Promoting Diversity via Local Wisdom

By Mohd Noh Abd Jalil

Islam promotes diversity. This religion was revealed in the middle of the pluralistic societies of Mecca and Medina. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), as the seal of the prophet, was instructed to convey the message of the Oneness of God to all. The universality of Islam embraced people from different tribes and cultures in the heartland of Arabia until victory was achieved by the Prophet (pbuh) against those who promoted hatred and enmity among them. 

The spirit of Islam, as a mercy to the worlds, enables this religion to reach people as far as the Malay Archipelago. Muslim preachers who brought Islam to this part of the world knew the characteristic of Islam as a universal religion and a religion that must bring the mercy of God to humanity. An important strategy adopted by them was non coercive.  Foreign Muslim preachers did not force Islam on the local people. 

The locals at the time were obviously not Muslim. Neither did they embrace Hinduism or Buddhism in its entirety. The Hindu-Buddhist religion which was commonly identified as their religious identity as well as animism prior to Islam did not penetrate fully in the lives of ordinary Malays. Such practices were only preserved within the ruling elites for maintaining their authority as devaraja (God-King). Ordinary people on the other hand continued their traditional beliefs and practices including animism. 

Against the background of the socio-political milieu of the early Malays, the Muslim preachers did not try to impose Islam on the Malay community when they first arrived. The strategy they adopted to bring Islam to the locals was confined to the very characteristics of Islam as stated above. I reiterate that they never imposed Islam on the locals.

Instead, they brilliantly adopted all practices which were not contradicting with the fundamental principles of Islam. Anything which is not construed as worshipping other gods than Allah continued to be practiced by the locals and Muslim preachers did not ban them. On the other hand, efforts have since been made to adapt local practices and align them in accordance with Islamic principles. The best example is the adaptation of Hindu literature such as Hikayat Marakarma that was transformed to Hikayat Si Miskin.  

Such a calculative strategy by Muslim preachers in presenting Islam to the local people in the Malay world resulted in the peaceful entry of Islam to the region. Resistance against Islam or worst still armed rebellion by the locals rejecting Islam and the Muslims was never recorded in the history of the coming of Islam to this part of the world. The wise strategy adopted by Muslim preachers made the locals see the beauty of Islam inside out. The exemplary conduct of Muslim preachers together with the very essence of the teaching of Islam made the locals feel wanting to accept this new religion and abandon their old belief system voluntarily. 

The above is an example of how Islam was successfully transmitted and communicated to people. Instead of taking a hard stance against anything not in line with the very teachings and principles of Islam we must embrace diversity. Muslims should continue to dig the treasures of earlier generations and learn from them. The wisdom of these people would remind us that to make change is not necessarily to introduce something new. Preserving and practicing past local wisdom could do wonders in fulfilling the mission of bringing the rahmah of Islam to humanity wherever we are and whenever we can. ***

(Assoc. Prof. Dr. Mohd Noh Abd Jalil is a Deputy Dean [Student Development and Community Engagement] AbdulHamid AbuSulayman Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences. The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of IIUMToday).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *