Islam in Mindanao Context

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Thursday, December 12, 2013


ISLAM is a religion of peace and the complete submission to the will of Allah. These are the words that I grew up with in learning about my faith and my relationship with the Supreme Being. The words like "peace", "complete submission", and "will of Allah" are not that easy to comprehend or explain.

According to Geertz, religion is "(1) a system of symbols (2) which acts to establish powerful, pervasive and long-lasting moods and motivations in men (3) by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic."

However, if we apply this definition, then Islam may not be completely be included. Islam has a complex meaning based on what I mentioned in my opening sentence.

Let us see the definition of religion from a Muslim anthropologist. Talal Asad is an anthropologist of Muslim beliefs and practices. The book, Genealogies of Religion, is a collection of eight essays.

Talal Asad said in his Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam, "in the 19th century evolutionary thought, religion was considered to be an early human condition from which modern law, science, and politics emerged and became detached... most anthropologists have abandoned Victorian evolutionary ideas, and many have challenged the rationalist notion that religion is simply a primitive and therefore outmoded from the institutions we now encounter in truer form (law, politics, science) in modern life."

Asad criticizes the way anthropologists have constructed religion and ritual as realms of merely symbolic activity, unrelated to the instrumental behavior of everyday life. For him, anthropologists habitually read cultural phenomena like texts, and as a result they too often overlook the way religious discourse depends on practices and discourses that are often not "religious" at all, at least not in ways that textualized concepts can catch.

Asad believes that separation of religion from power is a modern western norm, the product of a unique post - Reformation history. The attempt to understand Muslim traditions by insisting that in them religion and politics (two essences modern society tries to keep conceptually and practically apart) are coupled must, in his view, will lead to a failure. He then added, "the attempt to encourage us to take up an a priori position in which religious discourse in the political arena is seen as disguise for political power."

In looking at the history of religion in the world, Asad argues that, "there cannot be a universal definition of religion, not only because its constituent elements and relationships are historically specific, but because that definition is itself the historical product of discursive processes".

Geertz mentioned about religious symbols, I agree with Asad that religious symbols are intimately linked to social life (and so change with it), or that they usually support dominant political power (and occasionally oppose it). The history of Islam is not spared from this social phenomenon. We have the split of Sunni and Shia based on social differences and power politics that eventually led to different Islamic schools of thought, which became doctrinal and religious.

Reading all these, I asked myself, how relevant Islam is today?

How can Muslims in Mindanao practice their faith when Islam is not merely a ritual, but a way of life?

In Islam, there is the Five Pillars and Six Articles of Faith. These Five Pillars of Islam are as follows: Faith or belief in the Oneness of God and the finality of the prophethood of Muhammad; Establishment of the daily prayers; Concern for and almsgiving to the needy; Self-purification through fasting; and the pilgrimage to Makkah for those who are able. While the Six Articles of Faith are: Belief In God; Belief In His Angels; Belief In His Books; Belief In His Prophets And Messengers; Belief In The Day Of Judgment; Belief In Divine Decree

The Articles of Faith alone tells us that Islam value pluralism. It also show our connection with Christianity and Judaism and Abrahamic Faith. The "books" mentioned here includes the following: The original Scrolls as revealed to Abraham; The original Torah as revealed to Moses; The original Psalms as revealed to David; The original Injeel (Gospel of Jesus) as revealed to Jesus; The Qur'an as revealed to Muhammad (which is still available in its original form).

The First Pillar of Islam is "Tawheed" or unity of purpose and belief. Thus, Seyyed Hussein Nasr said that, "There is a unity which runs through the whole of Allah's created order and through human society if that society is to be Islamic. There must be unity in human life; there must be unity in the relationship between man and the world of nature; there must be unity in human thought: there must be unity in what man makes, in the art, the architecture and the cities which he creates. All of these forms of unity reflect the Wisdom and Will of Allah in our world, the Will which is embodied most concretely in the Divine Law of the Shari'ah and which should also be expressed in every authentic facet of the Muslim's life. (p. 21)

From the Holy Quran, we then have two important books that support the understanding of Islam. We have the Hadith and Sunnah. Islam and Muslims could have been easily defined by these three books. But in reality, it is not.

Humankind is fallible beings. We are prone to make mistakes and errors. I strongly believe that the Holy Quran is complete. But the Sunnah (the practices of Muhammad (SAW) and the Hadith (the sayings of Muhammad (SAW) are based on human memory, recollections, and collections.

If we reflect in our history, why is it that Islam was revealed in the desserts of Arabia? Why was it revealed to Muhammad (SAW)? And is Islam a universal religion? Is it the same as saying that its application is also universal?

With the advent of modernization, western civilization and secularization, and now Muslims around the world are becoming fundamentalists and some even extremists, where is Islam in Mindanao today? How will Islam help the people of Mindanao? These questions can be answered by our new generation of young Muslim intellectuals.

*****

(For questions/feedback please email: mslidasan@outlook.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on December 12, 2013.

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