Why Hadi is the face of Malaysia’s future
Many – especially non-Muslims – are now looking to Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim to stem the advance of political Islam and preserve Malaysia as a secular multicultural democracy. I suspect that they are going to be very disappointed.
Part 1: The “invisible” constitution & the emerging Islamic state
PAS president Hadi Awang is getting more and more extreme and outrageous in his pronouncements. After his failure to take Putrajaya (despite winning more seats in parliament than any other single party), he has become particularly bitter, resentful and combative. He seems determined to provoke confrontation between Muslims and non-Muslims.
When it comes to Hadi, there seems to be a certain political paralysis; no one really knows how to deal with the challenge he poses. Some call for his arrest but they are too afraid to arrest him. There have also been calls for the government to come up with an effective counter-narrative to challenge Hadi’s disruptive, divisive and disagreeable brand of political Islam. Others are hoping that the Malay-Muslim intelligentsia will take him on.
What most still don’t get, however, is that Hadi represents the face of Malaysia’s future. He’s a sign of the times, an augury of the change that’s coming upon our nation. We are a nation in transition – from an unfinished and deeply flawed Westminster-style secular constitutional democracy to an as yet undefined Islamic state.
It’s already too late to talk about stopping Hadi or about reversing the slide towards an Islamic state. It is now only a matter of time before political Islam triumphs over Malaysia’s secular constitution. We are only deluding ourselves if we think the clock can be rolled back. There’s no going back anymore; all that remains to be seen is what kind of Islamic state will emerge and who will shape it.
The signs of political Islam’s ascendancy and the future that Hadi represents have, in fact, been obvious for quite some time; the process is already far advanced on several fronts. Decades of intensive indoctrination within our national institutions, for example, have quietly but decisively transformed them into bastions of political Islam. The lines between private religious obligations and institutional responsibilities have been increasingly blurred. Many Malay-Muslim public servants now feel obliged to prioritise their religious imperatives (as defined by the ulema) ahead of their duties as public servants.
Kedah MB Sanusi Md Nor summed it up well when justifying his outright ban on gambling in the state: “I am a Muslim and cannot gamble. Later in the hereafter, I will be asked what I did on this issue, and if I did not do anything, I will be punished (kena tibai).” This fear of damnation in the hereafter weighs increasingly on Malay-Muslim officials. When applied to public office, it has huge consequences.
This approach to public office has taken on a life of its own; individual officers at various levels seek to ensure that their respective departments and its policies and programmes are sharia compliant to the fullest extent possible. As a consequence, the dictates of political Islam are gradually being imposed on Muslims and non-Muslims alike not by law but by administrative fiat.
The dress code issue is one example. The government denies that there’s a specific dress code and blames the “little Napoleons”. Nevertheless, dress codes have become the norm because it is promoted by an Islamic-minded bureaucracy and enforced by “little mullahs” across the system. This is the power of Islamists in advancing what has been called Malaysia’s “invisible” constitution.
The security services too have been persuaded to see themselves as defenders of the faith first, upholders of the secular constitutional order second. A former IGP, for example, refused to abide by a court order to locate and return to her mother an underaged girl who was illegally converted because of a contradictory ruling by the Sharia court.
The police also made headlines after it was discovered that a Special Branch officer warned of the dangers of Christian proselytization at an anti-Christianisation seminar at a university campus. Despite the public outcry, the then IGP insisted that there was nothing wrong with it.
This fundamental shift is not confined to public institutions alone. The shift to a more conservative expression of Islam is also broadly evident within Malay-Muslim society as a whole. Social media – especially that put out by PAS – has had a huge impact in the dissemination of the message of political Islam and religious conservatism. It might have even overtaken the power of the massive ‘ceramah’ network as a means of propagating political Islam.
As well, thanks to the takeover of our education system by Islamists, generations of students steeped in the narrative of political Islam are now reshaping all aspects of Malaysian society.
Concomitant with this Islamic ‘awakening’ is the growing belief – a belief that is encouraged by PAS as well as many influential Islamists – that Malaysia cannot be truly Islamic until the Koran rather than the Federal Constitution forms the foundation of the state, until Sharia law supersedes the civil code.
One indicator of the change that is shaping the Malay-Muslim world comes from a Merdeka Centre poll which found that the number of Malay-Muslim youth (15-25) who feel that the Koran should replace the Federal Constitution had jumped from 72% in 2010 to 82% in 2022.
It goes without saying that Malay-Muslims form the most important demographic in Malaysia; they determine the direction of the nation and the pace of change. If such large numbers favour an Islamic state, it’s going to happen one way or another, whether the rest like it or not.