Home | Publications | Al Jamiat Volume 7 No. 2 | The Jamiat takes part in SAFM debate

The Jamiat takes part in SAFM debate

In the last issue of the Al Jamiat we published a transcript of the first half of the debate that took place on SAFM hosted live by, Jeremy Maggs on the 4th of December 2007. Among the panel of guests was Mufti Ebrahim Desai Saahib of Jamiatul Ulama (KZN). The topic was Blasphemy. Below is the second half of this transcript.

The following alphabets are abbreviations for the different participants:

(J)- Jeremy Maggs – Host of the programme
(Dr)- Dr Jostlin Helegg – representing Christianity
 (D)- David Sachs – representing Judaism

(J) Patently, the Islamic religion has a rule book, as (Mufti) Ebrahim Desai has unpacked for us. How would the Jewish religion sit in judgement of something like this?

(D) Well, the Jewish religion is actually very similar because the Jewish ecclesiastical authorities have been disempowered for the greater part of the last 2000 years. We haven’t been able to impose Jewish law by force …… but so far as administering flogging or imprisonment or even execution, the Jewish authorities haven’t had the power to do that. So we have adapted to that new reality and I believe that in the global village where we live in and where it is almost impossible to control the dissemination of different opinions with the internet and other aspects of the communication revolution,   Islam no longer has the power to impose its will as it used to in the past and accordingly needs to adapt.

(J) Dr. Helegg, is this an archaic debate? Does modern culture win the day?

(Dr) For me, yes! Modern culture does win the day. You know, I was thinking about the subject and it brought to mind that Judaism has been through an enlightenment, the 18th/19th century shook up the foundations. People began to look at the scriptures, who wrote them, why they were written, and for whom were they written. And Christianity was also subject to this sort of shaking up of all the odd certainties and they had to confront that. Now Islam has not experienced enlightenment and I think that it is one of the reasons why perhaps the response to some of these more modern predicaments is often so radical ……….

(J) Mr Ebrahim Desai, Do you want to weigh in very quickly on this notion of enlightenment?

Mufti Desai: We need to understand that when it comes to a set of values, you are either working with a dual set of values or a multiple set of values. When you measure one value with another, you can never do justice. In terms of Islamic law, as Muslims we need to understand that religion permeates every aspect of our life. It is unlike certain religions that would probably go to their place of worship once a week or worship in their individual capacity. As for Muslims, we have to go to the mosque 5 times a day. Religion permeates each and every aspect of our lives. For us enlightenment of religion lies within religion itself. Religion itself is a source of enlightenment for a Muslim.

(J) Dr. Helleg, let me come back to you as we kick start this discussion again to an earlier caller, John, raising the whole issue of societal nuance depending on society’s interpretation of religion. It’s all about the will of the people. Does he have a point?

(Dr.) Yes, I think he does have a point in that one should respect the cultural and religious morals of a group. But on the other hand, I see things rather the other way around. Religion is something that GOD dictates in a sense and it is not the people that dictate. It’s up to the people to interpret the will of GOD according to their scriptures and according to their traditions and I think this incident throws into sharp relief the need for interpretation because there are many factors with regards this.

(J) We’ll take a couple of calls on this issue. We were talking about the manipulation of religion and the pursuit of power and haven’t even gotten to that aspect of the debate and where do we draw the line in blasphemy?

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