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Fiji A Friend Of Moderate Islam: Muslim Scholar

Sabeto-born and raised Imam Afroz Ali, now an Islamic scholar from Sydney, speaks his mind on many issues relating to Muslims. He is a Fijian passport holder and is back
29 Jun 2015 13:35
Fiji A Friend Of Moderate Islam: Muslim Scholar
Back in Fiji, from left, lawyer and adjudicator Aarif Rasheed, Muslim scholar Imam Afroz Ali and Dilyar Hiwilla in Suva. Photo: Paulini Ratulailai

Sabeto-born and raised Imam Afroz Ali, now an Islamic scholar from Sydney, speaks his mind on many issues relating to Muslims.

He is a Fijian passport holder and is back home to carry out some humanitarian work and charity.

 

What brings you back home, this time?

I have come this time to Fiji to do some humanitarian and charitable work, and to look at opportunities for the involvement of Muslim scholars outside and within Fiji to help open up more avenues for developing positive inter-faith relations and discussions in Fiji.

 

How do you think religions and cultures can work together to keep Fiji safe?

I think interfaith coexistence has always naturally been here in Fiji. I grew up here in Lautoka and I always remember having friends from Christian and Hindu backgrounds and visiting them for festivals such as Diwali and Christmas; although we don’t celebrate these ourselves, our familial connection to each other was extremely important to maintain our very close relations.

So organically I think there has always been peaceful living between different religious communities here in Fiji.

The issue now is that Fiji has been affected by globalisation and economic materialism which has entered into Fiji.

This has caused us to disconnect ourselves from our traditional roots. So now Fiji has to protect its natural ability for all people to live peacefully with each other and preserve it’s roots and heritage as a diverse and multicultural society.

 

How can Muslims confidently live as citizens of Fiji?

Muslims and others have always continued to participate actively in mainstream Fiji society, and we can see that happening at Government level, authorities level, education, businesses, etc.

But this active participation should also be at the village level as well. No community should feel  separated in a particular village or town in Fiji, so that they remain feeling part of the community of people of Fiji, rather than just being involved in one area of society.

Secondly, it is important to know that moderate Islam is a friend of Fiji and Fiji is a friend of moderate Islam. Further, we actually need to bring back awareness and education and the revival of, true Islam in Fiji: the true Islam is already here, but again it is naturally present, but not always consciously.

We need to raise the standard of this understanding of Islam, building on what already exists in Fiji, and to build this in a very resilient and sustainable way.

 

Can you explain to us the meaning of Jihad in Islam?

The technical term Jihad’s generic meaning is to struggle with ethics: that whatever you do, you struggle to do it in an ethical manner.

The problem is that Jihad is reduced from the hundreds of kinds of meanings of Jihad to only the kind that is military action.

That military action is exactly the same as for example the department of defence of Fiji or Australia or New Zealand.

Similarly, there is a department for defence that exists within a legitimate Muslim government, and not among unauthorised individuals.

The problem today is that this military aspect of Jihad has been exploited both by within the Muslim circle of extremists, and by, without a doubt the anti-Islamic movement around the world to support their claim that this is what Muslims are all about, yet this is not the reality at all.

So this word Jihad has ultimately been given a terrible name and this should not be the case.

 

Can you confirm if killing others is permitted by Islamic laws?

No, it is not. Islam clearly says in the Quran that to take the life of one human being is as if to take the life of the all of humanity.

In my understanding Islam is the only religion that explicitly states that.

The word Islam means peace and Islam also refers to co-existent peace as lived from the prophetic time of Muhammad, peace and blessing of God be upon him-he was very clear in the co-existent nature of peacefully living with other religions.

So the reality and thus the normative understanding of Islam, has always been one: to actually promote peace.

If I could say it this way, that peace is the norm under Islam, and any kind of conflict and violence is the anomaly, or exception.

It’s only an eleventh hour situation, for example, where there is chaos on the streets and then the Police arrive: the first thing they have to do is stop the destruction.

In a worst case scenario they may actually have to arrest someone using force.

That’s an example of what this kind of Jihad that uses force is: in an eleventh hour situation, the authority has been given the right and responsibility that they might actually have to use force-not violence but only enough force-in order to actually do what they need to do for a very particular reason, which is to bring back peace to the society.

 

How do we understand the responsibilities of Muslims regarding the current Iraq and Syria wars?

The first thing to understand about the Iraq and Syria wars, is what I call the politics of war.

This has really nothing to do with Islam but has to do with Iraqi and Syrian Muslims and their lands: we cannot forget that these wars did not start in a vacuum: they started with an imperial objective and the motive of the alliance of the willing, headed by USA; they actually went in to Iraq using false pretences and destroyed that country, left that country ungovernable and then you can see in fact what is actually happening today. And the extremist groups have taken full advantage of this through their own violence.

Therefore, just governance is extremely important; what USA did is a complete destruction of the civilisation in Iraq. The result of all this is the uncivilised behaviour we see in the region.

 

Does Islam permit and recognise citizenship to a nation-state, particularly a secular state?

Islam has no problem with a secular state: in fact, what Islam calls for is for citizenship to be based on a moral consensus, that there has to be a moral position and that moral position must be legal and just, and this legal system would have arisen from the moral consensus of the people.

Therefore, if you have a non-Muslim country, for example people who are not of a faith, and Muslims choose to live there, then they would abide by the law of that country as citizens, and that the rights of the Muslims not be undermined.

This is the nature of democratic citizenship and Islam is the only religion that has a history of a multi-faith as well as secular society, existent at the same time.

Non-Muslims can choose to adhere to an Islamic code of living but that cannot be imposed upon them.

There is historical proof that non-Muslims preferred to live under Islamic law.

 

How does this apply to Fiji?

For Fiji, most importantly I think the situation is straightforward.

The responsibility cannot be forced upon Muslims to somehow fix problems within Fiji, because the problems, the issues, the realities of Fiji have to be dealt with together as citizens of Fiji.

The Government and everyone have to work together  to maintain a resil ient society that is built upon safety and peace.

 

What kind of relations, if any, can a Muslim have with non-Muslims?

The Muslim and non-Muslim relations is well confirmed in Quran that friendship between people regardless of religion and race is entirely built on common sense; that you have to have good friends with good integrity, people who are sincere.

When people take advantage of each other, then this is not conducive to a trusting friendship; this is what Islam says.

So Muslim and non-Muslim relationship is part of the prophetic tradition to create a society of mutual co-existence, to live as friends and good neighbours.

The Prophet Muhammad actually gave rights to non-Muslims.

The prophet’s city Madina actually had non-Muslims.

The Madina constitution is one of the first multi-faith and multi-cultural constitutions.

 

What does Islam say about inter-marriage?

Inter-marriage is a problem because we all should understand that human relations have gradations or levels; for example, as I am not your biological sister I can’t just barge into your home.

There is limitation as to how far I can interact with you.

For example, a village has certain ethics and codes as to what can actually happen in that village and similarly in a town or country, etc.

The point I am trying to drive is that it is the same with religion: Islam accepts humanity as a co-existent society.

When it comes to family, Islam limits marriage only between Muslims. For example, if a Muslim married a non-Muslim then that non-Muslim still has religious rights.

Islam respects the preservation of other religions, so how would inter-marriage work in that regard?

Therefore, Islam limits inter-marriage with those who are referred to as the people of the book: they are the Christians and Jewish, who are of the lineage of religion connected to each other.

But when that lineage doesn’t exist then we would consider them as far relatives.

 

Should a Muslim rebel against a current government which may be corrupt or unjust?

There is a very important Islamic principle which says, “100 years of corrupt rule is better than one day of rebellion and killing of each other”.

Islam holds that as long as the corrupt government permits people to continue to function in their religious as well as their social and economic conduct then the corruption of the government should be changed through legal and just due-process.

So rebellion particularly physical and violent rebellion is expressly prohibited in Islam.

 

Does Islam permit slavery? Does slavery occur in the world today in Muslim countries?

No, Islam came to abolish slavery and it sought to abolish slavery over a period of time.

In fact, today much of slavery exists outside of the Islamic countries although slavery has been banned and this ban must be continued to be upheld.

Slavery exists in South East Asia, Africa and goes beyond Muslim nations.

The problem is a human problem, not a religious one.

Slavery is happening in South East Asia and is very rife. In Africa it is happening and in number of countries, not only amongst Muslims, but amongst Christians, Buddhist, Hindus.

This is unacceptable and more work needs to be done globally with governments to actually remove slavery.

 

Are women equal with men in Islam? Are there different rules for women?

We cannot say that women are equal to men; men and women are equitable, not equal.

They’re equal under the law. What a man can do physically is different from what a woman can do.

There are differences between men and women.

There are biological differences between males and females.

But what is equal is our ability to connect with God, that we are equal in front of God. But in our physical abilities we are different.

When we talk about equal rights we have to realise, women’s rights have indeed diminished.

A number of empirical studies show that women’s right have diminished over the last 50 years.

This is a problem because this idea that men and women are the same and are to be treated equally as men and women is problematic.

Women actually have special rights which are not being fulfilled and society needs to spend more time for equitable rights to fulfill very unique rights for women, rather than attempting to create a notion that women somehow are to be the same as men.

We are biologically different, therefore, the rules are different.

Ninety per cent of the rules in Islam are the same for women as for men, and the differences exist entirely because of biological reasons.

 

What is Islam, and its God? Is God defined as a male in Islam?

The word ‘God’ in Islam is used with capital G and we use the word ‘He’ with capital  H purely to refer to a personal noun and not a gender- based noun.

The usage of the word ‘He’ refers to a personal noun.

Every single word in Arabic is divided into masculine and feminine words for grammar, and not gender.

The word God in Arabic ‘Allah’ is actually a masculine word. For it to be translated into English, we refer to ‘He’ as it is purely a masculine word of grammar, not of gender.

 

Was Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, a prophet of peace or war? Does his message differ from the Christian message of peace and love?

The continuity of the Christian message, by Jesus Christ, peace be upon him, is a continuing message to that of Prophet Muhammad.

That message is of peace; Islam means peace.

It is a message of compassion as the Prophet was sent for no other reason except as compassion for the entirety of creation.

He was a prophet whose message was only one of peace.

His first instruction and commitment to the Muslims was to spread peace.

He was the ultimate example of how peace can be existent because it was his lived tradition, heritage and legacy that, ultimately, brought peace to Europe as well.

Today unfortunately we see an attack on religious doctrines existent in secular societies and this is the number one reason why we see a number of wars continued to be waged in the world.

It is not the fault of Muslims or Christians, but a world is moving away from the heart of humanity and from being connected to God.

 

What is Islam’s perspective on ISIS, Al-Qaeda and terrorism?

ISIS has nothing to do with Islam. It is a bunch of people who happen to be Muslims involved in politics of war.

They are killing people but as I have said already that ISIS and Al-Qaeda did not arise out of a vacuum.

The politics of war that continues through tyranny and colonisation of US foreign policies, for example, are causing terrible terrorism in the world out there.

So, ultimately, the reality of ISIS is again a problem of the politics of war; it is not a problem in relation to a clash of civilisations or religions.

 

What is Islam’s perspective on the environment, climate change and sustainability?

Climate change and particularly environmental degradation, is a significant issue for Muslims because the environment is a creation of God.

Therefore, protection of the environment is not only a responsibility of humanity but a significant right and priority.

The reason for that is also spiritual, putting aside the biological and climate change issues.

The issue is spiritual as well because the only reason the environment is hurting and the earth warming, is because the human spirituality is actually having a fever.

I mean by this that the environment is being destroyed because we have become materialistic.

The environment is really a barometer and a thermometer for us to assess human behaviour.

The pillaging of the environment is because we have become a monstrous consumer-based society, that we are ripping this earth apart.

What religion came to teach us, and indeed Islam teaches us, is that we are in this world but we are not of this world.

 

Is democracy compatible with Islam?

Democracy as a concept was well-practiced in the time of the Prophet and through the early ages of Islamic caliphate itself. Islam has no problem with any fair and just government system.

But we have to redefine today what democracy is.

The way democracy is being used today is no longer about the rights and voices of the people; it has become about the rights of an elite group within the society, and about the rights of an exclusive set of privileged people rather than for the common people of citizenship or citizens themselves. So democracy has to be redefined in itself; Islam will not have any problem with any fair and just government which serves its people.

 

What is your advice to the people of Fiji?

I think Muslims in Fiji are very resilient. They are very distinct from the rest of the world and they have been able to maintain their religion in such a positive manner.

This is actually a positive thing because around the world many people are moving away from religion leaving aside only Muslims, Hindus and Christians.

If you look at Fiji, the resilience of the people of Fiji as a multi-religious community is, and indeed the Muslim community, is very motivating and encouraging.

In fact this country itself is conducive to constructive multi-religious living where Muslims are able to practice their religion freely.

 

Having been in Fiji for a little while, what responses are you getting from the people locally?

I’m finding people in Fiji to be optimistic, as well as proud of their own individual traditions.

I find the Muslim community to be confident about their religion as well. Some people in the government are Muslim.

 

Some people claim that Fiji will become a Muslim state. What do you have to say about this?

There is no evidence to such a claim.

In fact, it is proof of Fiji’s multicultural diversity, that regardless of religion, individuals can rise to the highest positions of government.

This should be celebrated and protected, rather than insinuations made.

Feedback: shahani.mala@fijisun.com.fj

 

 

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