Liong Sik and Keng Yaik’s endorsement of Mahathir’s declaration that Malaysia is an Islamic state is an “ocean change” in Malaysian politics and nation-building  representing the most serious threat to the fundamental principle of Malaysia as a secular nation since Merdeka in 44 years

- forum “September 11 and its impact on Malaysian Politics” organised by Red Rose Youth Centre 
Lim Kit Siang

(Kuala Lumpur, Wednesday): In  the parliamentary exchange with UMNO Members of Parliament during the speech of the Parliamentary Opposition Leader and PAS President, Datuk Fadzil bin Md. Noor  on the first day of the  2002 Budget debate in Parliament on Monday, a central theme was the contest between UMNO and PAS as to who is more legitimate, genuine and successful in establishing an Islamic state in the Malaysia  - especially after the declaration by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad at the Gerakan annual delegates’ conference on September 29, 2001  that Malaysia is an Islamic state.

This represented not just a sea-change, but an  “ocean-change” in Malaysian politics as never before in the past four decades had UMNO and PAS competed  in any Parliament debate as to who is the true champion of Malaysia as an Islamic state - which will have very serious far-reaching repercussions for Malaysian politics and nation-building for the coming generations.

I was very struck by the intervention of the UMNO MP for Arau, Hajah Mastika Junaidah binti Husin during Fadzil Nor’s speech, where she tried to persuade the PAS leader to recognise UMNO’s achievements in transforming Malaysia into an Islamic State.

She said:

“Pertamanya kita harus akui bahawa sejak kita merdeka sampai sekarang walaupun disebutkan tadi dari segi Perlembagaan ada kemungkinan Perlembagaan itu tidak menyebutkan secara khusus Malaysia sebagai negara Islam tetapi saya ingin merujuk kepada pengisian.”

After stressing that PAS should recognising UMNO’s success in infusing the content of an Islamic State in Malaysia under the Barisan Nasional rule, she said:

“Sebagai orang Islam saya rasa kita patut  berbangga kerana kita melihat pemimpin-pemimpin parti komponen memberi pengakuan bahawa mereka menerima keadaan ini. Ini satu kejayaan yang besar bagi Malaysia. Ini bukan satu perkara yang mudah.”

What I worry most seems to be happening, a possible tectonic shift in Malaysian politics where the undisputed constitutional and nation-building  principle for  44 years of Malaysia as  a democratic, secular and  multi-religious nation has been  abandoned by the 14 parties in the Barisan Nasional and the focus of political debate and nation-buiding shifted to what type of a Islamic State the nation should become - whether ala-UMNO or ala-PAS.

It is no wonder that UMNO leaders regard it  a “great triumph” to so easily get  the leaders of the other Barisan Nasional component parties to support Mahathir’s declaration that Malaysia is an Islamic state, and why the endorsement by the MCA President, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik and Gerakan President, Datuk Dr. Lim Keng Yaik  that Malaysia is an Islamic state is an “ocean change” in Malaysian politics and nation-building  representing the most serious threat to the fundamental principle of Malaysia as a secular nation since Merdeka in the last 44 years.

However, the Malaysian political and government system has not deteriorated to a stage where the declaration of one person, even though he is the Prime Minister, with the endorsement of his political cronies in the other Barisan Nasional component parties, is sufficient to transform Malaysia from a secular to an Islamic state and nullify the constitutional, legal and political assurances and safeguards on  the secular basis of Malaysia - whether it be the Reid Constitution Report 1957, the Government White Paper on Federation of Malaya Constitution Proposals 1957, the Federal  Constitution 1957, the Cobbold Commission Report 1962 assuring Sarawak and Sabah that the Federation Constitution provides for a secular state, the specific assurance of the first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman and decisions from the highest court of the land.

Malaysians must not allow a tectonic shift in Malaysian politics and nation-building by insisting that the single greatest  challenge facing the people is how to preserve and promote the democratic, secular,  multi-religious and progressive character of Malaysia and not to regress to what type of an Islamic state Malaysia should become - whether ala-UMNO or ala-PAS.

There is an urgent need for a nation-wide political education campaign so that all Malaysians, particularly Muslims,  can understand that the preservation of a secular Malaysia is not an anti-Islam campaign, as the word “secular” has been corrupted to mean “anti-Islam”, atheist or  godless.  “Secular” does not mean anti-religion but transreligion in a system of governance which upholds the spiritual and ethical values which are common to Islam and other great religions.  This is why it may be advisable to use the words “secular and multi-religious” together to help dispel the misperception that “secular” is anti-Islam and anti-religion.

Similarly, Malaysians, whether Muslims or non-Muslims, must understand that opposition to an Islamic state is not because one is anti-Islam, as substantial numbers of devout Muslims also do not agree with the concept of an Islamic state, but because it is unsuitable for a democratic and progressive plural society like Malaysia with its diversity of races, religions and  cultures.

In his speech in Parliament on Monday, Fadzil Noor said that PAS would send a memorandum to the Prime Minister on its concept of the Islamic State by the end of the year and that the PAS concept is based on As-Sheikh Yusuf al-Qardhawi’s book,  Fiqhud Daulah fil Islam.

It is hoped that the PAS memorandum on its concept of Islamic State would enlighten political discourse and  promote greater awareness as the DAP had not been able to get the PAS leaders to spell out what they mean by an Islamic State when we were in the Barisan Alternative.  The reason why DAP pulled out of the Alternative Front was because PAS leaders could not convince us that the  political Islam advocated by  PAS is able to embrace the nature of modern human progress, namely individual freedoms, democratic governance, social tolerance, women’s rights and political competition or that its Islamic state concept  is compatible with both political pluralism and Malaysia as a plural society.

I was surprised to read a Malaysiakini report yesterday, quoting the Keadilan Vice Chairman, Tian Chua, who is currently in detention under the Internal Security Act in Kamunting, as saying that there would be no Internal Security Act in an Islamic State - suggesting that an Islamic State is fully compatible with democracy, pluralism,  human rights, women’s rights, cultural diversity, development and modernity.

Is Tian Chua right? Has he got a special understanding of Islamic State not available to both Muslims and non-Muslims?

As Fadzil Nor had mentioned Saudi Arabia one of the countries where guidance towards the establishment of an Islamic state could be sought, (The Sun 23.10.2001), I had checked the Amnesty International  (AI) reports on these two countries.

The AI 2001 country report on Saudi Arabia opened with the statement:

“Serious human rights violations continued. Women continued to face severe discrimination, and suspected political or religious activists continued to suffer arbitrary arrest and detention or punishment under secretive criminal judicial procedures which deny the most basic rights, such as the right to be defended by a lawyer. At least 123 people were executed and there was an alarming increase in the number of amputations. One person reportedly had his eye surgically removed as judicial punishment. Torture and ill-treatment continued to be reported. The government continued to enforce a ban on political parties and trade unions and to impose restrictions on access to the country by non-governmental human rights organizations.”

From the Amnesty International report,  Saudi Arabia is clearly not a  proper or suitable model for nation-building, democracy, human rights, women’s rights,  justice, the rule of law and good governance for Malaysians.

Be that as it may, this episode should highlight one urgent need for all Malaysians - for Muslim Malaysians to understand the legitimate concerns of non-Muslims about an Islamic state and for non-Muslim Malaysians to have a greater understanding of Islam so that they could convince Muslims in the country that their opposition to an Islamic state is not grounded on any anti-Islam or even anti-Malay sentiments, but strictly from their perspective of what is best for a plural and modern Malaysian nation.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman