LAST August 10, I attended a forum at De La Salle University entitled, "Is God Dead? The Role of Religion in the Contemporary Public Sphere." The rationale of the event aims to explore issues surrounding the seeming dissonance between the message of love and peace, which is the heart of the world’s religions, and the reality of violence and indifference towards those of different faith or religion, is hard to ignore.
The concept note of the forum added, "For some scholars, the above dissonance points to the increasing role of religious belief in the promotion of epistemic violence, which is manifested in sexism, fundamentalism, racism, ethnocentrism, transphobia, and many more. For some scholars, however, religion can be a category of knowledge that is enabling, and can contribute to human flourishing. Religion is not the 'other' in the emancipatory discourse." The organizers invited local (Filipino) scholars from major religions -- Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, to explore these issues and discuss more relevant issues of today.
The forum is relevant for academic and non academic discussions where it seeks to offer a venue for the community (students and faculty from the university) to reflect on the Praxis of faith and to respond to the challenge to contribute to the flourishing of all humankind.
I was assigned to give my thoughts about Islam and the role of religion in the contemporary public sphere from an Islamic perspective. I am not an ulama (one who studied Islam from the Arabic texts) but my whole life have been dedicated in my study about Islam and how Muslims can live in modern times without compromising their Islamic values and faith.
I started my talk with saying, the presence of Islam in the public sphere over the last decade demands attention, not only because Islam has been associated with various occurrences of violence and radicalism and even acts of terrorism, but also because its presence has surged at a time when our government has ongoing peace process with the Bangsamoro people.
We can observe that Islam appears in the public sphere with a variety of expressions and orientations. Beyond its ideological and political facets, Islam colors the public sphere with cultural symbols: head scarves, soap opera on television, films, works of literature, and Islamic books. Islamic texts and symbols are increasingly read and viewed through the internet, turning Islam into part of what could be called a "virtual religion." In short, the penetration of Islamic symbols in an increasingly democratic public sphere has produced a variety of Islamic-labeled expressions, identities, organizations and institutions, and has continued to grow in breadth and depth.
The promotion of Islam in the public sphere since the dawn of Bangsamoro struggle has involved a contest between the Islamic orientations of political Islam (Islamism) and cultural Islam, a contest that until now, Filipino Muslims struggle to define how to express Islam in their own respective areas, communities, and geographical locations.
Two major fronts of the Bangsamoro have their own ways of expressing Islam: the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF - Salamat Hashim) adheres to political Islam, while MILF (under Hadji Murad, calls for cultural Islam). The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) since the start of their movement, advocates for cultural Islam. Islam’s presence in the public sphere in general can be seen as the spread of Islam’s values, teachings and symbols to the community by utilizing the public sphere, that is spaces or domains, whether real or virtual, which are used jointly by citizens to communicate and negotiate a variety of ideas and interests, including the views and interests of religion.
Using the perspective of Jürgen Habermas, the exposure and discursive presence of Islam in the public sphere contain a political dimension in which various social forces publicly articulate their interests to form part in institution building.
The rise of Islam in the public sphere, especially during the period of Bangsamoro struggle period, 1968 - present, is shown by a number of prominent indications.
In the political field, this phenomenon is marked by the birth of Islamic political movements and the armed movements (MILF, BIFF, ASG, AK, DI) which actively echo and re-echo new appeals to Islamism, and the emergence of these militant Islamic movements are affected by global rise of groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS.
To some, in the economic field there is an expansion of Islamic banks and other shariah financial institutions. However, as a whole, Islam in the Philippines has not fully develop in terms of social, economic, cultural, and political component compared to the Islam in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei. This is primarily because of the more than four (4) decades Bangsamoro struggle for right to self determination and the ongoing peace process with the Moro Fronts that affected the Islamic life of the people.
Answering the question, "Is God dead?"Definitely no. God is alive. But in the eyes of the violent extremists like the ISIS, Maute, and those who share the same ideology with them, their view is that God is dead. They take matters into their own hands. They value death than life. What Muslims need to do now is to go back to the spiritual connection of Islam.
Published in the SunStar Davao newspaper on August 23, 2017.
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