April 28, 2015
by Dr. KJ John@www.malaysiakini.com
I am one of the G40; and no apologies either. I signed to communicate to the nation that the Eminent 25 speak for all moderate Malaysians. What then is this creeping backdoor Islamization which we all warn against? Who are these ‘idiocratic religious zealots’ who force us to “live by the rule of religious diktats, where decrees of religious bureaucrats have legal and punitive effect?”
The above words, for me, encapsulate how very accurately but increasingly insidiously, and through the backdoor, profligates the spread of ‘so-called’ Islamic values which are not really common to the public spaces of our secular society. What do I mean?
One ordinary case story
When my oldest son was in Year Six; he was made a prefect and so Mum bought him three new pairs of blue shorts and white shirts for uniform for the new school year. Of course he was growing taller, too.
But, one day he came back from school rather upset and told his mother that he has been told by his class teacher that he was not permitted to wear shorts any more. He had to get long pants for school and to do his duties as a prefect.
Shocked at this new rule, I went into the school next morning to find out the logic of its appearance. The principal was not in and I met the deputy, a Chinese gentleman who wore a cowboy hat. He explained to me that they had a new ustaz in school and it was his ‘new ruling.’
I insisted that the deputy open a new complaints book and in it I wrote that my son would not be wearing any long pants for the whole year, as my wife had already bought the shorts for the current year! And let us not even try and guess who the education minister was then.
Limits of jurisdiction
Our G40 statement states: “As a rainbow nation of many peoples’ with diverse religions, we charted our destiny upon a civil and non-religious national legal order resting firmly on the twin principles of the supremacy of the constitution and rule of law.”
My question to the rising but unconstitutional squad of religious bureaucrats is – do they even understand the above statement of fact as a historical truth about life intended for the new Malaysia? If you they do not, then they do not understand the limits of their jurisdiction.
That is why I call them, ‘idiocrats;’ which means idiotic bureaucrats who do not know the rule of law and instead live by their ‘own rule by law’. Of course, it Is their understanding and interpretation of their own rules; and, not the country’s laws or even their sacred books.
My teacher of Islamic Values for Life, Dr SH Nasr, used to say: A veil reveals as much as it hides. Generalising that principle, my problem with these religious bureaucrats is that they do not know the limits of their jurisdiction, and therefore they lose their integrity in the missteps of their over-zealousness.
In Malaysia, Islamic religion is a state and not a federal matter. That means, for example, as is the case in Sabah and Sarawak, the federal system cannot insist that Islamic religion be made compulsory religion in their school system.
Even though education is currently a federal matter, such does not give federal authorities jurisdiction of the substance and practice of Islamic religion in Sabah and Sarawak. This was explicitly their concerns stated in their 18 and 20 point demands.
In my mind and heart, the same also goes to the now so-called ‘Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) bureaucrats,’ as they are running wild with the views and their values about public spaces, and how every other Malaysian can conduct themselves in public. Excuse me, but you are out of your jurisdiction. “Tolong jangan jaga tepi kain orang lain.”
One Sunday Mail headline recently roared: ‘Uproar over Jakim’s Concert Rules’. Now, mine is therefore an even stronger legal and constitutional response to that same loud protest.
First, some foundational questions. Under what legal jurisdiction is JAKIM created as a department of the federal government? In my understanding, religion in Malaysia, is a state matter and comes directly under the jurisdiction of the sultans and the state religious authorities. Moreover, its jurisdiction only covers Muslim personal and family matters and theological issues.
So, can I know why and under what legal authority can JAKIM exist as a formal federal authority, and secondarily how can they dictate rules for good conduct and behaviour in the Malaysian federal public spaces; over which they have zero jurisdiction?
Malaysian public spaces are common federal spaces for all Malaysians to mix and mingle deploying common universal public values. To safeguard these modes of conduct, some guidelines are given and these are willingly and voluntarily adhered to within our civil spaces of moral life.
Can these now be “enforced by law, unless they are criminal in nature?” Can Islamic religious state enactments be criminal in nature? Can they therefore become criminal law only by the abdication of such spaces by the Article 121 (1A) amendments? If not, how else?
My constitutional and human rights
I have a God-ordained human right to live a life of dignity in this world and prepare myself therein for the hereafter. No human can deny me, or any other human, that right. Consequentially, I also have some other legally secured human rights of conscience, ethnicity, religious belief and citizenship.
In our families, we secure and apply all these human rights within the privacy of our homes. The more relevant question is what can we do when these rights are not followed by me and my family in our public spaces? For example, in our family home we do not drink liquor. Does that stop me from drinking outside the home as well? Therefore, if I still do not drink outside the home, is it not a personal value system, and as not one merely dictated by either my family or my religion?
Now, how can I go to the common spaces, for example in my Old Boy Association Building; which we all helped establish, and then dictate that only ginger beer and root beer be served? Is that not my denial of the right of others to choose any other brand of beer, whether I drink it or not? Is that not what true religion is about; not one dictated by outsiders?
True religion is one which is adhered to in one’s heart by the willing and voluntary compliance which comes from the desires of one’s heart and not by fears about the external environment and their religious diktats. May God Bless Malaysia with true religion.
KJ JOHN was in public service for 29 years. The views expressed here are his personal views and not those of any institution he is involved with. Write to him at email@example.com with any feedback or views.