Friday, August 03, 2007

The Debate on the Malaysian Islamic State

I read with some regret in malaysiakini that the Islamic debate continues. This time the non-Muslim side is crowing and patting the back of Bernard Dompok, the Minister in the PM’s Department, for rejecting the government’s (or UMNO’s) stand that Malaysia is an Islamic state.

Personally I don’t see any benefit in pursuing this line of argument, though I can understand why.

The debate is not new but recently DPM Najib Razak resurrected the controversy by echoing former PM Dr Mahathir in averring that Malaysia is an Islamic state.

The history of this debate stemmed from an UMNO or Dr Mahathir’s political manoeuvre to outflank PAS. The latter had been and still is using Islam and the promise of an Islamic State to win the Muslims over to its political banner. Basically, what the Grand Olde Man did was to tell the Malay-Muslim heartland that Malaysia is already an Islamic State, and therefore PAS has been whistling naught in the air.

I don’t believe he had meant for the gradual transformation of Malaysia via an Arab-isation program that is so apparent in this country. Rais Yatim is one of those few ministers (perhaps the only one) who dare to place Malay culture above an Arab one, of course without disregarding Islam at all.

But when one unleashed certain forces one might well find out that one could be hard put to keep those forces under control. And so it has been.

The occasional invocation of this reminder (that Malaysia is an Islamic State) has become a convenient UMNO political tactic to keep PAS from making any significant inroads into UMNO’s constituency.

Non-Muslims who encounter such UMNO assertions fall into mainly three groups:

(1) Those who know what UMNO was doing has been politics to neutralize a more frightening (to them) PAS.

(2) Those who won’t countenance any creative modification to the Constitution, that Islam is only the official religion.

(3) Those who fall somewhere between groups 1 and 2, but who would speak out against the idea of Malaysia being an Islamic state because of the fear of ‘give one cm, they take one metre’ by the Muslims who assert such a State. They have seen the zealots gradually dominating the Islamisation program with greater zeal than is comfortable.

The recent spate of apostasy and body claim controversies and the cringing civil courts haven’t helped curb their growing fears.

People in Group 3 feel that if they don’t speak out against the claim of Malaysia being an Islamic State, the Islamists will intrude into their rights more and more.

Examples of non-Muslims feeling their rights have been infringed by the Islamisation advances are as follows:

(1) The recent arrest of a Chinese couple for alleged kissing and hugging in a public park – the truer story would probably turn out to be an off duty cop being very naughty on some other business, and using the indecent behavior allegations as a vindictive accusation. Though one could argue that it was an alleged act of indecency (devoid of religious connotation), nonetheless the charge has been based on Islamic values, with the authority idiotically charging the non-Muslim couple.

There was another similar case in Ipoh .... for crying out, Ipoh ... a predominantly Chinese city!

(2) From my elders – once upon a time, only the Malay Regiment conducted doa on parades; then several years ago, some (either) ambitious or religious chap extended that doa (Muslim prayers) on parade to military units not wholly Muslim, like the Navy and Air Force.

Now, how would the non-Muslim officers feel? This was exactly what had happened in schools when a certain bloke was Education Minister! The word is the draconian PROSELYTISING of non-Muslim students!

My very senior neighbor told me that he witnessed some embarrassing moments when a joint Malaysian-Indonesian exercise started with a parade where the Indonesians refused to participate in the doa during parade. Eventually it took a very diplomatic Indonesian general to save the situation (due to Malaysian inconsideration) by instructing his men to ‘behave like polite guests’ a la ‘when in Rome, do as Romans do’.

(3) The recent imposition of Islamic headgear on female police officers by the former IGP who tried to score political points in the midst of the IPCMC campaign. He claimed the bull-reason of uniformity when for decades, Sikh members of the RMP had donned their turbans, even on ceremonial parades, without being out of place or lacking uniformity with their non-Sikh colleagues.

I could go on and on, and though I am one of those in Group 1, I feel that Group 3 has a valid point, because if one stays silent, well … ‘give one cm, they take one metre’.


  1. All should put a stop to this "islamisation politics", it is obviously not doing the nation any good and only can tear her apart because of understandable fears.
    We are a secular nation till we decide otherwise. The so-called leaders should lead and not play "islamisation politics".

  2. Hi KT,
    You are obviously quite unaware of the many aspects of creeping Talibanization of government rules and regulations, except in the rare cases where it has escaped into the mainstream press. Most of the time its hushed up, compromised away (the non-Muslims have to compromise usually) because the people involved don't want to be labelled trouble makers.

    Its not just an UMNO vs. PAS game.

    Many lower level government officials have used the "Islamic State" or "Islamic Nation" intepretation as the paradigm for making rulings on civilian regulations which impinge on everyone, especially at local government level.

    And I'm not talking about Kelantan.

    I have been actively involved in a Buddhist religious foundation in your own home state of Penang. A while ago I was heavily involved in promoting and fund raising for rebuilding a local temple. Money, land, no problem, as you would expect the Chinese business community is extremely supportive.

    A respected architect voluntered his services to design the building. It took long time to get the building approved , why ? Several drafts of the design were rejected by government officials, because the external design "may offend other religions" i.e. Muslims.
    We got so frustrated, we finally asked them point-blank what is their bottom line to get approval. The final design, which was approved, basically looked pretty much like an office building.

    I don't know about you, but to me Article 11 of the Constitution has definitely been violated time and again.

  3. Notwithstanding the fact that Malaysia, for all intents and purposes, has been "islamic" way before merdeka, the topic is highly sensitive and should never be promulgated, especially by politicians, and much less, highlighted by mainstream media.

    Consider the implications if it was a non-muslim politican who did the same thing expressing the opposite point of view. Arrested for being seditious would likely have occured.

    There is no denying that Malaysia is slowly but surely treading down the path to total islamization(?) and at some point in time, its citizens will adopt ONE identity characterized by only islamic precepts, to the exclusion of all others existing now. This, without a doubt, is the eventual aim of the government and its 'zealots'.

    The sad part is that muslims will not come forth to lend any support for their non-muslim friends in the name of understanding of and tolerance for their predicament. In a nut-shell, multi-culturalism in Malaysia is now but a dirty word.