The more power in DAP hands, the less secular Malaysia becomes

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Helen Ang

We have just witnessed the fiasco of Umno Selangor trying to go one up on PAS in their hudud brinksmanship. The DAP religion game, on the other hand, is more chameleon-like. The party slickly plays both sides – Islam and Christianity.

Zairil Khir Johari previously revealed that the allocation for Islamic affairs under the Guan Eng administration increased by 300 percent compared to when the BN ruled Penang. Zairil, the Chief Minister’s political secretary, said: “Since taking over Penang, the state government has increased the provision for Islamic religious affairs from RM12.5 million in 2008 to RM64 million in 2012.”

The DAP-led Penang is desperate to prove itself just as Islamic, if not more so, than the other peninsular states where the Raja-Raja Melayu are the heads of Islam. The Malay rulers are vested with the authority to issue royal decrees on the practice of Islam. The edicts of their Royal Highnesses are gazetted and given the force of law, and correspondingly all fatwa must receive the collective royal seal of approval.

Meanwhile in Penang, the Guan Eng administration has upped the ante on Islamization by purchasing land for Islamic religious schools, providing an additional budget for these Sekolah Agama Rakyat, paying allowances to Kafa (kelas al-Quran dan fardhu ain) teachers and to huffaz (Quran reciters) as well as endorsing a bigger budget for other Islamic programmes.

The Penang government also provided 3.49 acres of land to build a new, seven-storey RM72 million Syariah Court complex. This indicates that the Penang Chief Minister cum DAP sec-gen not only recognizes the paramountcy of Islamic law but he has further strengthened the infrastructure concerned with the implementation of syariah.

A secular state does not enforce religious law. For instance, when Turkey secularized, it abolished the shariah. If this is so, how can the DAP be said to support secularism? The most common description of secularism is “the separation of religion and state”. A secular state does not lend monetary support to religion and nor does it fund the building of churches, for example.

Prof. Recep Senturk, a research fellow at the Center for Islamic Studies in Istanbul, writes that one common practice in secular states is that prayers are not allowed to be made compulsory in schools. In this regard, Malaysia fails this sample criterion of a secular state given how entrenched Islam is in our national education system.

Before Dapsters start chasing their spiky tail around the mulberry bush, they should at least get a faint idea on to how to measure secularism. Listed below are seven parameters which may be used as a yardstick.

A secular state will have, among others, the following characteristics:

1. The state must be neutral towards religion

2. The state cannot give religion a privileged position in the public arena

3. The state’s coercive powers and resources cannot be utilised in the service of any religion

4. The state should not privilege one religion or its adherents over another

5. The state should not privilege religion over irreligion

6. The state should not permit religion to be a requirement of public office

7. The state should not interfere with the affairs of religion and vice-versa

(The above recognised parameters are compiled by historian Dr Malik Munip)

Now let’s apply the checklist to Malaysia in general and to the DAP-led Penang in particular.

1. Is Malaysia neutral towards religion?

No. Islam is the Religion of the Federation under Article 3 of the Federal Constitution. Next, the Islamic caliphate of Saidina Umar Abdul Aziz has been promoted in Penang as the ideal model of good governance to be emulated.

As a comparison, when Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – dubbed the “Father of Modern Turkey” – radically secularized his country, the Republic of Turkey proceeded in 1934 to remove an earlier Article (contained in the 1924 Turkish Constitution) that said “the religion of the state is Islam”.

Unless the DAP has plans to amend the Malaysian Federal Constitution, then “the religion of the Federation” remains as Islam.  .the

2. Does Malaysia give any religion a position of privilege in the public arena?
Yes. Islam is given prominence and privilge. State crests, coat-of-arms and insignias contain the crescent symbol and Islamic inscriptions.

Official state functions are accompanied by bacaan doa and our Muslim VIPs begin their speeches with Quranic verses or Islamic sayings. Even our DAP Chinese Christian VIPs quote Quranic verses and sayings from the Hadith as well as cite examples from the Sunnah to colour their speeches green.

In Penang, the Islamic slogan “amar makruf nahi mungkar” in Arabic is featured on huge billboards erected all over the state – an innovation introduced by Lim Guan Eng..

3. Are the coercive powers and resources of the Malaysian authorities utilised in the service of any particular religion?

Yes. That’s how JAIS was enabled, by a civil law enactment, to raid the Bible Society and seize the ‘Allah’ Alkitab (bibles in Malay language). In Penang, JAIPP, the state Islamic authority recently interrupted a Taoist funeral while in Selangor, the state Islamic authority interrupted a Hindu wedding.

The coercive powers of the Islamic departments are clearly deployed in the two Pakatan-ruled states of Penang and Selangor. Previous, there was even a transborder case of child-snatching involving a 7-year-old Buddhist girl. Tan Yi Min was “kidnapped” from her school in Penang and spirited away by her mother abetted by MAIS officers to be converted to Islam. This heart-wrenching episode took place in the two Pakatan-ruled states of Penang and Selangor.

4. Does Malaysia privilege Islam and its adherents over other religions?.
Yes. The Department of Islamic Development (Jakim) is provided an annual budget – RM779 million this year – and has 3,549 staff on its payroll. The Federal Territory Islamic Department has 2,194 people in its employ.

Then there is the Islamic television station TV Al-Hijrah which operates on a RM40 million state budget yearly. We’re just mentioning here the financial allocations at federal level. The invididual states similarly provide a lot of money to support their respective Islamic apparatuses, something Penang constantly boasts. ..

5. Does Malaysia give equal treatment to both religionists and atheists/agnostics?

No. Irreligion is frowned upon. The first precept of the Rukun Negara is “Kepercayaan kepada Tuhan”. If you do not believe in God, then you’re in contravention of the No.1 precept of the national ideology. You will also be mocked and demonised as an “unbeliever” by the DAP Christian evangelistas..

6. Does Malaysia require an individual’s religion to be a factor in holding public office?
Yes. It is mandated for the Menteris Besar of Perak, Selangor and Johor to be Muslim albeit the Sultan may exercise his discretion and royal prerogative to waive this requirement. The other states that are under the Sultans/Raja/Yamtuan Besar have similar provisions..

7. Does Malaysia interfere with the affairs of religion and does Islam interfere with the affairs of governance?
Yes. An 80-year-old scholar and intellectual Kassim Ahmad was arrested and charged by the Islamic authorities not too long ago after giving a public lecture.

Muslims, other than those who are ahli Sunnah Wal Jamaah, are proscribed and the Ahmadiahs – considered an unsanctioned sect – have been subject to action by the Malaysian Islamic authorities.

Compare how Turkish religious scholars and clergy were “outlawed” and Turkey during Ataturk’s era apparently became the only Muslim country in the world without the ulama class.

In the latest development of legislative interference, a number of Muslim NGOs have filed police reports against the Attorney General over his handling of his job in the JAIS ‘bible’ confiscation issue.

Islamic features of state

Among its Islamic elements, Malaysia has a Syariah Court system and the Pejabat Kadi. We have the National Fatwa Council. Every state has its own (or two, e.g. Selangor’s MAIS and JAIS, the Federal Territory’s MAIWP and JAWI, etc) Islamic departments.

There is the Department of Waqaf, Zakat and Haji, and the Muslims Religious Division under the Prime Minister’s Department.

There is a whole slew of Islamic institutions such as Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (Ikim), Perkim, Lembaga Tabung Haji (pilgrim’s board) and Baitulmal in every state.

We have a de facto Minister of Islam.

We have a State Mufti for every state. Many of the muftis are honoured with very respectable titles, such as Datuk and Tan Sri. The Mufti of Perak is Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria. Their honorifics reflect the high status that Malaysia accords our Muslim religious figures, for example, Mohd Ridhuan Tee Abdullah who was awarded the Tokoh Maal Hijrah Selangor in 2002 (or so he claims in his CV).

With all of this Islamic bureaucracy being so entrenched, it is puzzling how the DAP keeps insisting that Malaysia is secular.

DAP’s own wholehearted support for Islamization
But let’s examine the DAP’s stated positions on Islam. DAP organizing secretary Anthony Loke was quoted as saying, “If we are not involved in crime, why should we worry over its [hudud] implementation or punishment”. Loke even supports the custom of its coalition partner PAS to have gender segregation at the Islamist party’s social functions.

Hudud is a Muslim criminal law and its penalties overlap with the ecclesiastical laws of Judaism and the Old Testament. The DAP has been telling their non-Muslims supporters that there is no need for them to fear this law, which is common to the three Abrahmic faiths, if they “are not involved in crime”.

A secular state does not adhere to religious laws. Yet we follow Syariah and in this country, Syariah has jurisdiction over more than 60 percent of our population which is Muslim. That’s 18 million Malaysian Muslims who are subject to Islamic jurisprudence on matters of marriage, divorce, child custody, property and inheritance. And some people still say we’re secular?

On 29 Sept 2001, Dr Mahathir Mohamad famously declared: “Umno wishes to state loudly that Malaysia is an Islamic country”.

Identically, the DAP in Penang has loudly trumpeted that they are very Islamic too, and touting orang Melayu boleh undi DAP tanpa was-was because there is no cause for Malay voters to fear that the Chinese-dominated party will ever erode the position of Islam in the country.

According to Zairil Khir Johari, the sincerity shown by the DAP-led Penang government to honour Islam is so great that even a piece of land in Jelutong, owned by the Chinese community, was acquired to make possible the extension of a Muslim cemetery. Furthermore, the Guan Eng administration committed RM22.8 million for the expansion of this Muslim burial ground.

Zairil also added that “never before have so many provisions or programmes been carried out to uphold Islam as is being done now” in Penang under the state government helmed by the DAP. Likewise never before have so many Chinese Christian politicians donned the Islamic headscarf and made so many visits to the mosques and suraus decked in baju kurung and matching tudung.

With the DAP’s increased political clout, our remnants of secularism have been made to recede further and further. And not content with just hurrying along the Islamization process, the DAP representatives have been cheerleading Christian endeavours too.

For a long time, the popular trope in Malaysian politics has been that Umno and PAS are always in a race to out-Islamize each other. Today with the DAP staking an overweening influence on the political landscape, the race is on to make Malaysia ever more and more religious by additionally empowering creepy Christian cults.