by Anisah Shukry
The Malaysian Insider
9 November 2015
There was a time in the country’s history when the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) did not exist, Putrajaya did not tell Malaysians how to practise their faith, and no one batted an eye when Muslims owned dogs.
And the former deputy prime minister Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman’s eldest son, Tawfik Ismail, wants those days back.
The main step is to dissolve Jakim, Tawfik said during an interview in conjunction with the release of “Drifting into Politics”, a collection of his late father’s writings during the nation’s formative years, edited by Tawfik and academic Ooi Kee Beng.
Jakim was created during Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s time and seems to serve no other purpose than to intervene in the personal lives of Malaysians, Tawfik told The Malaysian Insider when met at his house in Taman Tun Dr Ismail.
“I think Jakim should be abolished. I don’t think Jakim should exist. What is the government afraid of? You have 13 muftis with 13 different fatwas and 13 different ways of approaching it (religion).
“What is the purpose of Jakim? Halal certificates? That can go to the health ministries, trade ministry. What else does Jakim do? Print the Quran? We have a communications minister,” said the softspoken, yet candid, 64-year-old former MP.
Naysayers may argue that Jakim is needed to “protect” the sanctity of Islam, but Tawfik was quick to point out that the Agong, sultans, imams (Muslim scholars) and muftis already filled that void.
“Jakim is an advisory body to the government, but constitutionally it really has no role. Islam is the province of the sultan of the state, it has nothing to do with the government.”
So which areas of Muslim life should the government intervene in? Tawfik flat-out said nothing at all.
“National integration in this country is the biggest challenge. How do you integrate the nation if you are going around this route of looking for faults among Muslims?” he asked.
But, Tawfik clarified that his views on dismantling Jakim were his own, and that G25, the group of retired Malay top civil servants of which he is a member, did not share them.
G25 does, however, want Jakim to justify its existence as well as the hundreds of millions of ringgit it receives from the federal budget each year, which he said could have been funnelled to the Health or Education Ministry instead.
“I think there’s a subversion of the constitution by religious authorities at the state level where they are actually testing the limits that they can go in intruding on a person’s personal life,” he added.
Putrajaya had not always acted as the defender of the people’s faith, revealed Tawfik, who served as MP from 1986 to 1990.
He said that during the time of Malaysia’s first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, only a small religious department existed in the Prime Minister’s Department.
There was no minister of religious affairs, and no national outcry over the fact that his father, Tun Dr Ismail, owned a dog.
“My dad had a Boxer, and, before that, an Alstatian,” recalled Tawfik.
He said all this changed after Dr Mahathir took over and his then deputy, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, tried to infuse their definition of “Islamic values” into every aspect of Malaysian life.
This was done to counter the growing influence of PAS, which had never been an issue during the early years of Independence, said Tawfik.
As a result, Malaysia today is now facing “Arabisation”, with society eschewing its Nusantara roots in favour of appropriating the culture of the Middle East, he said.
“We seem to be delighting in coming up with creative ways of ‘speaking’ Arabic in this country.”
Tawfik said it was for this reason that Drifting Into Politics may not sit very well with Putrajaya.
“Certain things my father says here are quite interesting.
“For example, he said whenever Tunku had a meeting at his house with a group of people… occasionally one or two of them would go into the kitchen and have a drink of brandy and whisky, then come back and join in. He admits this.
“Yes, it’s an open secret, but it’s never been in writing by a leader,” chuckled Tawfik.
His father died in 1973 at the age of 57, after just three years of serving as deputy prime minister. November 4 was his 100th birth anniversary.
With such records in existence, no matter how it tried to Islamise Malaysia, Tawfik said, the government would never be able to rewrite history nor erase its roots. – November 9, 2015.