Call on Cabinet to withdraw the Information Ministry publication “Malaysia adalah sebuah Negara Islam” as it is offensive to non-Muslims and contrary to  the Vision 2020 objective of Bangsa Malaysia

- Penang DAP forum on “Malaysia - Islamic State or Secular State” (English) 
Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Friday): Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, President of International Movement for a Just World (JUST) sends his deepest apologies from Kuala Lumpur  for being unable to be present at this forum as he is quite exhausted after a 10-day conference-cum-lecture tour  of Britain and needs a couple of days to fully recover.

However, he has sent  as his contribution to this forum an article which had appeared in the Aliran publication “Nation on Trial” and he said that the arguments he had advanced on the subject “Islamic State or Secular State?” are as relevant as ever and represent, by and large, his present position on the “Islamic State or Secular State?” debate.

To non-Muslims, and probably to many Muslims as well, the most startling point in Chandra’s eloquent exposition in his paper is his statement that the Quran makes no mention or reference to an “Islamic State” and that Islamic state as  a distinct political system cannot be found in the Quran.  Is this true?

I am no expert on Islam  so I  am  in no position to speak with any authority on this subject. However, I have here a publication by the Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM)  in the Prime Minister’s Department on “Malaysia Negara Islam” which started off with this admission:

“Istilah ‘Negara Islam’ tidak tercatat secara langsung dalam al-Quran dan al-Sunnah.  Perbahasan mengenainya hanya dibuat berpandukan kepada ijtihad para ulama mujtahidin.”

I would like to start off with another government  publication on Islamic state and ask the Cabinet to issue a  directive at its meeting on Wednesday to  the Information Ministry to withdraw its publication “Malaysia adalah sebuah Negara Islam” from circulation as it is offensive to non-Muslims and contrary to the Vision 2020 objective of Bangsa Malaysia.

The publication, written by  Ustaz Wan Zahidi bin Wan Teh in Bahasa Malaysia, is the most concrete explanation so far of the government’s Islamic State since the declaration by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad on 29th September  that Malaysia is an Islamic state.

The article by Al Azhar-trained  Wan Zahidi Wan Teh, until recently consultant (pakar perunding) of Yayasan Dakwah Islamiah Malaysia (YADIM), had been circulated as a private monograph some three months ago when I first sighted it, but it is now printed as a public document by the Special Affairs Department (Jabatan Hal Ehwal Khas) of the Information Ministry for general circulation to the public.

In its preface,  the publication “Malaysia adalah sebuah Negara Islam” states that based on the definitions of ulama and intellectuals,  there can be no doubt that Malaysia is an Islamic state and   that there is no need for further dispute  on this  matter.

The first definition is that the nation has to be under Muslim governance, its defence in the hands of Muslims and that it is the responsibility of every Muslim to defend it. The second definition is that the nation is controlled by Muslims, in which they attain peace within it.  The third definition is that the laws of  an Islamic ruler are enforced.

The use of these definitions for nation-building in modern, plural Malaysia is most disturbing and jarring, as 44 years after Malaysian nationhood, we should be talking about  multi-racial, multi-religious Malaysian governance instead of Muslim governance; the defence of the country in the hands of all Malaysians regardless of religion instead of in the hands of Muslims; and the responsibility of every Malaysian, regardless of religion to defend it instead of the responsibility of only Muslims to defend it.

The Information Ministry publication referred to the 12 duties of  the governance of an Islamic state as elaborated by Shafi’i jurist al-Mawardi (died 450 Hijra or 1,058 A.D.), which includes the following:

These descriptions are also disturbing and jarring, and the clock of Malaysian nation-building is being put back  when after  44 years of nationhood, there is open reference to non-Muslims as unbelievers and “zimmi” (dhimmi or non-Muslims who reside in an Islamic state)  in a plural Malaysia, when   non-Muslims in Malaysia are not  the protected people like “zimmis” with inferior status as a conquered people but full-fledged fellow-citizens by virtue of their constitutional and birthrights as Malaysian citizens.

Again, the reference to “defend the nation and religion” is completely misplaced, when  the issue should  be to “defend the nation and all religions to be found in Malaysia”.

Malaysians  can remember the strong protests of the DAP  when the new PAS state government of Terengganu first talked about introducing the  kharaj tax for non-Muslims immedately after capturing the state power in the 1999 general elections, as in its original form, kharaj was a land tax levied on non-Muslims in the context of Muslim as the conqueror and non-Muslim as the conquered - and therefore completely inappropriate for modern-day Malaysian nation-building. It is most ironic and unfortunate that while  PAS had withdrawn the kharaj tax proposal following the DAP protests, the kharaj tax  has   now surfaced  again  in  an official publication not of PAS but of the Information Ministry about Malaysia being  an Islamic state!

The first   chapter of the Information Ministry publication  ended with  two disturbing statements: firstly, on the policy that everything that conflicts with Islam will be brought in line with the requirements of  Islam in stages and in a way that is wise - “Melalui dasar ini, segala yang bercanggah dengan Islam akan disesuaikan dengan kehendak Islam secara berperingkat-peringkat dan dengan cara yang bijaksana” and secondly, that the policy to instil the values of Islam (Penerapan Nilai-nilai Islam) will continue incessantly until the aim of establishing an Islamic state in the national system is fully implemented - “Ia juga adalah satu dasar yang akan dijalankan secara berterusan sehinggalah matlamat untuk menegakkan negara Islam dalam sistem negara terlaksana sepenuhnya”.

Is the publication “Malaysia adalah sebuah negara Islam” the official policy statement of the government,  and has  the Cabinet given  its full stamp of approval?  If so, then the MCA, Gerakan, SUPP, MIC and other non-Muslim Ministers should explain why they had agreed with the government  declared aim in the publication on the “full implementation of the Islamic state objective” in Malaysia.

Or are the MCA, Gerakan, SUPP, MIC and other non-Muslim Ministers completely unaware of the contents of this Information Ministry publication, and if so, the Cabinet should on Wednesday issue an immediate  directive for the withdrawal of the Information Ministry publication “Malaysia adalah sebuah Negara Islam” for being offensive to non-Muslims and contrary to the Vision 2020 objective of a Bangsa Malaysia.

The  Information Ministry publication “Malaysia adalah sebuah Negara Islam” should be an eye-opener for those who believe that Mahathir’s declaration that Malaysia is an Islamic state is a trivial matter, involving political games between UMNO and PAS for Malay voter support and of no concern to  Malaysians at large as it would not materially affect  the ordinary lives of Malaysians and those of future generations.

In actual fact, it  portends  a tectonic shift in the history of Malaysia as it would involve the jettisoning of the 44-year fundamental constitutional principle and nation-building cornerstone of Malaysia as a secular Malaysia with Islam as the official religion with far-reaching implications for the political, economic, social and citizenship rights of all Malaysians and generations to come.

At present 99.9 per cent of the Malaysians are not aware of the far-reaching implications  of the government declaration that Malaysia is an Islamic state and government efforts to give substance to the declaration  like the Information Ministry publication  “Malaysia adalah sebuah Negara Islam”.

What is urgently needed is a national awareness campaign to ensure that it is not just 0.1 per cent but the majority of Malaysians who are conscious of the far-reaching implications of these developments so that they could join forces to make their voice heard loud and clear to defend a secular, democratic, multi-religious, tolerant and progressive Malaysia - as intended by our forefathers in the framing of the Federal Constitution in 1957.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman