LINA Joy. Indira Gandhi. S Banggarma. M Moorthy. R Subashini. M Revathi. S Shamala. The list of individuals whose rights the Barisan Nasional (BN) government and the courts have failed to protect grows long. In its efforts to out-Islamise PAS and protect its “champion of Malay-Muslim Malaysians” tag, the Umno-led BN has been unable to convincingly resolve legal loopholes arising from civil-syariah overlaps and gaps.
The BN has also been lukewarm in supporting human rights when it conflicts with issues involving Islam such as in the recent High Court ruling on the use of “Allah” and the whipping of Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno.
But would the situation be any different if the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) were in power?
In the second of a two-part interview with Parti Keadilan Rakyat’s Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, conducted on 22 Dec 2009 in Petaling Jaya, The Nut Graph seeks his views on political Islam, moral policing, and how the PR plans to remain in power in Selangor.
TNG: Islamic issues such as Kartika’s whipping, the “Allah” ban, and the conversion controversies have provoked much discussion. With PAS as part of the PR, and the growing Islamisation in the country, how would you address the fears of the people who say that Malaysia could become an Islamic state like Iran?
Nik Nazmi: There’s always been a tradition of moderation among Malays in the Nusantara region. That’s been the dominating discourse. It’s very different from Saudi Arabia and in other countries. It’s very organic and has enabled us to live together peacefully for a long time.
Our constitution states that Islam is the religion of the federation. At the same time, we have to be wary of the extremities. People who don’t talk about co-existence and [who talk] about imposing their will, that’s dangerous as well. Similarly, those who want to ignore the Islamic tradition altogether.
I think the ulama should be very careful with politics. I’m not saying they shouldn’t join politics at all; [Datuk] Nik [Abdul] Aziz [Nik Mat], for example, is playing a big influence in PAS’s presence in the PR. But they have to be wary of compromises.
Nik Aziz In the history of Islam, many ulama stayed away from power to be credible consciences of society. If they had become part of government, they would lose their independence.
There also needs to be dialogue. Dialogue does not mean completely agreeing with the other party.
There are a lot of common challenges. For example, alcoholism is an issue, whether people are Muslim or non-Muslim. Why can’t Muslims work with churches and temples to combat this?
Religion being used to help society is great, but what are your views on moral policing?
The constitution is very clear about the syariah system and the space for it.
But first, we have to resolve issues together. The non-Muslim non-governmental organisations advocated a dialogue on civil-syariah overlaps such as those arising in Moorthy’s case. PAS also agreed to this.
There has to be due process when people enter and leave Islam. But families affected by [conversions to Islam] should also have locus standi. There’s no mechanism now to solve this issue. We’re just ignoring it. Every time a case comes up, there’s a debate, an argument, then it dies down.
Do you agree with the Syariah Court having criminal jurisdiction over moral issues and having power to issue fines or [to order] whipping such as in Kartika’s case?
I think there is room for that under the constitution. At the same time, if you look at the history of Islam, implementation of the law was always seen as a last resort during the time of the Prophet Muhammad.
There is a traditional account of a woman, Ghamidyah, who came to the Prophet to be punished for adultery. [The Prophet kept delaying her punishment, asking her to go home and think about whether she really committed the sin. Even when she was pregnant, the Prophet said she should give birth first, then later, that she should care for the child first.]
So you see, the Prophet wasn’t eager to punish her immediately, that’s the context he operated in, which people today misconstrue. Every single thing, they want to punish … Muslims need to think about this. The ultimate objective of the syariah is justice. Enforcing justice to protect life, liberty and intellect.
Kartika For Kartika’s case, she also wanted to be punished. Caning under syariah is very different from caning under [non-syariah] law. I’m not saying it’s painless, but it’s very different from the criminal courts.
Some say she shouldn’t be punished at all, that it’s her right, but I think there must be respect for the syariah courts.
You mentioned in your book that it’s logical that cases such as Lina Joy, who wanted to leave Islam, are handled by the Syariah Court. Do you think that the courts should have the power to disallow somebody from changing religion?
I think that there have been people who have left under the Syariah Court; they were given space to do that.
There would also be people who want to leave, but have not been allowed to do so…
In Islam, we take matters of faith very seriously. I think to emulate the West, where the state doesn’t regulate anything about faith — that’s not part of the Muslim tradition. But at the end of the day, the focus should be on due process.
What if an adult Malay wants to leave Islam within Malaysia?
I think that is very difficult. That is very controversial, you have to ask a scholar to answer that.
My personal opinion is that the state should be able to regulate that. I know that from a perfectly Western liberal democratic perspective, it doesn’t make sense. But I think that within Islam — if it creates discord, fitnah, unease, these should be considered.
The complicated thing about apostasy in Malaysia is that it’s not just religion, it’s also racial. Because Malays are automatically Muslims, so if you have less Muslims, you have less Malays. That’s a fear that people sometimes overlook.
Do you think it could be possible for an adult Malay-Muslim Malaysian to leave Islam under the syariah courts?
To me, I think we’re just asking for due process. What Lina Joy did — she wanted to make a statement. People can say it was her right. But she wanted to just go to the National Registration Department and change her status from “Islam” to “Bukan Islam”.
That is the floodgates that Muslims in Malaysia are very scared of. They want them to go through the syariah court system. That is what the constitution prescribes. Go to the syariah and go through due process.
Moving on to the PR and Selangor — what does the PR have to do to keep governing the state in the near future, as well as going into the next election?
We need to go down and explain to the people what it means to have a government that takes care of everyone.
Malay [Malaysians] are being told that they’re losing out, that non-Malay [Malaysians] are controlling the government; that’s the narrative that Utusan Malaysia creates. We need to explain to them that in fact, everyone benefits.
We need to show that we’re not here just to make things better but to change things. It will take time, it’s not easy. We’ve managed to implement our Merakyatkan Ekonomi programmes, push for the freedom of information act at the next sitting … these are all concrete things.
“NEP must end”
Read previous Realpolitiker interviews