27 November, 2007

Just what is an Islamic car?

Malaysian national car maker Proton plans to team up with companies in Iran and Turkey to produce "Islamic cars" for the global market

Proposed by Iran, the collaboration would include installing features in automobiles such as a compass to determine the direction of Mecca for prayers, and compartments for storing the Quran and head scarves.

"What they (Iran) want to do is to call that an Islamic car. We will identify a car that we can develop and produce it in Malaysia, Iran or Turkey. For Proton, we are more than happy because we have products that we can share," said Syed Zainal Abidin Syed Mohamed Tahir, the chief executive of Proton.

Just what is an Islamic car?

The term ‘Islamic’ betrays an activity (amalan), one that is derived from the fundamental elements of the world view of Islam and it is not something indicative of ritual appearance. It refers to an activity or action and by necessity an actor.

IT WAS another Sunday morning. It had been raining the night before and it was still raining the following morning. The sky was still overcast; the sun had not been seen for days.

Not exactly the kind of welcome to the day; certainly not the kind of day that could put one in a cheerful mood. So already my temperament, much like the weather, was indecisive.

It would not take much of an impetus to decide the mood my temperance would follow. I decided, perhaps due to a spell of fleeting boredom, to read the newspaper, and that’s when it happened.

I went from being wilfully undecided to angry and insulted. But you may ask, what could have caused this sudden swing in temperament?

That which caused me to become angry and insulted was an article on Proton's “Islamic car” concept.

Reporting from Tehran, the national news agency Bernama said that, “Malaysia, together with Iran and Turkey plans to produce ‘Islamic cars’ for the global market.”

This of course was according to Proton Holdings Bhd managing director Datuk Syed Zainal Abidin Syed Mohamed Tahir. He however, did not claim the proposal was his idea, rather, according to the report the idea was mooted by Iran.

The cars are apparently “expected to have Islamic features such as the compass kiblat reading and compartments for keeping the Quran and scarves.”

A complete perusal of the article betrays the fact that the focus was not on making a car “Islamic”, but rather on using the term “Islamic” as an advertising tool purely for economic gain.

The article quoted the managing director of Proton Holdings Bhd as having said that “the car will have all the Islamic features”, a statement which assumes he knows what the term “Islamic” means, and what those features are that make a car Islamic.

Is he correct? Does he indeed know what the term “Islamic” conveys? The term “Islamic”, contrary to popular modernist belief, is not something indicative of ritual appearance.

In truth, the term “Islamic” betrays an activity (amalan), one that is derived from the fundamental elements of the worldview of Islam. As such it necessarily requires an actor (pengamal). As far as the article is concerned, the term “Islamic” refers primarily to the features associated with an inanimate object, one that by definition is devoid of an actor and by virtue of which cannot act (mengamal).

Why is this so? Clearly by virtue of the fact that we have said earlier that the term “Islamic” refers to an activity or action and by necessity an actor, logically then there must be a system of laws governing that action, namely the syariah.

Yet, how can one assume that the possibility of conceptualising a car said to be “Islamic” exists when we have pointed out that such a notion is connected to an activity and therefore a system of laws, the syariah in this case, a system interpreted not only in accordance with erudite scholarship but defined by the fundamental elements of the worldview of Islam?

Clearly, in this case they have taken the meaning of the term “Islamic” merely to refer to a ritual cloak, an outer manifestation, and even then their description of such a manifestation is absurd to say the least.

How does having a “compass kiblat reading and compartments for keeping the Quran and scarves” make the proposed so called “Islamic” car fundamentally distinct from all other cars?

German automotive designers now include a GPS system capable of pinpointing the kiblat in many of their higher-end vehicles; as far as compartment space is concerned most, if not all, car manufacturers boast numerous compartments for the storage of items, scarves included.

These car manufacturers do not specify what items may be or should be stored in these compartments; that decision is left to the consumer.

Do these automobile manufacturers advertise their vehicles as “Islamic” simply because they include these features? If the answer is “No”, then why do the Muslims feel the need to do so?

So, another important question arises: is the car a proper justifiable place for one to keep the Quran? Any good Muslim understands that there is a “right place” for everything.

Once again this right place is defined by the worldview of Islam and its related fundamental elements. As such, once a thing is afforded its rightful place in accordance with that worldview, what results is justice.

Since we affirm that there is such a thing as a “right place”, then logically there must be such a thing as a “wrong place”.

A “wrong place” will most certainly not be in accordance with the worldview of Islam and its related fundamental elements by virtue of the fact that what results is injustice, a condition which may also be equally demonstrated.

The Quran is unlike any book one may purchase from a bookstore. As the Word of God, it is supposed to be accorded the proper respect it deserves.

As such, a car is not the right place for the Quran, neither is a car’s rear windshield the right place to display verses from the Quran.

Hence, the very idea of constructing a car having “compartments for keeping the Quran, is in fact unjust and subsequently antithetical to the worldview of Islam and its related fundamental elements.

Therefore, far from being “Islamic”, the act of keeping the Quran in a car is, in fact, un-Islamic.

My concern here is that Islam and all its associated elements – namely, Islamic, Islamisation and so on – are being corrupted by those who know not, and know not they know not (la yadri wa la yadri annahu la yadri).

Islam is not a religion for the feeble-minded, nor is it the handmaiden of politics or a cliché (cogankata) for advertising, business and economics.

The fact that the Muslim world today suffers politically, economically and intellectually is due in large part to the Muslims, and not Islam.

In my opinion, far from ennobling the Muslims and the Muslim world, such proposals like an “Islamic car” bring shame, and invite unnecessary ridicule.

By Dr Syed Ali Tawfik al-Attas,
Director General
(The Star Online )

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