By K. Anand
13 March 2015
When the third session of Parliament opened on Monday, it was obvious that the seat of power in the country was more fractured than ever before with opposition MPs wearing black to protest the jailing of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and some Barisan Nasional (BN) component parties and their leaders under pressure due to various allegations, infighting and the tussle for power.
Now, I have not usually paid much attention to the speech presented by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong at the opening, not out of disrespect but because my focus has always been on the two sides of the political divide.
This time, I noted Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu'azam Shah’s speech, especially his emphasis that “Malaysia was premised on parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy where the supremacy of the Federal Constitution and sovereignty of the law were upheld.”
He said: "All parties should understand that the separation of powers between the executive, the legislative and the judiciary practised in the country is in accordance with existing laws.
"There is nowhere a better place than this blessed land of ours. Thus, respect and accept one another for the sake of peace and stability."
It was a timely reminder from a ruler who now has the unique record of being the only Sultan to take to the throne as agong twice in our nation’s history.
He then spoke of the position of Islam as the federal religion and how it should not be questioned, while allowing for other religions to be practised freely.
I think it is pertinent to note the King’s clear distinction in the use of the words “Islam as the federal religion”.
This compares with some ministers, political leaders (past and present), as well as pro-BN activists, who like to use the term “Negara Islam” (Islamic state/nation) so freely, ignoring the secular form of government that is enshrined in the Federal Constitution.
Thank you, your Majesty, Daulat Tuanku!
The non-Muslims are quite clear over the position of Islam. We know that the Federal Constitution makes Malaysia a secular country with Islam as the federal religion. We have respected this always, without question and have no need to say or suggest anything to the contrary.
However, could it be that those who have questioned the position of Islam are some Muslims themselves, especially those who are confused over whether this country is secular or Islamic?
There is Islamic law in place, at the state level, but I would not dare to speak of the scope or jurisdiction of the current Shariah court because it pertains to Muslims only.
But even then, the group of 25 eminent Malays who wrote an open letter to the prime minister in December last year, did so out of concern, “urging for an informed and rational dialogue on the ways Islam is used as a source of public law and policy in Malaysia”.
Could this mean that the G25 see the role of Islam being slowly expanded when it comes to the application of laws that should not fall under the Shariah court but instead remain in civil courts? Would this also count as questioning the position of Islam?
We non-Muslims are more concerned about the second half of that sentence when the King spoke about religion, that is, the line “while allowing for other religions to be practised freely”.
There have been some cases of restrictions or non-acceptance on the part of the government, when it comes to non-Muslims being able to practise their religion freely. The recent issue relating to additional rules imposed on non-Muslim students in colleges in Sabah and Sarawak is one of them.
The “Allah” issue is another obvious one, and possibly the biggest “restriction”, especially since there is absolutely no proof provided by any Muslim authority or the police, in all these years that the publisher of the Catholic weekly, Herald, had used any Christian literature in Bahasa Malaysia to proselytise to Malays.
The government has simply argued on “exclusivity”, while the majority of Muslim scholars, locally and abroad, have criticised such a premise.
The natural reaction among non-Muslims is to feel threatened. Christians especially have a right to ask, after the Sabah/Sarawak colleges and Allah issues, “what’s next?”
We did not have to wait long for an answer.
The move to distribute Qurans translated into English to non-Muslims came under criticism from certain quarters recently.
However, I don’t find anything wrong with distributing the Muslim holy book in English, to non-Muslims.
I would gladly accept the Quran in English, because I respect it as a holy book, and also because it would add to my collection of the Christian bible in various languages, such as Tamil, Chinese, Russian, Bahasa Indonesia and Tagalog.
I just question the double standard in outlawing Bahasa Malaysia bibles from even being published, let alone being distributed to Muslims, while expecting the Muslim holy book to be received openly and without any reservation or suspicion.
My other bone of contention on this issue of spending money to publish and distribute these holy books in English, is that there is no compulsion or obligation for even Muslims to read the Quran, so why ask non-Muslims to read it?
I am basing this on the information I received from a close Muslim friend, who recently told me that Muslims are not obliged to read or memorise the Quran. He said as a Muslim, there are five main obligations that one must adhere to. They are: reciting the Shahadah (the Islamic declaration of belief); observing the five daily prayers (solat); fasting (puasa) during the month of Ramadan; paying of alms (Zakat); and making the Haj pilgrimage (and this too, only if one could afford it).
He added that Muslims who wish to advance their knowledge and read the Quran are welcome to do so, even to the extent of studying it in relevant institutions. However, a large majority don’t read the Quran, and just follow the teachings of the holy book as given by their religious teachers and learn to recite prayers as well.
So, wouldn't all that money be better spent in having a "read the Quran" campaign among Muslims, encouraging them to know their religion, especially the "dos" and "don'ts" from a personal understanding instead of just accepting whatever some NGOs, political leaders, bloggers and the media are telling them?
This is not a challenge to the relevant Muslim authority and NGO responsible for the recent Quran distribution but rather a genuine enquiry. I really hope some answer may be forthcoming. – March 13, 2015.