Book Review on
Islam and Confucianism-
Foreword by Anwar Ibrahim
Edited by Osman Bakar and Cheng Gek Nai
Publisher: International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC), International Islamic University Malaysia ( IIUM), 2019 (Second Edition)
Islam and Confucianism – A Civilizational Dialogue received its new edition after its first publication twenty two years ago. It was first published by the Centre for Civilizational Dialogue, University of Malaya in 1997. This new edition was published by the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization, International Islamic University Malaysia in 2019. This new edition contains a new Introduction and a Foreword by Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim, President of International Institute of Islamic Thought Kuala Lumpur and Member of Parliament for Port Dickson, Malaysia. This second edition was launched by Dato’ Seri Anwar at ISTAC prior to an International Conference on Islam and Confucianism on 30th November in Penang and was jointly organized by ISTAC, IIUM and Penang Premium Business Enterprise (PPBEA). Many international scholars of Islam and Confucianism and more than three hundred delegates attended this conference
This book contained 13 essays beside a Forward and two Introductions. Those essays were written by some internationally known Muslim and Confucian scholars such as Tu Weming from Harvard, William C Chittick, from SUNY, New York, Asia’s well respected scholar/historian Wang Gungwu, Anwar Ibrahim himself, Osman Bakar, Chandra Muzaffar and others. Anwar Ibrahim in the first of the 13 chapters of essays, explores the need to build a new discourse for a better understanding among Asians who share much similar values in their belief and philosophy and to embark on the right aspiration in their intellectual pursuance for a progressive and peaceful Asia. Asians must have an open mind and proper intellectual perspectives to evaluate different cultures and history with positive thinking and complete understanding of others. This is the fundamental in the quest for a more meaningful, intellectually, social and political reality of the new Asia. His essay, “Islam-Confucianism Dialogue and the Quest for a New Asia” requests that our intellectual horizon to be widened up to a new vista of knowledge and history that seeks to build a common understanding and better appreciation and respect for each other’s beliefs, cultures, heritage and the traditions.
Many historians and theologians continue to perceive Islam and Confucianism as two distinctive systems of beliefs and philosophy and to be evaluated only through their own limited histories and to be confined to their own systems of thought. However, it has been shown that in different occasions in history Islam and Confucianism came into contact with each other and had managed to provide an inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogues that by right should have received a proper recognition by the scholars of comparative religion and intellectuals of history as an important moment wherein two civilizations can come into a term of recognition of each other. How does it possible that the two schools comprise of a religion and a traditional philosophy could interact in expressing the very fundamental doctrine of Islam’s al-tawhid or the Oneness of God in the style that was normally employed only by the Confucian doctrine? Lee Cheuk Yin explores this issue in chapter five of this book in his essay, “Islamic Values in Confucian Terms’ He listed a large number of works written by Islamic-Confucian scholars who produced Islamic-Sufi treatises exploring on subjects relating to God, His Attributes and Qualities, the reality and status of Nature, Man and Creation from the perspective of spiritual Islam by borrowing the Confucian style of discussion while analyzing these subjects and the philosophical/theological issues related to them
Wang Daiyu who is also known as the Old Man of Hui wrote Zhengjiao Zhenquan (Genuine Annotation of the Orthodox Teaching) in 1642 to discuss on these subjects. This work of Daiyu was to be followed by many other writings which are still in extant and were written by Muslim Confucians on subjects of Islamic theology and philosophy by embarking the Confucian language expressions. These writings had provided readers with many intellectual resources that marked a very significant meeting point of the cross cultural event that affected the intellectual and historical development of China for many centuries from the Tang until the Ming period. The history of Islam in encountering Confucianism is one of the exemplary encounter that took place more than four centuries ago that provides a major lesson of civilizational dialogue between different religions and cultures that need to be emulated in developing a harmonious society of the new Asia.
Islam was founded more than 14 centuries ago and Confucianism was established in China in 6th century BCE. Ever since, Confucian ethics and thought had developed its intellectual discourse throughout Asia while Islam has been the main creed of the people of Asia and Europe. Beginning from 13th century if not much earlier, Islam and Confucianism have both dominated Asia. Confucianism had spread in the Far Eastern Asia countries and Southeast Asia while Islam is scattered in almost every corner of the Middle East to Southeast Asia and in China. As major intellectual doctrines and creeds of Asia, the dialogue between both civilizations requires strong intellectual and social support and understanding to come into a better recognition of each other in the effort of building a peaceful and friendly society wherever Islam and Confucianism meet.
This book provides at least seven of its thirteen chapters in exploring and suggesting many aspects of life and thought that contained in Islam and Confucianism as major the source in making the dialogue between the two ideologies possible and the major ingredient in building better society, create prosperity, peace and harmony in nations, understanding among nations that shares the intellectual and geographical boundaries to come into better terms with each other. Writers like Chandra Muzaffar, Ghan Teik Chee, and Cheng Gek Nai focused more on the common understanding among the people in the quest for the national building of a country, especially a multi-racial and multi-cultural country like Malaysia while Kosugi Yasushi discusses tradition and modernization; of how Islam and Confucianism fare in Japan. Arifin Bey who served the United Nation in his career focused on ‘Confucianism’s Contribution to the Modernization of Japan’ in his essay.
In any case, discussions on the societal and civilizational aspects require the understanding of the philosophical, theological and mystical intrinsic analysis and, as important, the comparison between Islam and Confucianism within these aspects of reality. These analysis came even early in the arrangement of chapters. Tu Wieming proposes a global ethics as the implications of Islam-Confucianism Dialogue, Osman Bakar wrote Confucianism, the Analects of Confucius in the light of Islam and Sachiko Murata, a Japanese Professor of Religion explains the common ground of analytical thinking among Muslims theologians and Sufis by employing the analysis of the two opposites, the yin and yang as a way to understand Islamic theological doctrines as a method of reading Islamic theological texts. In one of the early chapters William C. Chittick, Professor of Religion of the State University of New York, explains Islam’s attitude towards other religions with a special reference to Confucianism. Chittick explores on how Islam, a religion that came from a far distant land had managed to find a peaceful co-existence in China through the intellectual understanding between the two religious-philosophical encounters.
Those who are asking the question of why a dialogue between the two systems of beliefs and philosophy is required may find the answer in the Forward as well as the contributing chapter provided by Anwar Ibrahim who brilliantly formulated the answer to this question of ‘why a dialogue’. For those who are trying to find the practical solutions to the political and social requirements for building a better understanding among the people of different cultural and religious background may also find many answers to their inquiries in this book. Furthermore this book is a compilation of articles written by many scholars and writers who are very well established in their own area of studies pertaining to civilizational dialogue and write with vast knowledge and experience in their field of studies. In a way this book can be considered a ‘one stop center’ in answering the root question of why a dialogue is required in the effort of building a better, prosperous, peaceful and friendly civilizational Asia.
For Malaysian Muslims and Chinese, reading this book is very fundamental in setting up their mindset right towards the effort of achieving a fruitful dialogue between Muslims and Confucians. Any dialogue and understanding between Islam and Confucianism should begin with having a good historical and philosophical knowledge of Islam as well as Confucianism in history. Muslim readers may find many surprising commonalities between Islam and Confucianism that may cast the way to a more fruitful and unbiased discussion which can strengthen the relationships between people of different ideologies and frames of mind in this country.
Professor Baharudin Ahmad is currently Distinguished Research Fellow and Vice Chairman, Muslim World Research Center: MWRC, Member, China- Muslim World Co-operation Research: CMWCR, Malaysia. He is former Deputy Dean and Research Fellow of International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC), International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), ex Dean, ASWARA (a Malaysian National University for Arts and Culture). He is a poet, translator, author and editor of many published books in Malay and English languages. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org )