Call on Cabinet to put on hold the invitation to top religious scholars from Egypt’s Al-Azhar University to assess whether Malaysia is an Islamic state to give opportunity for all Malaysians, Muslim as well as non-Muslims, to consider its propriety and implications to Malaysian nation-building

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Friday): The announcement by the  Religious Adviser to the Prime Minister, Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Othman, in Seremban on Wednesday that the Malaysian government will invite top religious scholars from Egypt's Al-Azhar University to assess the country's administrative system and policies to prove that it is an Islamic state. (Singapore Straits Times 25.10.2001) is most shocking.

Is this the decision of the Cabinet or is it just the decision of the office of the Religious Adviser to the Prime Minister?
DAP calls on Cabinet at its next meeting on Wednesday  to put on hold the invitation to top religious scholars from Egypt’s Al-Azhar University to assess whether Malaysia is an Islamic state to give time and opportunity for all Malaysians, Muslim as well as non-Muslims, to consider its propriety and implications to the Malaysian nation-building process.

Hamid’s announcement is the latest example of a most disturbing trend  of increasing insensitivity to the feelings and rights of Malaysians citizens comprising diverse races, languages, religions and cultures which is inimical to the  Bangsa Malaysia concept under Vision 2020.

What would be the reaction if foreign experts from all religions, whether Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism or Sikhism are  invited to assess as to whether Malaysia had been consistent with the fundamental constitutional principle and nation-building cornerstone of Malaysia as a secular state with Islam as official religion as clearly stipulated by the Merdeka Constitution 1957?

I am sure the general reaction will be most negative and even vehement, regarding such invitations as intolerable and insensitive  interference in the internal affairs of Malaysia which should properly be decided by Malaysians.

Should this important principle, and the equally important one concerning the multi-religious character of Malaysia, be compromised just because of the political competition between UMNO and PAS for the Malay heartland, as Hamid has made it very clear that the invitation to Al-Azhar scholars was to counter PAS rejection of the declaration by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad that Malaysia is already an Islamic state under UMNO rule.

Abdul Hamid said the visit of six scholars from Al-Azhar University during the month of Ramadan is to “correct the confusion”  brought on by PAS about whether Malaysia is an Islamic state, pointing out that the Al-Azhar scholars are invited because ‘these are the people who taught (PAS deputy president) Hadi Awang and me on Islam during our university days in Egypt”.

PAS has already prepared the ground for the rejection of any finding by the Al-Azhar scholars supportive of the UMNO position with PAS leaders declaring that they will not simply accept the findings of the Al-Azhar scholars without scrutinising their arguments, even though they acknowledge that Al-Azhar is widely regarded as the foremost authority on Islam.

Such a development will only be more grist in the mill in the UMNO-PAS power struggle, generating a lot of heat without necessarily  bringing  light  - but at great cost to the Malaysian nation-building process to forge a Bangsa Malaysia with a distinctive consciousness and identity transcending the ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural differences among the citizenry.

Last Saturday, after attending the dialogue with some 100 people,  including Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Sikh representatives from the Malaysian Consultative Council for Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Sikhism, together with  MCA leaders and other  Muslim leaders, Abdul Hamid told the press that  the declaration of the Islamic state by the Prime Minister was over the administration of the country and does not touch on religious freedom.

It is crystal clear that the visit of the Al-Azhar scholars is not for their recommendations as to how Muslims in Malaysia can be better Muslims but how the administration and government could meet the criteria of an Islamic State.

The former would affect only the Muslims but the latter would also affect the citizenship rights of non-Muslims and as such, both Muslims and non-Muslims should be equally concerned about the invitation to the Al-Azhar scholars to visit Malaysia to pass judgement on whether Malaysia is an Islamic state.

If the non-Muslim Malaysians in Cabinet and in the country have no say whatsoever on this issue which is going to directly affect the citizenship rights of all Malaysians, whether  Muslim and non-Muslims, then this will be the first example of the marginalisation of non-Muslim Cabinet Ministers and citizens after the Prime Minister’s declaration of Malaysia as an Islamic state at the Gerakan annual delegates’ conference on September 29, 2001.

This issue raises the fundamental question as to whether there is a tectonic shift in Malaysian politics where  the undisputed constitutional and nation-building  principle for  44 years of Malaysia as  a democratic and  secular  nation has been  jettisoned and substituted by the new national agenda as to what type of a Islamic State the nation should become - whether ala-UMNO or ala-PAS!


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman