Islam Hadhari : What Went Wrong

Over the years, the introduction of Islam Hadhari (Civilizational Islam) by Dato’ Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has instigated numerous responses and interpretations by the local and international publics alike.

According to his inaugural speech as the UMNO President at the General Assembly in 2004, DS Abdullah elaborated;

“ Islam Hadhari is an approach that emphasizes development, consistent with the tenets of Islam and focused on enhancing the quality of life. It aims to achieve this via the mastery of knowledge and the development of the individual and the nation; the implementation of a dynamic economic, trading and financial system; an integrated and balanced development that creates a knowledgeable and pious people who hold to noble values and are honest, trustworthy, and prepared to take on global challengers.”

The premise of this concept is that future development of the country could be achieved through capacity building of the human and economic capital. This is mobilized by the mastery of knowledge and guided by good* moral values which are supposed to buttress every being in facing the challenges of modernity.

It is religion that keeps man from being astray when he is bejewelled with the ornaments of materialism. As for atheists, it is empathy that guides their sense of morality in handling the temptations of life. Without such values, an individual is prone to transgression leading to unjust behaviours which may affect others and himself.

Islam Hadhari and The Malays

In this case, DS Abdullah attempted to revive the Islamic / good moral values expecting it as a probable panacea for the Malays’ well known socio-economic laggardness.

DS Abdullah’s grand speech in proposition of Islam Hadhari actually signifies an endeavour of aggrandizing the Malays to develop from their innate / individual aspect by equipping themselves with knowledge and the inherence of morality.

Previously, for over 20 decades Tun Dr. Mahathir has implemented more than many measures in supporting the Malays to be economically at par with other ethnic groups in Malaysia.

However, policies of affirmative action and physical development have still failed to change the attitude of the Malays. Instead mechanized privileges have made the Malays being pampered and subsequently made them living in the state of complacence.

Although the Bumiputra prioritized policies have succeeded in redistributing the country’s socio-economic landscape, the existence of competitive Malays today remains uneven in the social strata as compared to the Chinese.

As the successor, DS Abdullah vied to improve the conditions through the humanistic approach because the people were already very well catered with sufficient material resources and infrastructure. It was a matter of altering the 3rd class mentality having 1st class facilities. Hence, the underlying objective of Islam Hadhari was to make the Malays;

a) Appreciate knowledge and develop skills (look at the industrious Chinese)

b) Understand and practice Islamic values (I.e: to eliminate negative attitudes such as hasad, complacence, dependency, procrastination and etc. )

What Went Wrong?

Despite its fruitful advantages as a tool of modernization and globalization, this Islam Hadhari approach was seen distorted in achieving its objectives due to various factors. Some of them could be categorized into four facets :

Concept – The framework of the concept is not organized. The organization of its framework could either be jumbled up or probably too difficult to be comprehended by the laymens’ level of religious knowledge.

The concept could be concretely organized for example elaboration of Islam Hadhari in a variant of categories and aspects (i.e : Malays and Non Malays, individual and nation, people and government, local and international, social / economic / environment aspect). If one were to scrutinise the existing 10 principles, redundancy and ambiguity could be identified.

Communication – The relay of information was not made in a comprehensive manner. An obvious illustration of this is where the Muslims do not understand the idea and subsequently were unable to grasp the essence of Islam Hadhari.

Non-muslims felt insecure as the approach was perceived as the means of indoctrination. Imagine if a government proposes the concept of “Hinduism Ahimsa” or “Christian Evangalism” in their governance, our fellow Muslims would be equally uncomfortable.

Practice – Emulation by the public or in an organization begins from practical adoptions by the leadership and governance. The widely circulated pictures of the leader’s contradicting codes of conduct has backfired DS Abdullah badly.

Although human beings are not ‘ma’sum’ but such behavior was unacceptable to the public especially when it involves religion. The highlights on bad governance had further aggravated the already ‘deep wounds’ of Islam Hadhari.

Implementation – The implementation could have started from the leader who advocated Islam Hadhari, followed by the Cabinet Ministers, then the civil servants and also the MP’s. Some simple examples are by having all ministers to perform their prayers together during programs or whenever possible, civil servants could be trained to treat the public or their clients based on ‘mahmudah’ characteristics and etc.

The mechanisms of implementation should have included not only major but also minor mundane practices.

The proposition of Islam Hadhari could be disputed but its essence and significance should not be dismissed as a whole. In fact, we should identify what does the concept have to offer in improving the societal conditions. This of course, is done based on the religion and its sacred scribes.

* The author replaced the term Islamic values to good values as morality generally exists in all religion including atheism.


10 thoughts on “Islam Hadhari : What Went Wrong

  1. well nell,untl now people are still wondering the real direction of Islam Hadhari. And there are people claiming that Islam is Islam,no need to create a new term just to justify one’s need

  2. ‘The food of adults is poison when given to children’-arabic saying.

    The failure to comprehend islam hadhari i believe lies in the lackness of a wholesome paradigm. Most importantly,people who only only practice islam at the level of imitation, without looking for purpose and goals. DS Abdullah means good, but the public needs to be educated, and a basic framework needs to be established against materealism. The public first needs to be aware that what is good is not necesessarily what pays.

    But i agree with nel on her comments on the attitudes of the leader in propagating his ‘civilisational’ islam.
    An ideologue has to realise that in this day and age logical consistency both in thought and behaviour is a necessary condition towards generating a robust ideology..

    For the writer however, such a good post demonstrating a high critical acumen. Salam.

  3. How wonderful it is to read articles like this one (and also the one cited below*), and to see a religious basis in government in Malaysia. I am an American, raised Christian but practicing Buddhism for the past 15 years. Please, Malaysians, know how lucky you are to have leaders who promote good values based on Islam.

    In my country our constitution forbids government ‘establishment’ or ‘restriction’ of religion. In other words our government is completely secular by law. In our early days this was no problem since almost all citizens were Christian and those values were able to serve as a basis for social interaction. Now fewer than half of Americans believe in God and/or perform any spiritual practice of any kind. As a result there is nothing left to worship here except money … and worship it we do. Everything and anything is ok as long as there is money to be made.

    I read how the Chinese people govern themselves through Confucianism, see the Malaysians try to live Islamic Hadhari, watch as Thailand includes monks on important government panels, and I feel this is right and just. Then I see millionaire heads of American companines steal from their companies to increase their already vast wealth, see American children starving within view of billion-dollar skyscrapers, see drug and alcohol problems skyrocket, see teen pregnancy rates rise, and read of violence, robbery, and murder in my own backyard, and I know this place and it’s ‘values’ are terrible for humanity.

    Thank you for this article, and thank you to all Malaysians for trying, at least, to live for something greater than just yourselves.


  4. agfinder – Thank you for those comparative illustrations on religious based governance practiced by different countries. Governance without the sense of empathy, mutilates humanity that leads to its own structural demolition.

  5. Dear writer,
    Perhaps there is one question left unanswered.

    Should or should not Islam Hadhari project be continued?

    The writer have correctly pointed out the philosophical and practical flaws of Islam hadhari and I have to say that I could not disagree with arguments presented. The arguments are cogently structured and well argued. However, the people on the ground wanted to know; since it is problematic, then should it be continued or just discontinued or perhaps to be modified?

    I hope the writer would offer some further explanation.

  6. Islam Hadhari can only be beneficial and further accepted by the public if it were repackaged from various aspects which some of them I’ve mentioned above.

    For example, a more refined mechanization of programmes for the governmental, social, educational and other institutions could be devised to ensure that the essence of Islam Hadhari is savoured by people from all walks of life.

    We look forward that the concept to some extent shall be able to eliminate negative values associated with the Malay dilemma. But how can we support its mobilization if the idea is not well organized?

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