The last week or so has seen the official yawing of the Islamic state mantra and I must say it is beginning to grate. First, we were told we were never secular, that we had always been an Islamic state. Then, our venerable PM muddies the water by saying we were neither secular nor theocratic (note ‘Islamic’ is not the choice adjective here) but a country that practices parliamentary democracy, albeit with Islam as its official religion. And as if the previous pronouncement did not exist, Pak Lah issues a written reply in parliament that we’re an Islamic state after all. According to Malaysiakini, he said:
“Malaysia is an Islamic state which is administered based on the principles of Islam and at the same time adheres to the principles of parliamentary democracy guided by the highest law of the land - the Federal Constitution.”As Malaysiakini notes, Pak Lah’s term in BM 'negara Islam' could mean either 'Islamic state' or 'Islamic country', both of which do not mean the same thing in English. So the semantics game continues.
Of course, further stirring up the conundrum was former AG Tun Abu Talib Othman who in an earlier interview with Malaysiakini, admitted indifference to the Islamic-secular state debate. In his interview he said he had no regrets during his tenure as AG, or over his role in the controversial sacking of then Lord President Tun Salleh Abbas. He defended his actions as ‘applicable law’ and disagreed that declaring Malaysia Islamic had impact on human rights. “It doesn’t really matter to me so long as I’m not forced to do anything against my will... That’s the basic premise,” he said.
I find the former AG’s admission all the more shocking (nay, shameful) if you would step back into time with me to 1988, to events surrounding Salleh Abbas’ fateful dismissal on account of 5 controversial charges produced against him. One of these charges is especially pertinent and I shall summarise from Abbas’ book, "Mayday for Justice":
[More about Abbas dismissal and Malaysia's judical crisis here]
The former AG’s post-rationalisation and doublespeak is painfully obvious. It appears now that whether Malaysia is secular or Islamic does not matter. So what? Indeed. It meant something to the former AG then. It was on this very allegation of advocating Islamic rule, of being insensitive of the secular position of this country, of causing fear among its non-Muslim population, that formed one of the primary charges for Abbas’ dismissal.
Who has been insensitive to the country’s secular position today?
Who has been denying the secular character of the Federal Constitution while stridently insisting Malaysia is an Islamic state?
Who in the Judiciary has suggested that Common Law be dropped, to the horror of all right thinking people in the country?
Who in the Judiciary has subjugated freedoms enshrined in the Federal Constitution to the interpretation of Syariah?
Who in the PM’s department has proposed the application of Syariah as appropriate replacement for English Common Law, causing distress to millions of non-Muslims in the country?
Who has been calling Malaysia an Islamic state while ignoring Malaysia’s multi-religious and multi-racial reality, thereby causing “fear and consternation among its non-Muslim population”?
Why is the Government insensitive to the concerns of over 40% of its non-Muslim population who do not want the country to be arbitrarily declared Islamic?
Who is preaching unity and causing schisms just when we're celebrating 50 years of Merdeka?
Who is going to answer for the selling-out of Malaysia?