The Malaysian Insider
2 March 2016
It has been quite a week for all of us affiliated with The Malaysian Insider.
The outpouring of support from the public only amplified the debate on our freedom of expression and access to information. It appears that Malaysians collectively need to stand up for our rights, to be empowered by information and be allowed critical thought process rather than continue to be infantilised by the powers that be.
Further, the decision to block a whole website over one article seems an over exaggeration. The impact is an oppressive silencing of many diverse Malaysian voices that is allowed a platform through this portal.
We are now forced to be outsiders, yet our concerns and voices remain Malaysian.
Coincidentally, I recently finished reading the book by G25 Malaysia, “Breaking the Silence: Voices of Moderation, Islam in a Constitutional Democracy” as my book of the month for February.
As a student of science, I admit that my knowledge of our country’s laws is minimal. Further, my religious education was restricted to a public school curriculum supplemented by Quranic lessons with my late grandfather.
However, living in Malaysia today necessitates the need to navigate the intersection of a secular constitutional democracy with Islamic knowledge.
For this reason alone, I recommend that this book be a must-read for all Malaysians.
Divided into three parts, “Part I” makes up the bulk of the book. It included the discussions by legal experts on the discrepancies found between the Civil and Shariah Laws, in line with the main objective of G25’s open letter back in December 2014.
It dispels my former understanding that both these laws are equals, when in truth Shariah laws are still bound to the Constitution as the supreme law of Malaysia. This misrepresentation comes from my personal lived reality of being faced with dual jeopardy as a Muslim in Malaysia and from recent civil court cases that further confounds the powers of these two laws.
I am inclined to agree with Prof Shad Saleem Faruqi’s essay that there is a silent rewriting of our Federal Constitution.
This calls for a need to include knowledge on the history and formation of Malaysia, the Federal Constitution, the Rukun Negara and the 1963 Malaysia Agreement in our school curriculum.
Such academic discourse must not be restricted to memorising and regurgitating facts. Instead, to include discussions on the impact of such drafts in our current lived realities.
In my opinion, this would empower generations of Malaysians and allow an intellectually mature cohort of voters who subsequently will demand for good governance.
I quote Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim in his essay, “In mature democracies Parliament plays a strong role not only as an institution which enacts laws but where parliamentarians can exercise their control over the government.”
Lest we forget, without mature voters, we are bereft of a mature parliament; thus leading to the mess that we are currently in.
“Part II” and “Part III” included essays from socio-political activists on the current impact of Islamisation in Malaysia.
As Muslims, we should all strive for a life that encompasses the universal Islamic values of justice, equality, equity, dignity and love and compassion. I believe that such values are strong foundations for any exemplary society.
While these Islamic values formed the Islamisation policy under the Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad administration, today the consequences are dire.
Instead of inculcating these values, we now see Islamic bureaucracies that are hell bent on controlling every superficial aspect of Islam – from the way Muslims dress to the food we eat, as well as what will or will not confuse us.
Worse, Islam is often used as an excuse to silent, to oppress and to exclude. These discourses are academically presented in these two parts of the book.
Shazal Yusof Zain quoted Al-Farabi in his essay, where “Al-Farabi envisioned a virtuous society (city) would emerge when the rules of a just government are established by human reason and laws exist to protect the rights of the individual.
“Such a society would cause ‘people from outside to flock to it’ and this would lead to a ‘most desirable kind of racial mixture and cultural diversity’ which would guarantee the flourishing of talented individuals and enterprise, something that sounds remarkably similar to what the founding fathers of Malaysia envisioned for our country when they drafted the Federal Constitution.”
I cannot agree more. Reading this book by G25 had me purchasing and perusing a copy of our Federal Constitution. It has also spurred me to read more extensively on my religion. I realise that such Islamic values can be lived in a secular Constitutional democracy. Further, we may even prosper and progress under such a democracy.
Increasing the powers of the Shariah court would only be redundant to laws that have already included the universal Islamic values of justice and upholding human rights as drafted in the Federal Constitution.
What we need now is to raise our collective voice to uphold these laws, reject the hijacking of Islam and to strife for a Malaysia that is just, inclusive and progressive.
We must begin, by breaking our silence. – March 2, 2016.