Stanley Koh | October 18, 2011 Free Malaysia Today
The party can’t hold a candle to DAP when it comes to principled opposition to Islamic state ambitions.
Two questions arise from MCA’s recent call on DAP to abandon the Pakatan Rakyat coalition because PAS is pushing for hudud punishments and, ultimately, an Islamic state.
First: Why did former MCA president Dr Ling Liong Sik fail to protest when former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad declared Malaysia an Islamic state in 2001?
MCA Youth chief Wee Ka Siong’s recent defence of Ling’s silence does not hold water. He said Mahathir’s declaration did not include a threat to change the Federal Constitution. Neither has Pakatan said it would change the constitution to suit PAS’s ambition.
Second: Since MCA is questioning DAP’s commitment to principles, what has happened to its own principles in the face of Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s recent remark that Malaysia was merely “not ready” for hudud?
Muhyiddin’s statement seemed to suggest that Umno, like PAS, longs to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state.
If PAS’s insistence on pushing for hudud is a “methodological tactic”, then what should we call Umno’s long-term process of Islamisation?
When it comes to opposing hudud and other proposals that could lead to the establishment of an Islamic state, MCA’s track record is dismal. It does not come anywhere near DAP’s standards of consistency in commitment to principles.
It was on Sept 29, 2001, that Dr Mahathir claimed Islamic-state status for Malaysia.
“Umno wishes to state loudly that Malaysia is an Islamic country,” he said in his address at Gerakan’s 30th national conference. “This is based on the opinion of ulamas who have clarified what constitutes as Islamic country.
“If Malaysia is not an Islamic country because it does not implement the hudud, then there are no Islamic countries in the world.”
Kelantan Menteri Besar and PAS spiritual leader Nik Aziz Nik Mat responded immediately and furiously. “You can talk all you want,” he said. “You can declare a piece of wood to be gold or a wheelbarrow to be a Mercedes, but in reality nothing has changed.”
According to Nik Aziz, his party’s definition of an Islamic country meant a nation governed according to the tenets of the Quran and Hadith. Malaysia was still a secular state, he said. “If the present Malaysia is already an Islamic state, then what do you call the state ruled by the Prophet and his companions?”
DAP, like PAS, was shocked by Mahathir’s declaration. It called for an urgent parliamentary debate on the subject.
MCA’s forum and Ling’s remarks
On Oct 20, 2001, at the request of several members of the Inter-Religious Council, MCA organised a closed-door forum on the issue.
Among the participants were Dr Hamid Othman (the Prime Minister’s Department Religious Adviser), Shad Saleem Faruqi of Universiti Teknologi Mara, Zainah Anwar of Sisters in Islam and several representatives of the Inter-Religious Council.
Ling chaired the session. In his opening remarks, he said: “No one can claim monopoly of knowledge, because the frontier of knowledge keeps on expanding. This seminar is an opportunity to explore, discover and learn.
“There are many questions in mind. Is Umno correct in declaring Malaysia an Islamic country? Or an Islamic nation? Or an Islamic state? Or a Negara Islam? Have the Umno ulamas been correct in defining or in getting the right definition that Malaysia is qualified to be, like the OIC says, not just an Islamic state, but a shining example of a Muslim state?”
The following are unedited transcripts from tape recordings of some of Dr Ling’s remarks:
“We’d like to know what are the criteria for these definitions. We’d like to know are all Islamic countries the same? Is there a single model? What are the basic criteria that would qualify a nation to be defined as an Islamic nation?
“When the PM explained to the BN and the Cabinet about Umno’s position on Malaysia being declared to be qualified as an Islamic state, he also made this very liberal comment: ‘While Umno feels … ulamas feel … and the people who know this religion feel … Malaysia qualifies just as OIC who declared Malaysia or recognizes Malaysia an Islamic state, there is also this pertinent and relevant point of view that Malaysia is not a theocratic state. And that point of view, if you want to call Malaysia a secular state, it’s still correct. Because we do not call ourselves a theocratic state, we can still call ourselves a secular state.’
“We want to ask ourselves. Can we call a country by two or three different names—an Islamic state, a secular state?
“My simplistic thinking … if we look at a rose, being English educated, I would call it a ‘rose’. But other Chinese-educated call it ‘mei gui’ in Mandarin. A Malay friend will call it ‘bunga mawar’. And ‘roja’ in Tamil.
“Yet, it is still a rose. So can we call Malaysia an Islamic state, a secular state and so on and so forth?
“Similarly, an apple. It is round, has seeds, crunchy. It has a stalk, but some people call it ‘apple’, some call it ‘ping gor’.
“Politically, Umno’s definition as Mahathir described it, the status quo, describes the present state of Malaysia which derives from the same supreme law of the land, the Malaysian Constitution, which will not change, which has not changed as far as the religious descriptions there, which will never change.
“Some may ask how do we ensure that his thoughts, his thinking will not change? That the other implications will not change? How do we ensure this? Are there any international conventions we can subscribe to? Are there other instruments we can subscribe to so that … other safeguards … that the whole world watches over this status quo?”
It was clear that Dr Ling was merely engaging in an academic exercise. The forum had no serious political inputs.
In closing his address, the MCA president said: “We hope in seminars like this, we can learn, we can discover and we can disseminate.
“Knowledge has three components—the generation of knowledge, the dissemination of knowledge and application of knowledge. Today, we are trying to generate for ourselves sufficient knowledge so that we can disseminate correctly to society.”
In a subsequent article, we shall examine what Dr Mahathir actually said, what Hamid Othman conveyed at the forum and how the other participants responded.
Most importantly, we will examine the policy stand taken by Ling on behalf of his party.
Stanley Koh is the former head of MCA’s research unit. He is now a FMT columnist.