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Voting for an “Islamic state”

ACCORDING to MCA, a vote for DAP equals a vote for PAS equals a vote for an Islamic state and hudud. The Chinese-based political party has over the past weeks resumed its warning to voters that any vote that allows Pakatan Rakyat to occupy Putrajaya in the next general election will inevitably result in Malaysia being turned into an Islamic state because of PAS’s ideology.

This would be detrimental to Malaysians because there would purportedly be a loss of at least 1.2 million jobs if hudud was implemented, and non-Muslim women who don’t cover up apparently deserve to be raped by Muslim men. We can expect that this argument against voting for DAP and/or PR will be ramped up as the general election approaches.

What’s wrong with MCA’s fear-inducing scenario? Is there truth to any of these charges and predictions? And is MCA being completely honest about what the Barisan Nasional (BN) itself, of which it is the second largest component party, has been responsible for?

How about Umno? [i]

As far as I’m concerned, we already have an “Islamic state” in the making.  We are already living in a state with an expansion of religious bureaucracy and controls.

And this expansion of religious bureaucracy is abundantly evident in the amount of controls exerted on citizens’ rights in Islam’s name. There is the prohibition of the use of “Allah” by non-Muslims to the arrest of publishers and book store managers over a translated title that was banned for contravening “teachings of the Al-Quran and Hadith”. And let’s not forget the ongoing and painful issues of conversion affecting Muslims and non-Muslims, whether adults or children, deceased or alive.

And although various kinds of moral policing happened in the past especially in relation to khalwat, women’s dressing and prostitution, these have all intensified since the mid-1990s. And citizens of different sexual and gender identities have, over the past years, been villified and threatened with violence, and had their rights denied, all in the name of religion.

These examples should not come as a surprise because there has been an increase in syariah laws in Malaysia, just as there has been a rise in the size, scope and budget allocations for government Islamic authorities.

Prior to 1980, only one religious law existed — the Administration of Islamic Law Enactment. Today, there are other syariah laws, including Islamic Family Law, the Syariah Criminal Offences Act, the syariah civil and criminal procedure codes and the Syariah Court Evidence Enactment.

Government Islamic authorities have also been given more muscle. In 1970, for example, federal expenditure on Islam focused on two items — the National Mosque, and the annual Quran reading competition. In 2010, the national Islamic budget is estimated to be the third largest budget component of the Prime Minister’s Department.

Additionally, in the past, what existed was the Majlis Kebangsaan bagi Hal Ehwal Islam (MKI). The MKI still exists and its secretariat eventually grew and morphed into the Department of Islamic Development or Jakim in the 1990s.  Today, Jakim has for company several other national Islamic bodies. These bodies include the Jabatan Kehakiman Syariah created in March 1998, the Attorney General’s Chambers’ syariah section introduced in 2003, and the Jabatan Wakaf, Zakat dan Haji founded in 2004. The AG’s Chambers’ syariah section was set up, among others, to ensure that civil laws are consistent with Islamic laws, even though we’re not a theocracy. Additionally in 2009, a Jabatan Penguatkuasaan dan Pendakwaan Syariah was proposed.

Mind you, Islam is a state matter. And this is what makes the evidence above even more compelling. Although religion falls under states’ jurisdictions, in all these instances, it is the Umno-led federal government that has clearly invested in expanding Islamic bodies’ powers and scope in what may be described as a slow boil.

Hence, MCA can charge all it wants that it is PAS that will bring about an Islamic state if voted into power. The evidence shows it was under Umno where there has been a steady inflation in the way Islam is and can be used to control citizens’ lives.

And if Umno is clearly a culprit, what is MCA doing supporting Umno? Shouldn’t MCA and other BN component parties also be held accountable for the state Malaysia is in today since obviously, they did little or nothing to stem Umno’s Islamicisation of the government bureaucracy?

Umno and PAS: What’s the difference?

Yes, it is true that PAS’s raison d’etre is to set up an Islamic state. And while MCA tries to unconvincingly distinguish the difference between PAS’s and Umno’s brand of Islam, there are more similarities between the two than MCA is admitting. 

In The Nut Graph’s MP Watch project, we found this: more Umno than PAS Members of Parliament (MPs) we interviewed said Malaysia should be an Islamic state [ii]. Out of the 24 Umno MPs who responded, 13 said Malaysia should be an Islamic state. In fact, most of the 13 said Malaysia was already an Islamic state.

The majority of PAS MPs we interviewed were coy about declaring their intentions for Malaysia to be an Islamic state. PKR MPs, meanwhile, either contradicted each other or gave different answers when responding to the question.


What’s the difference?

What else was interesting about the MP Watch project’s findings? MPs from MCA, MIC and the DAP were united and mostly consistent in saying Malaysia should not be an Islamic state. And so, even as MCA tries to demonise the DAP in this matter of an “Islamic state”, both parties are actually more similar on this point than the MCA leadership is letting on.

What’s it all about?

So, what is this debate really about? Quite obviously, it’s first and foremost a disingenuous and dishonest election campaign by MCA against the DAP. Does PAS want to set up an Islamic state? Yes, it does. Will it? I’m sure it’ll try if it comes into power. Can it? That will depend on the power configurations in Parliament and the democratic structures in place after the elections should PR come into power.

But voters also need to ask, does Umno want an “Islamic state”? And will it try to turn Malaysia into an “Islamic state”? And is it already endeavouring to do so even though Umno’s stated raison d’etre is different from PAS’s? The answer is yes, yes and yes.

We should fear an “Islamic state” especially the kind where it is perilous to be a Muslim and where non-Muslim rights are secondary to Muslim demands. And it is when a state or political party is incapable of respecting human rights and dignity, and of demonstrating fairness and compassion, that we should be even more fearful of what it might do once it invokes divine law to justify its actions.

The truth is, it’s not just PAS politicians who spout misogynistic and bigoted views in the name of religion. Umno politicians do the same. And what’s worse, they don’t just express such views. Umno politicians in government, just like PAS politicians in power at the state level, are also capable of and responsible for implementing and supporting actions that violate human rights and are unfair or punitive in nature. No matter that Islam itself exhorts justice, compassion and fairness.

Is it any surprise then that the “Islamic state” and hudud issue is such a useful bogey? MCA has indeed done well to recognise that the issue is an easy scare tactic for the coming elections. And by doing so, it also demonstrates just what an untrustworthy and dishonest party it has become.

Jacqueline Ann Surin wishes politicians and governments would stop giving Islam a bad name. She will vote for any government which upholds human rights, justice and fairness, regardless of whether it’s called Islamic or otherwise.


[i] The information in this column partly draws on an unpublished study by tan bh on sexuality, Islam and politics in Malaysia.

[ii] For a more detailed analysis of how political parties responded to the question “Do you think Malaysia should be a secular or an Islamic state? Why?”, please refer to “MPs and the Islamic State Issue”, Understanding the Dewan Rakyat, p.68–71. The book can be purchased from Pusat Rakyat LoyarBurok.

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15 Responses to “Voting for an “Islamic state””

  1. 1state says:

    Whatever state you call [it], our nation is in a ROTTEN STATE. I thought our FEDERAL CONSTITUTION was the SUPREME LAW.

    • It is referred to as the Supreme Law (or SUPREME LAW as you prefer to have it). That does not make it the Supreme Law of the country as the constitution is not necessarily the law.

  2. There is no need to vote for an Islamic state as Malaysians already live in one that is a constitutional state. If the writer is alluding to the idea of an Islamic theocracy then that’s a different story. And if she explains herself a little more clearly we may understand the driver behind her fear-mongering in this article.

    In all societies there are those with extreme and unrealistic interpretations of dogma and political philosophy. Those amongst us who give into this fear factor and make a virtue of repeating those distortions have nothing but contempt for the public they write for (unless of course there is a willing market of ignorance out there to absorb and swallow such trash).

    Never let the truth get in the way of a good story?

    • JW Tan says:

      No point stating that in this forum. MCA and Barisan, those are the people you should be making your point to. After all, they brought it up.

  3. stewoolf says:

    I am annoyed reading all these medium reports on the issue. One important information, which is critical in deciding how we vote, is missing: What is the populous support, especially among Malays, for an “Islamic state”?? I suspect PAS and Umno are playing up the issue to court a tiny minority of Malay swing voters who could decide many constituencies in the peninsula. An Islamic state is not implementable without overwhelming Muslim support in a functioning democracy, regardless who is running Putrajaya. The nation faces the possibility of a hung parliament, even regime change, on an issue that has no substantive consequences. An independently pro-rakyat, fair and competent journalistic piece would bust it like a soap bubble. On the other hand, if the Malays overwhelmingly support the forming of an Islamic state, it’s another story, a huge one!!

  4. Billy says:

    Unlike Great Britain which does not have a constitution, our country has one and it is my belief that all citizens in this country are thus governed by the Federal Constitution, a document that reigns supreme. When I say “all citizens”, I mean Muslim as well as non-Muslims, but then this is not the case here. UMNO for some purpose and intent believes that the Federal Constitution does not cover everybody. Huh? It only protects the non-Muslims but not the Muslims. Huh? Suddenly we have a thing called the Syariah Law and all Muslims come under the ambit of this law instead. Tell me, are we living in two separate countries, or what? Are the Muslim citizens of this country or not? If they are, then they should come under the ambit of the FC, period. So starts the confusion for the Muslims to which law they should adhere to, the FC or Syariah Law.

    Let’s assume, hypothetically that Malaysia has been turned into a true Islamic State, remember that Article 160 (2) in the FC that defines a Malay? With an Islamic State, Syariah Law takes precedent and with that the FC, a Western [read Christian] invention, is thence thrown into the tong sampah for good. If the FC is discarded, it is only natural to assume so will Article 160 (2). What then is going to happen to the Malays? They cease to exist because there is no Article 160 (2) to define them anymore. […] What an ending.

    Anyway, I stand corrected on the above.

  5. Handsome Iqbal says:

    The people who will suffer most in an Islamic state are the Muslims themselves. Being so used to Western culture, it will be hard to give up their pastime of corruption, patronage and nepotism which are not acceptable in Islam. Also, no alcohol or partying. So it’s okay, most of the civil servants will be flogged with cabinet ministers. I think one good way to be rid of corruption is that Malaysia becomes a Muslim state. I honestly believe that Malaysia can never be an Islamic state! There will be MASS diaspora and Malaysia will be a de facto Pakistan!

  6. Flag of Truth says:

    Regardless of whatever the consequences will be, Islam will eventually triumph (in this promised land).

    • Pak Su says:

      Yes it will, if the authorities continue to police the population and maintain the number of Muslims using laws and fear of punishment.

  7. Casey Tan says:

    Using the same MCA logic, support for MCA equals to support for BN equals to support for Chua Soi Lek equals to support for adultery.

  8. GlueBall says:

    Organised religion is a destructive social absurdity. People who need to worship a god can do so in the privacy of their homes, or at their respective houses of worship. And why would citizens need government and religious police to “protect” Islam? Is it because Islam is in doubt? Can the government not trust its own people to choose and to practise their beliefs? Such a ridiculous political nightmare also fails to protect non-believers FROM religion.

    • Pak Su says:

      Sad to say, many Muslims in this country are constantly plagued by a siege mentality. They constantly feel as if their religion is under threat and must hence rely on some sort of legal authority to keep everybody in check using laws and fear of punishment. And they’ll even try to find excuses for that, saying that they want to practice their own religion, while conveniently ignoring that they are compromising the rights of others, including the personal liberties of their own fellow Muslims. It shows insecurity towards their own belief in their religion. Pointless. Absolutely pointless.

  9. Farouq Omaro says:

    Majority of Malaysians I believe are against an Islamic state. Put all the non-Muslims, progressive-minded Muslims and opportunistic radical Muslims (radical yet they want to enjoy things like buying 4D lucky numbers, etc) together and you will find supporters of an Islamic state a minority group.

  10. Sun says:

    Can anybody understand most of what is written in the comments section? I can’t. Our English is despicable. We can’t form coherent sentences to save our lives.

  11. Murdan Benny says:

    BN needs strong non-Malay voices to thwart Umno-BN’s dream of an Islamic state. Moderate and rational Malays need your help. They are so divided now.

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