Leonard Teoh, in his presentation of the legal and constitutional history and developments of the question as to whether Malaysia is a secular or Islamic state, told us that when the 1957 Merdeka Constitution was drafted, there was unanimous agreement that Article 3(1) of the Constitution on Islam as the official religion relate to “rituals and ceremonies” but today, there are judicial decisions that Article 3 should be given an interpretation extending “beyond rituals and ceremonies”.
Farish Noor, in his analysis of Political Islam, made the important observations that there is no such thing as a “moderate” Islamic state as it must gravitate towards an absolutist state and that the space for a secular political alternative in Malaysia is receding by the day.
These statements by the two speakers sum up the tectonic shift taking place in Malaysian politics and nation-building and most worrisome of all, virtually unnoticed by the Malaysian populace.
Let us pause and ponder the statement by Farish Noor that “the space for a secular political alternative in Malaysia is receding by the day” - which is wrought with grave implications and consequences.
When the country achieved independence and our forefathers entered into a social contract as spelt out in the Merdeka Constitution, there was no doubt whatsoever that the nation that was brought into being in 1957 was a democratic, secular and multi-religious Malaysia.
For 44-years, there could be no dispute that the mainstream national agenda was to develop a democratic, secular and multi-religious Malaysia, although there were voices for an Islamic state but these were marginal and at the periphery.
Overnight, however, the Islamic state has been catapulted to become the mainstream national agenda while the defence of the secular Constitution and Malaysia pushed to the periphery - with the Prime Minister declaring that Malaysia is already an Islamic state while even those who disagree cannot but admit that “the space for a secular political alternative in Malaysia is receding by the day”.
Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had said that Mahathir’s declaration that Malaysia is an Islamic state was not a statement of intent, but a statement of the “fact and the reality that exists” - with assurances that there would no change to the status quo and the Constitution.
However, official pronouncements whether in government publications or websites have proved Abdullah wrong in making such an assertion.
After DAP protests, the government has withdrawn the Information Ministry special publication “Malaysia adalah sebuah Negara Islam” which was insensitive and offensive to non-Muslims and contrary to the Vision 2020 objective of Bangsa Malaysia, using terms like unbelievers, kafirs (infidels) and dhimmi (non-Muslims who live in an Islamic state).
However, the government has not withdrawn the government policy revealed for the first time in the booklet, that its “final objective” is the full implementation of an Islamic state in the national system.
Before I went overseas in the first week of December, I called on the government to take down two articles on the Islamic state from the JAKIM (Department of Islamic Development in the Prime Minister’s Office) website which are as offensive and insensitive as the Information Ministry publication, “Malaysia adalah sebuah Negara Islam”.
There had been a new facelift in the JAKIM website since my return, but the two controversial articles on Malaysia being an Islamic state reiterating the “final objective” of the government to bring about the full implementation of an Islamic state in the national system are still there.
The first JAKIM article, for instance, states:
We must ask: who decided that the 44-year fundamental constitutional principle and nation-buidling cornerstone of Malaysia as a democratic, secular and multi-religious Malaysia is abandoned for good and substituted by an Islamic state, and that this should not even be disputed at all?
“Status negara Malaysia sebagai negara Islam tidak boleh lagi dipertikaikan, sebaliknya adalah lebih baik menerima realiti yang ada dan berusaha memperkuat serta memperbaiki lagi mana-mana kelemahan dan kekurangan jika ada.”
The second article on the JAKIM website gave a very vivid illustration
of the “final objective” of the government to bring about the full implementation
of an Islamic state in the national system when it concluded:
“Oleh itu bagi memudahkan proses penyatuan umat di masa depan kita perlu menerima sebagai suatu kenyataan bahawa negara ini ialah sebuah negara Islam. Dengan menerima negara ini sebagai sebuah negara Islam bukan bermakna ianya telah selesai segala tuntutannya. Kesempurnaannya perlu kepada pengisian daripada kita, sama juga seorang Muslim yang diakui sebagai Muslim selepas mengucap dua kalimah syahadah bukan bermakna Muslimnya sudah sempurna, kesempurnaan Islamnya bergantung kepada proses peningkatan ilmu & penghayatan Islam pada dirinya.”
I must confess however that I have never been more worried in my 35-year political work - for Malaysians seems blissfully unaware of the tectonic shift in Malaysian politics and nation-building with its far-reaching political, economic, educational, cultural, religious, legal and citizenship rights not only of the present generation but future generations as well.
We are in a race against time, for we have only about 18 months to get the message out to all Malaysians, both Muslim and non-Muslim, as the next general elections may be, to use Leonard’s words, “the last stand” as to whether Malaysia continues as a democratic, secular and multi-religious Malaysia or start on the road of no return of an Islamic state.