Thursday, February 23, 2006

An UMNO Renaissance?

As I mentioned once, one has to take the bad with the good when it comes to Mohammad Nazri Aziz, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department.

He acted the villain as Barisan Nasional whip to bully the women Senators and MPs into voting for the Islamic Family Law bill, very much against women’s interests, while he lambasted the police for condoning one of its cops in intimidating a whistle blower through a libel suit.

Nazri Aziz has always been surprisingly vocal in a secular sense, particularly in the M Moorthy saga where he agreed with non-Muslims that, until the late Moorthy’s religious status was confirmed, the civil courts should hear the appeal by Moorthy’s widow. See my posting Tottering Tower of the Moorthy Saga.

Now, as the to-be Law Minister, in his first interview, Nazri said he firmly believed that the civil court has jurisdiction in cases of conversion to Islam. He clarified what Article 121 (1A) means and why the PM had declared the Article shall remain unaltered. Nazri stated that the civil court has no jurisdiction to review decisions of the Syariah Court, except in cases of conversion from non-Muslim to Muslim, like the late Moorthy.

He confirmed what I posted in Article 121(1A) - What terrified the Civil Courts!, where I commented that the Article was meant to deal with Muslims who wanted to leave Islam, like teacher Abdul Rahim in in the mid-1980’s, and not cases like M. Moorthy's where the religion of the deceased was still 'iffy'.

Nazri Aziz has also condemned the attempted formation of a volunteer force of religious snoopers, as posted in Malaysian Taliban-ish Peeping Toms.

Now, Nazri Aziz has done it again. He admitted what virtually everyone in Malaysia knows already, but it’s refreshing to hear it out straight from an UMNO minister. In fact I find it rather astonishing and unexpected!

Nazri Aziz conceded that over the years UMNO had been under political pressure to out-Islam PAS in their battle for the Muslim constituency. Basically, UMNO has been politically stampeded into demonstrating its Islamic credentials that extra vigorously, and do things which UMNO had felt would be at the expense of the nation. He was replying to lawyers on whether the country had been pandering to the agenda of Islamic hardliners.

Nazri called on secular-minded Muslims to speak up even at the risk of being labelled as infidels or apostates. He said:

“The problem among Muslims is that we rely on people who are knowledgeable (Islamic scholars) but people like you and me are secular. So speak up, even if you may not be the majority.”

He revealed that he disagrees with those conservative Muslims who felt that only those who are well-versed in religion may comment on Islam. He said if the majority speaks up, the government would find it damn difficult to ignore them.

This tsunamic turnaround by an UMNO minister must have been OK-ed by the PM. Taken together with Cultural Minister Dr Rais Yatim’s regular exhortation to Malays to revert back to Malay roots rather than follow an Arabic cultural proselytism, are we finally seeing the beginning of an UMNO renaissance? Does this mean UMNO is now confidant PAS' green banner will not attract away its traditional constituency?

Certainly the consistent tone of pronouncements by these two ministers have been starkly unusual from the Mahathir days, where Malaysia, a constitutionally secular nation, was declared as an Islamic one.

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