:52 pm

    what matters is not what islamhadhari or islamsatuhari is but what it does to its followers.

  17. #17 by One4All4One on Thursday, 12 June 2008 - 10:32 pm

    Blind politics.

    Blind society.

    Blind people.

    Blind institutions.

    Blind leaders.


    Blinded by coloured policies and beliefs.

    Blinded by corruption and power-abuse.

    Blinded by misguided institutions and powers-that-be.

    Blinded by religious bigots.

    Blinded by opportunists.

    Blinded by greed.

    Blinded by misinformation.

    Blinded by pride.

    Blinded by arrogance.

    Blinded by colour and creed.

    Blinded by fast cars.

    Blinded by castles and bungalows.

    Blinded by flashy clothings.

    Blinded by paper chase.

    Blinded by what-not.

    When will we ever learn.

    When will we ever learn.

  18. #18 by bernadette on Thursday, 12 June 2008 - 10:40 pm

    ok you made your point. take a break!

  19. #19 by One4All4One on Thursday, 12 June 2008 - 11:02 pm

    hi bernadette. u take a break too!

  20. #20 by Jeffrey on Friday, 13 June 2008 - 6:50 am

    Pakatan-led Selangor and Penang state governments are doing the wrong thing when they made public and explicit that they were not supporting Islam Hadari. Are these state governments telling the rakyat that they are more expert on religious and Islamic matters than the premier or the Barisan Nasional?? Were you voted in on 8th March because you held better or superior claim on matters of religion or Islam? If not, why are you taking such an official and public position???

    Religion is sensitive. It is subject to varying interpretations of its tenets. One ought to carry on to promote what is clear and good. When one seeks to draw a line that this is true and should be supported and the other not, one gets into problems like that raised by Farish questioning whether Islam Hadari’s upholding of “pluralism and the promotion of gender equality between men and women” is also rejected!

    Why should Pakatan-led Selangor and Penang state governments, which should model themselves as examples of good governance in a culturally & religiously diverse and plural country make a public issue about not supporting Islam Hadari?

    Although religion is also a state matter by constitution, the first question is whether it is wise for Pakatan-led Selangor and Penang state governments to concern themselves publicly with such religious issue, which ought to be a private matter for people? Otherwise Pakatan Rakyat is no different from BN in trying to extend religion to public sphere and remodeling the ‘Islamic state’ according to PR’s mode as advised by its own religious establishment.

    I hope all these is not because of the strong influence of PAS within Pakatan Rakyat state governments working at their theocratic agenda.

  21. #21 by bernadette on Friday, 13 June 2008 - 8:02 am

    it is naive to think that the issue of religion would disappear with control of such states in the hands of the new coalition.

  22. #22 by Jeffrey on Friday, 13 June 2008 - 8:39 am

    Religion would of course not disappear with control of such states in the hands of the new coalition. The question is whether it is right or wrong act, a wise or unwise move that the Pakatan Rakyat controlled state governments should publicly make political issue of it – opposed to the official platform of Islam Hadari espoused by the premier.

  23. #23 by lakilompat on Friday, 13 June 2008 - 11:25 am

    Under Islam Hadhari the susbsidy is cut people have to ubah gaya hidup, the childrens have to become robbers or hookers when they grow up due to poverty and rising cost. The poor become poorer due to too many hadhari tolls built, and hadhari the govt. to give subsidy to the poor and medium income earner.

    Under hadhari people have to kill or sell their babies for their own better future.

  24. #24 by k1980 on Friday, 13 June 2008 - 11:30 am

  25. #25 by bernadette on Friday, 13 June 2008 - 7:34 pm

    “The question is whether it is right or wrong act, a wise or unwise move ..”

    we are not in the business of passing judgments.

    consequently religion cannot be taken out of the equation. to suggest that it can is naive.

  26. #26 by Jeffrey on Friday, 13 June 2008 - 7:51 pm

    we are in the business of passing judgments : we voted them in.

  27. #27 by Loyal Malaysian on Friday, 13 June 2008 - 8:52 pm

    I have always thought Islam Hadhari is just a vain attempt by Badawi & his advisors to establish his Ialamic credentials.
    Dr Farish has analysed the scenario of banning it extremely well.
    What’s the point?
    Better focussed their energies towards ensuring their administrations are smmoth and above reproach by the wise!!

  28. #28 by cemerlang on Friday, 13 June 2008 - 11:34 pm

    According to the Oxford online dictionary, civilization has the meaning that indicates advancement of a society and a society means a group of people staying together. Malaysia is modern. She has some of the first class infrastructure ( repeating myself ). But the Malaysians, while many are educated, some do not think that Malaysia should go a step ahead. In fact, these some people are contented with the few materials that they have. If we look at the other Islamic states like Iran, women wear all black and cover themselves like as if what God has created is not proper enough. No doubt they have nuclear technology. But women who are still expected to stay at home is not what is called ” advanced “. Many western countries are advance. They don’t need to put the word
    ” Islam ” before the word advance or Hadhari.

  29. #29 by on Saturday, 14 June 2008 - 10:24 pm

    Farish Noor says “In May the Pakatan-led state government of Selangor announced that henceforth the state would no longer promote Islam Hadari and this was later followed up by a similar move on the part of the Pakatan-led state government of Penang.”

    I am puzzled.

    WHERE did Farish Noor obtain this information?

    WHAT does Penang and Selangor state government has to gain from taking this religious stance?

    WHO from Selangor government said that “the State will no longer promote”?

    And WHO from Penang government said “the State will make similar move?”

    Very, very puzzling indeed.

    Old Observer.

  30. #30 by on Saturday, 14 June 2008 - 10:30 pm

    Also, whilst we are waiting for the SOURCE of these statements apparently made by Penang and Selangor State Government, how would we feel if the word “Islam Hadhari” is replaced by another religion such as “Buddhism”, “Christianity”, etc.

    E.g. “Selangor State will no longer promote Christianity (or Buddhism or another religion)”.

    This seems like a really silly statement to make isn’t it?

    It merely promotes anger amongst the Christians, and merely divides its population according to religion further.

    State representatives should not be goaded by the Mass Media or Anyone else to take positions on specific religions, when the Constitution promises freedom of religion. If they wish to make a comment on religion, then, repeat the Constitution.

    Old Observer.

  31. #31 by Jeffrey on Sunday, 15 June 2008 - 4:09 am

    Malaysiakini reports on Jun 14 –

    “PAS Youth is keen on implementing hardline Islamic laws that ban gambling, limiting sale of liquor and introducing dress code for office workers in all Pakatan-ruled states.

    In taking the first step towards introducing such laws, PAS Youth will organise a seminar in August to discuss the possibility of doing so.

    The movement’s deputy chief Azman Shapawi Abdul Rani said that committees to study the proposal would be established in Kelantan, Kedah, Penang, Perak and Selangor.

    “We are aware that it is not going to be easy in states like Penang and Perak where PAS is a minority but we will push for it,” said Azman, according to Bernama.

    Azman said that the proposed laws would not negatively affect non-Muslims despite the proposals directly touching on gambling, liquor and dress codes.”

  32. #32 by shamshul anuar on Monday, 16 June 2008 - 11:57 pm

    Dear Farish Noor,

    Yes Sir . The Crystal mosque certainly does not represent Islam. But certainly you got it wrong. I see nothing wrong in promoting Islam Hadhari.

    If you care to look into reasons given by some illustrious ulamas with regards to Islam Hadhari, you would find that they accept the idea of promoting Islam, Hadhari or not Hadhari wise.

    If it can benefit mankind( such as call for advancing agriculture or reducing corruption or improving public sector or removing discrimination againsts non Chinese in private sectors) why not ?

    Hasan Ali can give whatever seemingly valid reason. But the reason that I genuinely believe is actually political. To imply that Islam is a complete religion and thus needs to further ingenuity to be spread to mankind is simplicity at its best. Islam is complete. No doubt about it. But implementation is a worldly matter in the hand of mortals. As such, I see nothing harmful in adopting a suitable mode of implementation taking into consideration of local customs.

    With the highest of regards to Farish, I notice that he “tends” to look down on practices and customs of Malays. He ( I believe) tend to believe that vast majority of Malays think the way he does. Malays and their politicians, be they from UMNO, PAS or PKR do deserve some criticisms. But please do not ignore the voices of the Malays simply because it is written in Utusan Melayu.

    JUdging from what Farish said, Islam Hadhari is a total failure. Be fair to Pak Lah. Farish surely is aware that many Muslims despite knowing that praying 5 times a day is the very foundation of religion, dot fulfill the requirement. It is a divine instruction. Yet mere mortals disobey it. So, it is not surprising that PM’s call to implement goods universal value ( also Islamic values) is met with ridicule.

    Many mock it by saying “Islam Ada Hari”, a manifastation of the quality or rather the lack of it actually . It is sad, nauseating and worse still pathetic.

  33. #33 by lopez on Thursday, 19 June 2008 - 7:26 pm

    i hear some malaysian call mid east ppl brothers, but i don;t hear a reciprocal reply from grass roots of mid ppl. It is a g-g statement.

    But i see money – money communication only

    yes it is purely commercial before we get too excited.

    Nothing more nothing less, and dont you construed i have to called you brother to get the deal through.

    Don’t get me wrong we hardly know each other yet.

    Leave the spiritualities aside and alone.

    Many are confused enough already from our MOE education curriculum of brain narrowing

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