It is rather surprising that the Western media started to call Ennahda party in Tunisia as a ‘moderate Islamist party’. The same label has been used to describe the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, to differentiate them from the ‘radical’ Salafi parties. It was not the case a couple of years ago and unimaginable by many considering we are just ten years post-911; the tragic bombing of the WTC in New York. ‘Moderate’ Islamists appears to be a new jargon to describe the ‘not so bad’ Muslim guys who were previously designated with a plethora of Islamphobic labels by the same media which included among others ‘the radical Islamists’, ‘extremist banned group’, “radical Islamic fundamentalist”, “jihadist militants” etc.
Finally, there is now hope that the many self proclaimed political Islam experts in the western media would awaken to the fact that the term ‘Islamist’ is not a monolithic one. It is most unfortunate that J.L. Esposito’s piece, ‘Islamic threat: Myth or Reality’ was never given much attention to many to better understand this phenomenon. Esposito’s thoughts might be seen as an outlier when contrasted against the tsunami of islamphobic writings published post-911. However, it is an excellent beginner’s book to better understand the wide parameters of the much varied global-Islamism phenomenon and trends.
In surah Al-Baqarah verse 143 Allah says
“Thus have We made of you an ummah (nation) justly balanced, that you might be witnesses upon mankind…”
Interestingly, this verse resides smack in the middle of the surah which contains 286 verses, further emphasizing the concept of “ummatan wasata” (the middle nation); justly balanced and embracing moderation in its clarion call for change and reformation. We are thus convinced that in the midst of the many loosely defined “Islamists” there exists the “moderate and justly balanced Islamist”. This immediately begs the question, “how does one define one?”
This calls to mind Karim Raslan’s foreword to Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad’s new book “Striving for Change”. After admitting his historical “stereotyping” of all Islamists, it eventually dawned upon him that there are such persons or movements that can be described as moderate Islamists. We could not agree more with Karim Raslan and think that there are many who share similar analyses and sentiments. In this respect, we can vouch that friends and foes of Dr Dzulkefly better known as Dr Dzul, would unanimously echo that this Dr Dzul guy is truly a universal persona of a moderate Islamist.
His Islamic activism dates back to his student days in Birmingham, UK in the mid 70s. His excellence in academia landed him a doctorate in the medical sciences (toxicology) from Imperial College, London and he taught both medical sciences and Islamic civilization in USM. Very much a self taught economist he has proven his mettle by jointly spearheading the Pakatan shadow cabinet on financial matters besetting the nation. A prolific writer and an orator of substance he has all the makings of a credible and iconic Muslim politician to represent the professional group amongst Malaysian Islamists. His added and rare asset is his ability to master the Arabic language and his invaluable training in the skills and competence to understand, reflect and contextualize the meaning of the Quran and traditions of the prophet, which makes him a new symbol of transformative Muslim leadership in Malaysia.
His brand of down to earth, facilitative, hands-on and savvy Islamic leadership is being increasingly accepted not only within the ranks of his party, his constituents in Kuala Selangor, his colleagues in Pakatan but also the lay public both Muslims and non-Muslim alike.
Having read his blog http://blog.drdzul.com/, analyzed his writings in the various on-line news portals, watched his many interviews, listened to his public speak (talks) and viewed his parliamentary sessions as a lawmaker, Dr Dzul in our humble opinion embodies a breakthrough, a new hope for the “izzah”, an honorable and noble positioning of Islam within the landscape of Malaysian politics unlike that adulterated and tarnished by the parochial and racist representation of Islam in the past 50 years post-Independence. As friends of Dr Dzul even prior to his political debut, we might be ruled to be jaundiced in our assessment of his performance but you are at liberty to seek the opinions of others on Dr Dzul, the “Islamic democrat”.
Furthermore, as a PAS central committee member and think tank maestro, it is kind of difficult to fathom that this same pious guy has his own musical choir consisting of his wife, children and in-laws which they have labeled ‘The Wayfarers’. They blasted a few “hot numbers” among others, Il Divo’s “I believe in you” and an Arabic version of the original Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” at the recent fund-raiser in Kelab Shah Alam on the 18th December 2011, attended by a microcosm of the Malaysian populace.
Dr Dzul’s willingness to engage and embrace others in crystallizing his vision and his commitments to “memberikan yang terbaik untuk agama, rakyat dan negara” (nothing less than the best for his religion, people and nation) sets new and enviable benchmarks for the Muslim politician in multi-ethnic and multi-religious Malaysia.
If PAS is seriously hoping and planning on the long walk to Putrajaya as part of an engaging, and trusted partner in a PR led federal government, then they should be seriously considering cloning the Dr Dzul template in their rank and file and not fear losing one or more Hasans or Nashas. The Dr Dzul aura represents the contemporary best of PAS political culture in the PR band wagon for change towards a new and better Malaysia.