The negative reactions of UMNO leaders, including the Information Minister Tan Sri Khalil Yaakob to Fadzilís proposal is not unexpected, confirming not only their undemocratic monopoly of the electronic mass media but their inability to have the necessary mindset if Malaysia is to fully take advantage of the IT revolution and successfully negotiate the transition to an Information Society.
In response to the New Sunday Times report yesterday that Fadzil had said at a ceramah in Pokok Sena that PAS will submit a memorandum detailing the partyís definition of an Islamic State to the Prime Minister only if it is given the opportunity to explain it in Parliament, with the session aired live on television with a minimum of three hours, Khalil said the Information Ministry saw no necessity to allow PAS television time for the purpose. (Utusan Malaysia 29.10.2001).
Fadzilís request for air time for PAS to present its concept of an Islamic
State is eminently reasonable for the following reasons:
Fadzilís request for TV time to explain PAS concept of an Islamic state is most reasonable but he was not being reasonable when he threatened to keep secret the PAS concept of an Islamic state if the Barisan Nasional government is not prepared to give a minimum of three-hour live television time, as it is the responsibility of PAS to spell out its concept of an Islamic State to Malaysians, both Muslims and non-Muslims, regardless of whether the Barisan Nasional government is prepared to be fair, reasonable or democratic.
Immediately after the 1999 general elections, the DAP had been trying to impress on PAS and other Barisan Alternative component parties of the critical importance of addressing the issue of Islamic State, but we were unable to get the PAS leaders to spell out the detailed concept of an Islamic State, resulting in the DAPís decision last month to pull out of the Barisan Alternative when PAS leaders could not convince us that their Islamic State is compatible with democratic governance, political pluralism and competition, human rights, individual freedoms, womenís rights, social tolerance and modern human progress.
I will be extremely disappointed if PAS uses the excuse of the undemocratic refusal of the Barisan Nasional government to grant live three-hour television telecast to decline to publicly disclose its concept of an Islamic state to Malaysians, both Muslim and non-Muslim, so that they have an informed basis to pass judgement on the PAS concept of an Islamic State.
PAS and UMNO should realise that they cannot conduct their political debate and contest over an Islamic State in a Muslim vacuum heedless of the larger Malaysian multi-religious polity as the issue involved is no less than the integrity and continuity of the 44-year constitutional principle and nation-building cornerstone of Malaysia as a democratic, secular and multi-religious Malaysia.
This is why the UMNOís political counter to PAS by inviting 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 must be given deep and careful study by Cabinet and Parliament so as not to trample on the sensitivities and rights of non-Muslim Malaysian citizens.
In his response, PAS mursyidul aam (spiritual adviser) and Kelantan Mentri besar Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat said there was no necessity to bring in professors and scholars from Al-Azhar University to make such an assessment as there are many Malaysian ulama who had graduated from Egyptís renowned university.
If a precedent is to be set for scholars from Al-Azhar University to come to Malaysia to assess and certify whether Malaysia is an Islamic state, will this start a trend for scholars from other Islamic institutions of learning to come to the country to give their opinions, including the Islamic University of Medina, the leading centre for the study of the Salafi interpretation of Islam? It has been reported that members of Osama bin Ladenís al-Qaeda network are under great militant Salafi influence which places great emphasis on jihad and armed struggle as a religious duty.
The most pertinent question however is whether UMNO and PAS would accept the idea of inviting foreign experts from all religions, whether Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism or Sikhism to assess as to whether Malaysia had been consistent with the fundamental constitutional principle and nation-building cornerstone of Malaysia as a secular and multi-religious state with Islam as the official religion?
The Cabinet on Wednesday should take a policy decision to defer the visit of the six Al-Azhar scholars to Malaysia during the month of Ramadan until the full implications of such an assessment has been fully considered and all political parties and religious groups in the country consulted on the matter.
If the Cabinet is not prepared to take a policy decision on Wednesday, then the question as to whether the government should invite the six Al-Azhar religious scholars to assess whether Malaysia is an Islamic state should be fully debated in Parliament, especially as for the past 44 years, there is a national consensus that the Malaysian Constituion does not provide for an Islamic state but a secular multi-religious state with Islam as the official religion.