THERE’S been a lot of swearing going on in the past couple of weeks.
First, there was 23-year-old Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan who, on 15 Aug 2008, swore on the Quran at the Federal Territory Mosque in Kuala Lumpur that his former boss, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, sodomised him.
This was followed by Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s public oath-making while on the campaign trail in Permatang Pauh that he did not know Mongolian Altantuya Shaariibuu and had nothing to do with her murder.
“Wallahi, Wabillahi, Watallahi (with Allah as my witness), I swear I do not know or have any connection with the Mongolian woman,” he was reported to have said on the night of 22 Aug at a mosque in Guar Perahu in Permatang Pauh, right after he announced that all mosques and suraus in Penanti would receive a RM1.4mil federal government allocation.
(In July, Najib had also invoked Allah’s name in the presence of Umno grassroots leaders at the Putra World Trade Centre, to swear that he was not connected to Altantuya’s murder.)
The deputy premier’s calling on the divine as his witness was closely mimicked by Datuk Seri Tajol Rosli Ghazali. The former Perak menteri besar, who is also the Perak Umno liaison committee chairperson, swore in the name of Allah on 23 Aug that he was not behind the 20 Aug arrest of two Pakatan Rakyat state executive councillors for corruption.
As the incidence of swearing on divine beings and in sacred places increases, so has the pressure intensified on these individuals’ opponents to engage in a duel of swearing.
Anwar has been told repeatedly, even taunted, that he needs to swear on the Quran to prove his innocence of the sodomy charges. Similarly, Tajol Rosli has asked Perak menteri besar Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin to take a similar oath to prove the latter’s allegations that Tajol Rosli himself orchestrated the arrests of the Pakatan Rakyat excos.
Neither Anwar nor Mohammad Nizar has caved in to the pressure. While Anwar has steadfastly maintained that he would be going against the advice of Muslim scholars by swearing on the Quran, Mohammad Nizar’s curt response to reporters on 24 August was “we don’t buy that idea.”
Trust and faith
What observations can we make from this flurry of swearing as a means to prove one’s honesty or innocence?
Firstly, it would seem that it is Umno politicians — and in the case of Saiful, those who would add fuel to Umno’s engine of discrediting prime-minister-in-waiting Anwar — who are intent on using a supposedly religious act to gain credibility.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, what does it say about the rakyat’s confidence in our public institutions that individuals, including high-ranking leaders such as Najib, need to swear in God’s name in order to prove they have done no wrong?
When individuals resort to using a holy book, and political leaders endorse it, and when those in power resort to using the faith of the masses in a religious act to shore up support for their case, these individuals are reinforcing the popular notion that our public institutions — whether the police, the Attorney General’s Chambers, or the courts or the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) — cannot be trusted enough to do an independent and credible job.
In effect, what those intent on swearing on the Quran or in Allah’s name are saying is this: “We know you don’t trust the system anymore. Or the plot as it unfolds. But just trust we wouldn’t lie to the Almighty.”
What a shame that these individuals are in fact further reinforcing the public’s perception, whether real or imagined, that our public institutions are incapable of acting without fear or favour.
The truth is, public perception of these institutions is at an all-time low, especially when the second round of sodomy charges against Anwar, which were launched so close to him making a real comeback into Parliament, smacks of being the stuff of B-grade movies.
What needs serious tackling by our national leadership is the restoration of confidence in our public institutions so that these institutions’ actions, or lack of, are not pooh-poohed as yet another political conspiracy by an increasingly sophisticated rakyat.
Instead, we have individuals such as Najib resorting to divine assistance to restore confidence in his leadership to ensure he becomes the next prime minister. And Saiful, who, despite the apparent lack of medical evidence, remains intent on using the divine to prove he was sodomised.
Undermining secularism and pluralism
The second effect of all this swearing on a holy book, specifically the Quran, is the undermining of secular and plural Malaysia. It would seem that all of us, regardless of religious beliefs, are being called to believe in the legitimacy of one specific act within the context of one particular religion, rather than to trust in a secular and inclusive administration to provide justice and fairness for all.
Already, even the legitimacy of swearing on the Quran is fraying around the edges with claims and counter-claims by imams and muftis and ulamas. What would happen if a swear-on-the-Quran or on-Allah duel did, in fact, begin? What other higher order would the politically embattled resort to then?
No doubt, it would be a case of holier-than-thou at its most comically distasteful. And the rest of the nation will be left wondering if it is a higher grade of “holiness” that is the best and only selling point of those who want the power to rule the rest of us, or to define the national issues of the day.