I find the article below extremely enlightening. I know that Malaysia is conservative, but I didn't know that the other Islamic countries are that progressive.
The article is below. The cached link is here.
Changing the Muslim mindset
19 May 2006
IN a seminal speech on Islam Hadhari and women's rights at the Women's Institute of Management last year, the Prime Minister said the biggest stumbling block to women's progress and development in the area of rights and equality relates to mindsets and attitudes towards women.
To an audience of high- achieving women, he admitted that there were "elements within our society who are uncomfortable with the advancement of women. They try to obstruct the progress of women through barriers and strictures legitimised in the name of religion or culture."
In making a plea for ijtihad (reinterpretation), he stated that "the problems confronting contemporary Muslim societies today are not the problems of the sixth century, and the solutions do not lie with the notion of a Syariah purportedly final and complete 1,400 years ago, particularly in the case of women".
"The notion that the Islamic concept of law is absolute and hence immutable has resulted in intellectual inertia among some scholars, noticeably on the subject of women and, sadly, in a continued injustice towards them.
"When the history of the 21st century is recorded," he said, "let Malaysia be mentioned in the context of not only progress and achievement for the country but also the advancement, empowerment and emancipation of women."
We in the women's movement could not have asked for a stronger, clearer policy statement from the Prime Minister. The challenge remains in how we translate these words into deeds. This is a tall order for Malaysia.
The statement last week by the Mufti of Johor, Datuk Noh Gadut, that it is forbidden for Muslim men to be house-husbands is a reflection of the mindset the Prime Minister was talking about.
Changing realities stare us in the face and our religious leaders and Islamist ideologues are stuck in an understanding of gender roles and Islamic knowledge constructed within the social context of the mediaeval age. They do a disservice to Muslims and the country.
Many Muslim scholars, whether from this region or from the Middle East or South Asia, are puzzled how Malaysia could be so modern and progressive in many ways when the many Muslims they meet at academic meetings and international conferences are so conservative the ologically and ideologically.
For those who admire Malaysia's success story, the absence of academic rigour and the dogmatism displayed are painful and embarrassing. They are beginning to question the international assumption that Malaysia is indeed the model progressive Muslim country it is touted to be. At the economic development level, yes, they say, but at the Islamic scholarship and ideological level, it is a perilous no.
A member of a team of Islamic officials sent by the Government to visit several Arab countries to look at their laws on apostasy said he was surprised to find the ulama there far more enlightened than ours, and that not a single country he visited prescribed the death penalty for apostasy.
He said every single Arab scholar he met was unequivocal about the Quranic injunction that there can be no compulsion in religion. A personal change of faith does not merit any form of state punishment.
Dr Hiba Rauf, the well- known Islamist woman leader from Egypt, asked me at a meeting in Cairo two years ago why Malaysian students at al-Azhar University were so closed-minded.
She was surprised as she had thought Malaysia was modern and progressive.
This same observation was made by an Indonesian activist who studied at al-Azhar. He said every single Malaysian student he met there, "down to the last 8,000th", was "ultra-conservative".
He took it as a personal challenge to engage with them, spending hours in long debates on women's rights, democracy, human rights, differences of opinion, all using arguments drawn from Islam's rich theological and juristic heritage.
Some of them, he said, did change their opinions, or were at least willing to debate and think more critically on these issues.
He observed that the closed- mindedness of the Malaysian students was not so much ideological but largely because they were exposed only to conservative traditionalist thinking in Islam.
He said they had never read the more enlightened works of Islamic scholars, from the classical period, let alone contemporary times, that he had been exposed to as a student of Islam in a Nahdlatul Ulama pesantren and later at the State Islamic University in Jakarta.
The students' mindset, he said, made them easy targets for recruitment into Pas and Islamist movements pushing for the supremacy of Syariah rule.
While the Islamic institutes in Indonesia are already producing the second generation of enlightened progressive scholars, policymakers and activists who are challenging and resisting demands for a hardline understanding of Islam and calls for an Islamic state and Syariah rule by newly established militant and conservative Islamist groups, Malaysia is hard-pressed to find such progressive individuals educated within our Islamic education system.
The failure of the Government's Islamisation project to produce enlightened thinkers and activists, or Islamic laws and policies is largely due to the absence of the intellectual capital needed to spearhead the agenda.
In pushing his Islam Hadhari project, a modern and progressive Islam, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi must search for the enlightened software — the first- class mindset — that is so necessary to drive the change.
In the wrong hands, his Islam Hadhari agenda — just as with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's Islamisation policy — could be hijacked by the Maududi and Syed Qutb ideologues and the traditionalist ulama who still dominate the Islamic establishment here.
There are lessons to be learnt from Indonesia and Morocco, in education reform, and from Iran, where an Islamic revolution has failed to deliver on its promises of justice, freedom and prosperity.
So too from among the many Islamic scholars who have been forced to live in exile in the West because their lives were endangered and their houses firebombed by fellow Muslims back home.
Many of these scholars are now at the forefront of the new Islamic scholarship emerging in the last 15 years or so, generating new possibilities of meaning in our engagement with the Text and the Tradition in the light of the realities of our lives today, the circumstances we live in, and the challenges we face.
In Indonesia, besides the abundance of progressive scholarship by their own thinkers, new writings by Muslim scholars in English, French, Arabic and Persian, are translated into Bahasa Indonesia within months of publication.
They are consumed voraciously by students, scholars and activists, huddled together in numerous "diskusi" (discussion) groups on campuses, in pesantren and in the community.
The writings of feminist Islamic scholars such as Amina Wadud, Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Asma Barlas, Leila Ahmad, Fatima Mernissi and Riffat Hassan, and even Sisters in Islam's letters-to-the-editor and Question and Answer booklets are among student reading materials in courses on Islam and gender, contemporary Islamic thought, Islamic jurisprudence and Quranic Interpretation.
Gender studies are integrated into every discipline.
The Gender Studies Centre in the Islamic universities in Jakarta and Yogyakarta train teaching staff and students in gender and Islam.
The undergraduate and graduate programmes offer courses in Gender and Theology, Gender and Islamic Jurisprudence, Family and Gender in Religious Perspective.
A new Master's programme in Gender and Religion has been introduced at the State Islamic University in Jakarta.
In courses taught by these progressive scholars, a diversity of opinions from a diversity of sources and periods are studied and debated.
Students are taught to understand critically and analytically the methodology and processes of textual and legal interpretation within historical and contemporary social and legal contexts.
Law is not taught as dogma, but as socially constructed within particular times and circumstances.
The source may be divine, but the knowledge produced is a human construct to serve the cause of justice of that period.
None of the Islamic studies or Islamic law faculties in Malaysia comes close to this pedagogy, even in offering a basic course on Contemporary Islamic Thought.
This is not surprising.
An ideological battle is taking place between those who demand an Islamic state asserting different rights for men and women, for Muslims and non-Muslims and those who believe in a democratic state with equal rights, fundamental liberties and justice for all, and who celebrate the blessings of this multi-ethnic and multi-religious country.
Where Islamic studies in Malaysia is concerned, the Islamic state ideologues are in control.
At the street level, the mob rule displayed in Penang last Sunday took this ideological battle to another level.
The police, in asking law-abiding citizens engaged in a rational and peaceful discussion on constitutional matters to consider aborting their meeting, set a dangerous precedent. Those who threatened peace and public order were allowed to prevail over those who believe in dialogue and the Constitution.
Go read the comments by some Malaysians here, where they said that the author should start wearing a headscarf first before telling others to change and think.
For example, someone said that "She can't even bring herself to cover her own aurat, yet she has the cheek to be a self-proclaimed defender of Islam. At least wear the tudung first, then speak out all you want Zainah."
Why should a person's choice to cover up or not even matter, when she is making a lot of sense and merely reporting what is happening in other parts of the world? Does not wearing the scarf make her statements less true?
Our Malaysian society is obsessed with physical appearances. They really believe that the clothes make the man.
It's only true to a certain extent.
Someone wearing a kopiah is deemed religious, even though he could be buying the lottery every week. A Muslim woman is considered religious if she covers her aurat, even though she might be cheating on her husband.
I believe that what a person does and how he acts, as more important.
In fact, even actions can be misleading. What if someone won a tender to build a mosque, but the tender was gotten by giving some extra money?
The point being that nothing is ever black and white. The fixation on clothes is a feeble attempt of someone who doesn't want to know deeper, who doesn't want to make an effort to know the other person better, who just takes things at face value.
Basically, someone who doesn't think for himself. Believing in things just because everyone thinks so or because he has been told as such.
Women covered head to toe = good and pious. Women wearing mini-skirts = bad and promiscuous.
Life is not that simple. It never is.
In addition, I have always believe that things that need defending means that it is weak in the first place. Like masculinity 1 2
With all the things that have been happening in Malaysia, from Moorthy's case to the cancelled forum in Penang, things does not look too good, especially for non-Muslims.