I'm sad I had to miss the panel but I was moderating at the other venue in the same time slot. I did manage to catch Ziauddin Sardar (left) in a Meet the Author session later on.
He very kindly gave me a signed copy of his Desperately Seeking Paradise: Journeys of a Sceptical Muslim which I had been eyeing for some time in Mr. Raman's shop.
Muslims should 'hold up the mirror', say writers in Ubud
Monday, October 02, 2006 Trisha Sertori, Contributor, Ubud, Bali
Writers on Islam here say that introspection among Muslims, apart from trying to better understand non-Muslims, would eventually lead to more neutral ground and understanding.
Qaisra Shahraz and Ziauddin Sardar, based in the United Kingdom, and Malaysian-born Dina Zaman were among those taking part in the 2006 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival who spoke with The Jakarta Post.
Sardar's books, including Desperately Seeking Paradise: Journeys of a Sceptical Muslim, examine and critique Islam from the broad view. Shahraz's works, such as The Holy Woman and Typhoon, lift the veil on women in Islam and their choices, while Zaman's work in progress, I am Muslim, is a collection of articles, often humorous, from her column for the controversial Malaysia.kini online news agency.
Sardar said: "I see my job as undermining the myths that Muslims hold about the West and also undermining the myths the West holds about Islam."
At the same time, he said, "I try to undermine the self-held myths of Islam and the West. We need to hold up the mirror on both sides ...."
An opening of consciousness to the modern world by Muslims is also a necessity, added Sardar, who said many Muslims held onto the past, even moving into that past, in a bid to protect themselves from a modern world that is difficult to understand.
One way of coping with modernity has been moving to "an Arabization of Islam", he said. "What Muslims need to do is engage with modernity. There is no Muslim nation better equipped to do that than Indonesia because of the existing sheer complexities and diversities of Islam we find here."
Pakistani-born Shahraz said living in Britain has deeply informed her view of Islam and the difficulties faced by minorities, particularly since the rise of fundamentalism.
"I am daily faced with racism for being Muslim. My younger sister chose at 13 years of age to wear the scarf, as so many women in Europe have, as a way of fighting back. This situation has grown more and more intolerable since Sept. 11."
She cited the Muslim professor Akbar Ahmed who said "a select few have hijacked the engine of a global religion and by their actions have involved millions".
"We, as the millions, now have to challenge extremism; fight it, crush it," said Shahraz. The fact that a number of terrorists have come from the UK has added to the difficulties for Muslims in that country, Shahraz says. She adds that she needs to show daily, by her actions as well as her books, that Muslims in Britain are just like anyone else.
"I am always battling the West's perception of women in Islam that has, wrongly, become associated with oppression and violence, mistakenly expressed by the West in the symbol of the scarf. I choose not to wear a scarf, but thousands of women in Europe do, not from oppression, but striking out against the forces that would impose laws on how women choose to follow their religion -- how they should dress."
This is the subject of her book The Holy Woman, the Indonesian translation of which was launched in Ubud.
Shahraz said respect for Muslims themselves and those of other faiths, and the opening of dialog and self-examination is the only path that will return Islam to its place as one of the world's great religions.
The "silent majority" of Muslims, she said, "are caught between the two extremes of fundamentalism on the Islamic side and the media on the Western side".
Zaman said her view of Islam was informed by her native country, Malaysia, although she has spent most of her life abroad as the daughter of a diplomat.
"It was in the UK when I was doing my master's degree that I met many Muslims and I grew fascinated by Islam, so I returned to Malaysia to rediscover my faith, my people and my country."
In her columns, she said, "I felt it was important to inject some quirky humor into the discussion on Islam -- there had been enough of polemic and debate. I wanted to see what was really at the heart of Malaysia's Muslims."
She discovered that besides a return to the shamanic elements of Malaysia's earliest faiths by "good" Muslims, there was also a growing reactionary and unforgiving movement among her peers.
"In spite of what we say about Malaysia, and yes we are Muslims, we are also going back to our old shamanic rituals. There is currently a great insecurity in people here and they are looking for the miraculous," said Zaman.
She added that this insecurity was also raising a knee-jerk, puritanical element among young people.
"I was really surprised. I am divorced and my parents are very strict, very good Muslims from Kelantan, a fundamentalist state in Malaysia. My father was so supportive, he just said this is great, you can get on with your career and travel," said Zaman. However she said her friends were less relaxed about her status as a divorced woman.
"Young Muslims, the educated ones I had expected to be more enlightened, were very reactionary and negative toward my divorce. I'm not sure if that was just religious or a display of the competitiveness now in Kuala Lumpur," said Zaman.
The need for openness and the courage to honestly look within is at the forefront of Zaman's view of Islam in the future. She says she hopes "we will not allow racial and religious arrogance to get in the way of harmony" in multicultural Malaysia.
"We have serious problems such as a growing AIDS population, particularly among heterosexual women whose husbands are unfaithful, poverty and more. If we want to hold ourselves up as an Islamic country we have to look at these issues -- like it or not.
"As writers our responsibility is to engage and find solutions and uphold the universal values that are Islam," said Zaman. "I also think we are in for some exciting times so I'll be at my desk writing about it all."