China’s South China Sea Diplomacy: Some Lessons from Africa

Washington DC

June 29, 2016

The Diplomat

China’s South China Sea Diplomacy: Some Lessons from Africa

China has been actively seeking international support for its position that the South China Sea dispute with the Philippines should be resolved exclusively by negotiations among the parties directly concerned and thus should not have been submitted to arbitration. Among the 40 states that support China are several African countries, including Burundi, Mozambique, Niger, and Togo. China is also seeking the support of Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, and Senegal. Beijing believes that China and Africa should support each other on issues concerning their vital interests, since they had all been “victims of colonization.”

Some Western experts have dismissed these states as “small, poor and inconsequential.” They allegedly support China because they receive massive Chinese assistance. Niger’s oil industry is said to be almost totally dependent on Chinese enterprises and the CNPC (China National Petroleum Corporation). It is true that Mozambique declared its support during a state visit of its president to China, when the two states agreed to establish a Strategic Partnership for Comprehensive Cooperation and China promised to assist in Mozambique’s industrialization and modernization.

Nevertheless, as China’s spokesperson rightly pointed out on March 25, 2016, the dismissive attitude is “permeated with arrogance, prejudice and snobbishness… all countries, big or small, rich or poor, should be respected as equals… [It is] particularly preposterous to judge right and wrong based on the size and wealth of a country.”

In that same spirit, China could and should learn a lesson or two from the African countries in the area of peaceful dispute settlement. More and more African states now accept the principle of international adjudication, i.e., dispute settlement through international courts, and actually submit specific disputes to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). Moreover, the actual conduct at the ICJ of three African states whose support China is seeking — Burundi, Senegal and Niger — is exactly the opposite of that of China in the Philippines v. China arbitration.

African States Accept International Adjudication

The consent of states parties to a dispute is required before an international court can hear their dispute. A dispute may be submitted to the ICJ if states have given their consent in advance under Article 36(2) of its Statute, through a special agreement, or through a treaty on another subject. States parties to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea may also give their consent in advance to submission of their disputes to ITLOS, created by the Convention.

States prefer to resolve their disputes by negotiation, mainly because they believe that they remain in control of the process without the intervention of third parties. In addition, socialist states believe that international law is a tool of capitalism; for developing countries, it was an instrument of imperialism. At present only 72 UN members (less than one-third of the total), have given their consent to dispute settlement by the ICJ under Article 36(2) of the Statute.

As a socialist state, China is viscerally opposed to dispute settlement by international courts. In contrast, the attitudes of developing countries, in particular the African states, have evolved considerably since the 1980s. Before that time only 12 African states had recognized the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction: Botswana, Egypt, Gambia, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mauritius, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo, and Uganda. Since then they have been joined by Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Madagascar, and Nigeria, bringing the number to 22 (out of 72 UN members from around the world). This group includes four of the states that officially support China: Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, and Togo.

African states now constitute the second largest group of states that have recognized the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction, second only to the group of European states (27). The number of Asian states that have done so (six, including the Philippines and Japan, but not China) has not increased at all since the 1980s. Understandably, Africa’s role in reconciling the Third World with the ICJ has been described as “considerable.”

Of the 22 African states on the list, eight (Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, and Uganda) have been involved in eight cases. Seven cases involving ten African states (Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Chad, Libya, Mali, Namibia, Niger, Republic of the Congo, and Tunisia) have been heard on the basis of a special agreement, while five disputes in which five African states were parties were submitted on the basis of a treaty (Burundi, DRC, Djibouti, Libya, and Rwanda). A total of 21 African states have thus been involved in 19 out of 83 cases heard by the Court since 1980. The figures might seem very low but Asian states are arguably even more wary of international courts. Since 1980 the Court has heard only two “Asian” cases, in which three Asian states (Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore) were parties.

As for ITLOS, 36 states, out of 167 parties to the 1982 Convention, have accepted its jurisdiction. Six African states (Angola, Cape Verde, DRC, Madagascar, Tunisia, and Tanzania) make up the second largest group, together with the Latin American and Caribbean group, that has accepted the Court’s jurisdiction, after the European group.

None of the six has been a party to any of the 23 inter-state cases that have been heard by ITLOS, but five other African states have appeared before it. Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire concluded a special agreement requesting that the Tribunal delimit their maritime boundary. Ghana and three other states (Guinea, Seychelles, and Guinea-Bissau) have appeared in five cases relating to the release of vessels.

Beyond the statistics, the conduct at the ICJ of three African states whose support China is seeking – Burundi, Senegal, and Niger – vividly demonstrates the great differences between Chinese and African attitudes toward international courts.

African States Appear Before the ICJ   

Burundi has not accepted ICJ jurisdiction and thus may not be forced to appear before it. Yet when a case was filed against it, it did not boycott the Court. Senegal, which has accepted ICJ jurisdiction, cannot anticipate when and over what issue another state may bring a case against it. If the issue is sensitive, Senegal might still challenge the Court’s jurisdiction. Nevertheless, it chose to appear before the Court when Guinea-Bissau filed two cases against it. Niger, which gave its consent by special agreement, could not predict the outcomes of the cases, but accepted the risk of unfavorable outcomes after decades of negotiations with two neighbors had failed.

In 1999, Burundi was accused of aggression by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which had accepted ICJ jurisdiction. Aggression is one of the gravest violations of international law that may be made against a state. International law prohibits the use of force in international relations, and the UN’s fundamental aim is to maintain international peace and security. No state, big or small, wishes to be accused of aggression. The conduct of Burundi in this case should be instructive to China. As Burundi had not given its consent to ICJ jurisdiction, it could have boycotted the proceedings. Yet Burundi appointed an agent to represent it in the case; attended a consultation with the DRC and the ICJ over the procedure; and complied with the deadline set by the Court for submission of its written arguments. The case was terminated when the DRC discontinued it in 2001.

Senegal, which accepted ICJ jurisdiction in 1985, was implicated between 1985 and 1995 in a less dramatic, but more protracted, process: it was a party to three proceedings before two international tribunals over one issue, maritime delimitation with Guinea-Bissau, which accepted ICJ jurisdiction in 1989. In the first case, an arbitral tribunal held that a 1960 exchange of letters between France and Portugal, the then colonial powers, had determined the boundary between Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, but that it did not delimit their EEZs (Exclusive Economic Zones). In the second and third cases, Guinea-Bissau, which was dissatisfied with the tribunal’s award (judgment), requested that the ICJ declare that the award was null and void and delimit the maritime boundaries between the two states. It was arguably not in Senegal’s interest to participate in the second case, since the tribunal’s award was partly favorable to its theses. But both had accepted ICJ jurisdiction.

Senegal’s conduct in this case could not be more different from that of China in the Philippines v. China arbitration. Senegal appointed an agent to represent it in the case; participated in consultations on the procedure; submitted its written arguments by the deadline; and took part in all oral proceedings. Senegal denied that Guinea-Bissau’s case was admissible. The ICJ did not agree with Senegal, but it ruled that the award was valid and binding for the two states. The ICJ’s judgment paved the way for negotiations between the two states to delimit all maritime areas and the withdrawal of the third case in 1995.

Niger, which has not given its consent to ICJ dispute settlement, has been party to two frontier disputes before the Court, which heard them on the basis of special agreements. Niger and the two other states involved could not have predicted the outcome of the cases; notwithstanding the uncertainty they turned to the ICJ because decades of negotiations following independence from France in 1960 had not yielded any solution. This conduct again contrasts sharply with that of China, which insists on bilateral negotiations despite the fact that they have failed over many years.

Niger’s dispute with Benin (2002-05) concerned 25 border islands situated on the delta of the Niger and Mekrou Rivers between them. Although incidents had occurred in 1960, 1993, and 1998, joint commissions meeting in 1961, 1963 and between 1995 and 2000 failed to delimit the border. The two states finally signed an agreement in 2001 to submit the dispute to the ICJ.

African observers believe that the Court’s judgment represented a balanced settlement. In one sector of the boundary, the Court accepted Niger’s thesis; in another sector, it was Benin’s thesis that was followed. Benin thus had title to nine islands situated between the boundary and the right bank of the Niger River, while Niger was granted title to 16 islands situated between the boundary and the river’s left bank.

In the Niger-Burkina Faso (2010-13) dispute, commissions meeting in 1964, 1988, and 1991 had been unable to demarcate the border. In February 2009, the two states finally concluded a special agreement to submit the dispute to the Court. African assessments believe that the Court’s judgment split the difference between the two states. It rejected Burkina Faso’s request for delimitation in two sectors in the North and the South, while at the same time rejecting Niger’s request to modify slightly the delimitation around two localities. The Court’s judgment attributed 786 square kilometers of territory occupied by Niger to Burkina Faso, which acquired 14 villages; 277 square kilometers of Burkina territory were returned to Niger, which received four villages.

A Burkina source implies that Burkina Faso obtained a slight advantage over Niger by being granted greater access to the River Sirba, an affluent of the Niger River, than Niger would have wanted. Yet Niger’s Minister of Justice declared that the two states were winners, because there would be no more disagreement regarding the border. It would seem, then, that the risk of submitting the dispute to the Court was worth running, because the Court gave reasons for satisfaction to both states.

It is sad that China should have to be reminded of the conduct of African states at the ICJ. Based on its own assertions of equality, China cannot dismiss African countries’ attitudes to and conduct before international courts, alleging that their disputes have low stakes and that they are small countries. China would do well to stop canvassing their support for its position and emulate their conduct.

Dr. Alfredo C. Robles, Jr. is an academic based in the Philippines. This is an abridged version of a paper originally published by the Philippine Foreign Service Institute (FSI) here.

Toothless MACC arrests Penang Chief Minister

Washington DC

June 29,2016

Wake Up World: Toothless MACC arrests Penang Chief Minister but shields Malaysia’s Most Corrupt Prime Minister Najib Razak

by Predeep Nambiar

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng was arrested by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission at his office in Komtar today.

According to a tweet by state executive councillor Dr Afif Bahardin, an arrest warrant had been issued and Lim will be brought to the MACC headquarters at Northam Road not far away.

About a dozen MACC officers were seen entering various parts of Komtar, in what appears to be a lock-down. Six men entered his state executive council boardroom, where a regular meeting was ongoing.

Another four men entered later Earlier, Guan Eng’s sister Hui Ying, who is also Penang DAP secretary, arrived at his office, plausibly to lend moral support. She appeared worried and had a sombre look.

Guan Eng’s lawyer and Seri Delima DAP representative R.S.N. Rayer was also seen arriving at his office.Guan Eng is expected to be charged at the Sessions Court here tomorrow, said Penang DAP chairman Chow Kon Yeow.

He is to be charged under Sect 23 of the MACC Act for allowing an application to rezone a piece of land owned by Phang Li Khoon’s company Magnificent Emblem and Sect 165 of the Penal Code for buying a property below market value.

Section 165 stipulates that it is an offence for a public servant to obtain anything without consideration from persons concerned in any proceeding or business transacted by such a public servant.

On the land rezoning issue, Chow said the municipal council had rejected an application by Phang’s company to rezone a piece of land. He did not elaborate further.

“He will be bailed out,” he told reporters.

Chow, who is also local government, traffic management and flood mitigation committee chairman, said the Penang DAP will hold an emergency meeting tomorrow to discuss a possible replacement for Lim.

On May 22, MACC officers visited Lim’s home in Pinhorn Road following his controversial purchase of a bungalow below market price. It was later linked to the sale of state land.

In denying the allegations first raised by UMNO MP Shahbudin Yahaya, Lim insisted there was no impropriety in the purchase of the property. The DAP Secretary-General clarified that he did not know the market value of the bungalow he bought last year for RM2.8 million as it was based on an verbal understanding between his wife, Betty Chew, and the previous owner, Phang Li Koon, in 2012.

It was purchased by Lim on July 28 last year. Similar properties in the area are said to be valued at between RM6-RM6.5 million.

Earlier today, speculation was rife that Lim would be summoned to court over the purchase of his bungalow here. The rumours of the arrest came after MACC’s completion of its probe on May 25 into Lim’s bungalow purchase.


By-Elections Postmortem


Washington DC

June 29, 2016

Malaysia: By-Elections Postmortem

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

Getting out the younger voters in force, building up the grassroots leadership, a lesser dependence on big names and big ceramah, focusing on local issues that resonate – together, they may reduce the odds which have now tilted against the opposition. But there may not be enough time, resources or goodwill within the fragmented opposition to make these happen.–Lim Teck Ghee

The two by-elections outcome was never in doubt. However, the size of the Barisan (BN) majorities has produced an outpouring of analysis from all sides and shades of the political spectrum.

From the government and its support side, there is undoubted relief, especially for the embattled Prime Minister. A loss would have imperiled – perhaps toppled – Najib Razak. It was a victory that was savoured as it was larger than most had expected.

But was it really “such landslide results” as exulted by the Prime Minister? And so grievous a loss as lamented by the opposition leaders?

One way of looking at the outcome is not simply to view the BN majorities obtained in the two constituencies. The Sungai Besar majority of 9,191 and Kuala Kangsar’s 6,969 were certainly a vast improvement over the simple majorities of 399 and 1082 obtained in 2013. However, the combined BN votes for the two constituencies was 29,453 as against the combined opposition vote of 25,114.

This is a margin which should not provide much comfort to BN leaders and strategists given that its resources will have to be more thinly deployed at the decisive national election in 2017 or 18. Winning big in 222 parliamentary seats is an entirely different proposition from winning big in just 2.

Cohesive BN, Fragmented Opposition

Whichever way one wants to look at the voting numbers and the conclusions to draw, it is clear that the final margin was made wider by a numerically, materially and tactically superior BN electoral machinery up against a splintered opposition lacking resources, losing credibility, and for all intents and purposes, fighting against each other more than against the BN.

We have now a revitalized, more cohesive and confident BN. As for the opposition, the two losses have produced hand wringing, finger pointing and a search for answers on how and why it lost so badly; and what it means for their future prospects.

For both government and opposition sides, it is clear that Dr. Mahathir is no longer the political force or influence that the internet media and his band of “Citizen’s Declaration” loyalists have made him out to be. The 1MDB issue resonates little or not at all with ordinary voters in the two constituencies.

Throughout the nation, 1MDB and the USD700 million deposit in the Prime Minister’s personal account can be expected to recede more and more in the background of voter political sentiment and concern unless there is some massively incriminating disclosure which makes it imperative for the Prime Minister to ease himself into early retirement.

It also appears that UMNO’s grip on Malay voters – farmers, fishermen, smallholders, petty traders, small business people – in rural and semi-rural areas has tightened.

This is amidst rising living costs and difficult living conditions for the lower classes, and unresolved scandals and management blunders affecting Felda, Lembaga Tabung Haji (with its over 9 million depositors) and other UMNO dominated agencies, seems to run against political sense and logic. One could have expected that the present current socio-economic situation is tailor-made for exploitation by the opposition.

Why PAS and Amanah parties were not able to make better headway with Malay voters on both religious (and moral) and bread and butter issues is a puzzle which observers close to the ground during the campaign do not seem to have figured out.

Was it because UMNO had trumped PAS and thrown the opposition into disarray with its preemptive strike approving Hadi’s hudud bill for debate in Parliament? Was it because PAS was holding back its attacks on UMNO in the quest for Islamic unity and inter-party union? Was it because opposition leaders were obsessed with big names and big issues? Was it because of the dependence on the internet and a lack of local election workers and rapport with grassroots voters? Was it because Malay Muslim voters were little or unaware of issues such as Tabung Haji being on the brink of collapse due to mismanagement and its link with the 1MDB crisis? Or that if they were aware, were they persuaded that they could expect that the Government would ensure a bailout by other taxpayers?

Deciphering the answers to these questions will probably hold the key to success and victory in the next general election.

As for the Chinese, the return to the BN camp – even if partial – was not a surprise. The opposition implosion and incessant public squabbling as well as the community’s antipathy towards Dr. Mahathir and distrust of his motives resulted in fewer Chinese voters returning to cast their votes; and a smaller final turnout in both constituencies. Total turnout for Kuala Kangsar was estimated at 71 percent and at Sungai Besar, 74 percent; well down from the 88 percent and 84 percent respectively attained in 2013.

For those who voted, it was probably a case of “better the devil you know than the deep blue sea”, especially since Dr. Mahathir’s main objective in his efforts to bring down the Prime Minister is to save UMNO and ensure the continuity of UMNO’s leadership of the country.

There are few, if any, positives that the opposition can take away from the two by-elections. BN’s hold over the nation’s voters seems secure even with the serial mis-governance and abuses of power that have taken place.

Getting out the younger voters in force, building up the grassroots leadership, a lesser dependence on big names and big ceramah, focusing on local issues that resonate – together, they may reduce the odds which have now tilted against the opposition. But there may not be enough time, resources or goodwill within the fragmented opposition to make these happen.

Brexit Outcome: Schumacher’s Lessons for Nations

New York

June 28, 2016

Brexit Outcome: Schumacher’s Lessons for Nations

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

Over 40 years ago, a British economist, E.F. Schumacher, published a collection of essays on the theme of “small is beautiful” which argued that the modern growth-obsessed economy is unsustainable.

Anticipating the present global warming and environmental crisis in our land and oceans, he noted that natural resources should be treated as capital, since they are not renewable and subject to depletion. He further argued that nature’s ability to fight and resist pollution is limited as well – a warning which has still not sunk deeply enough into the corridors of power all over the world.

Besides his somber – and now proven to be correct – message on environmentalism, he made the case for sustainable development and against inappropriate technology transfer to developing countries which, in his view, would not resolve the underlying problems of unsustainable economies.

Schumacher was also amongst the earliest economists to question the appropriateness of using gross national product and other pure economic indicators to measure human well-being.

What has been referred to as “his dense mixture of philosophy, economics and politics” struck an immediate chord with Western readers, especially during the era of the 70s and the advent of the first global energy crisis. In 1995, the Times Literary Supplement ranked the slim volume of his work as among the 100 most influential books published since World War II.

Since then his influence appears to have waned. New critiques of conventional economic thinking have emerged; and Schumacher’s concern for the “philosophy of materialism” to be replaced or subsumed to ideals such as justice and harmony, and his counter-cultural ideas on the organic, the gentle, the non-violent, the elegant and beautiful as laid out in his Buddhist economics, have been taken up by less credible “gurus” with new vocabulary omitting his ideas and name.

Today, however, some of the concerns which “small is beautiful” raised in 1973 just before the push for European Union began to take place, are echoing in the popular sentiments and issues raised by the “Leave” voters in the Brexit referendum.

Why Britain is Leaving EU

The historic upset defeat of the “Remain” camp and successful revolt against the EU has been explained and interpreted in many ways.

In a lead article, the day after the referendum result, the BBC listed 8 reasons why Leave won the UK referendum on the EU. These reasons included the backfiring of Brexit economic warnings; bungled leadership of the Prime Minster, David Cameron; Labour’s disconnect with voters; the inter-generational divide with older voters preferring to leave; the ascendency of immigration and national and cultural identity issues in the minds of lower income voters; perceived economic benefits; and finally, the influence of Euroskeptic leaders and critics such as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson during the referendum campaign.

While all the reasons advanced played a role in the final voting count to tilt the balance towards those opting for an uncharted and potentially precarious future, in one sense it represented a rejection of what local Britishers see as a much too big, too powerful and out-of-touch technocratic Frankenstein’s monster – as described in a United Kingdom Independence Party’s internet newsletter on the eve of the referendum – which has made life not only difficult but has also profoundly alienated the common citizen (

In the immigration issue especially which assumed center stage in the Brexit debate, many Britons resent the EU migrants who legally move to jobs in Britain, are seen as taking jobs away from locals and are alleged to abuse the country’s benefits and welfare system.

And this is by no means just a view found in Britain. Other nations in the EU face similarly disenchanted citizens fed up with the “big is good; bigger is better” philosophy in economic and political systems that Schumacher warned against, and which the enlarged grouping of European nations seemed to signify.

Ordinary people and communities seem to be looking for solutions which call for more local autonomy and for moves away from centralized control towards greater decentralization and a return to local and national economies in which they have greater influence, however naive or impractical it may appear to the political and business elites that run our world today.

The same soul searching in the rest of Europe has already produced populist politicians and a growing number of Euroskeptics. They will seek their own referendums on EU membership and if successful will produce a breakup of the present union; and the need as French Prime Minister  Manuel Valls puts it “to invent another Europe.”

Can Malaysia Learn

In Malaysia the Brexit referendum result has produced the predictable dollars and cents focused analysis of what it means to the nation’s trade and investment flows as well as to the property, education and other sectors whose links with the UK are based on its inclusion in the EU. This is a limiting and inadequate focus which misses the larger lessons to be learned.

In our part of the world, especially in Sabah and Sarawak which opted to join Malaya and Singapore in the formation of Malaysia in 1963, a sense of alienation towards the federalized centralized political entity, run from Kuala Lumpur and beholden to UMNO’s agenda, has been brewing for some time.

In August 2014, a coalition of NGOs, politicians and activists from Sarawak and Sabah drew up a petition addressed to the United Nations (UN) secretary-general to re-open the issue of self-determination for the two East Malaysian states. The petition believed to be signed by some 100 representatives was also copied to the UN Special Committee of 24 (C-24) and the UN Human Rights Committee (

These local autonomy and even separatist tendencies and forces are not going to go away. At some point – unless real reforms are put in place to provide for greater autonomy and to protect the freedoms and sense of local identity that the local communities from the two states feel they have lost – we will have our own version of Brexit demanded more forcefully.


EU and the Lobster Theory

June 28, 2016

New York

By TK Chua

EU and the Lobster Theory

The EU is like a group of friends going to a restaurant. If they know the final bill is to be divided based on what they eat, they will probably order based on their actual need and their willingness and ability to pay. However, if they know the bill is to be split evenly regardless of what they eat, it is almost certain that all of them will probably order “lobsters”.–TK Chua


Maybe I belong to the old school, so I really can’t rationalise what the modern Western liberals are doing to their countries. First, they think there are unlimited free lunches. Second, they think there are simple solutions to complex problems. And third, they always prioritise instant gratification, never long term sustainability.

They formed the European Union (EU) and European Monetary Union (EMU is the adoption of the Euro as the national currency of participating members), thinking that they could leverage on economies of scale, access to bigger and freer markets, and facilitate efficiency and lower the cost of doing business. They think the sum is bigger than its individual parts.

But they have largely forgotten the loopholes, the free riders, the cheatings and the destabilisation that is associated with any union. I think this has been the problem with the EU, and if they are not careful, soon EMU too will give them a similar problem.

Obviously there are countries that consume more benefits than their fair share of costs to the EU. After a period of time, something must give, which I think is happening in the UK today.

For example, how could we have free movement of labour without looking at disruption to national cohesion and the way of life of the people? Immigration is always controlled and regulated, never unfettered and free. Malaysia is on the verge of having the same problem as the UK if we are not careful.

Similarly, free market access must always be based on quid pro quo, otherwise it is indulging in wishful thinking and expecting free lunches. Sooner than later, those lunches must be paid for.

Even for EMU, I think it will soon give way. They are essentially having a common monetary policy but with divergent fiscal, taxation, inflation and employment policies. My rudimentary knowledge in economics tells me that this is not going to work for long, before massive cheating and manipulation among member states take place. Is there any surprise why they have one debt crisis after another when the EMU was supposed to provide benefits and stability?

The EU is like a Lobster–Members should remain faithful for common interest and share the final bill. The UK  wanted a free lunch.–Din Merican

The EU is like a group of friends going to a restaurant. If they know the final bill is to be divided based on what they eat, they will probably order based on their actual need and their willingness and ability to pay. However, if they know the bill is to be split evenly regardless of what they eat, it is almost certain that all of them will probably order “lobsters”.

I hope this illustrates the problem in the EU and EMU today – everyone is ordering lobster, even though some don’t like to eat it, some can’t afford it, and some think others are going to pay for it.

TK Chua is FMT reader.

Subject Our Muftis to Oversight and Discipline

June 27, 2016

Subject Our Muftis to Oversight and Discipline

by Farouk A. Peru
The Mufti of Pahang

The loudness of Islamic opinion has gained so much traction in Malaysia. I once sat through a phone-in religious programme in which a caller asked a minor league scholar if he should wait till the azan (call to prayer) finishes before actually breaking his fast or can he take the first bite when it starts.

Even my mother, whose reverence for these scholars far exceeds my own, was shaking her head in disbelief. But this is what happens.

Islam is a simple set of principles about the essentials of life. We can use our divinely bestowed reason to solve everyday problems.

Someone needs to tell the Health Ministry that as well since JAKIM is not trained in medicine. They will not be able to say if vaccinations are Islamic or not as the health ministry is asking them to do. The health ministry must themselves tell us if vaccinations are beneficial to humanity. If they are, then they are Islamic. Full stop.

When we give too much voice to the Islamic opinion, they turn Islamofascist on us — just like any other human authority — then become oppressive and authoritarian. What this means is, they have and will use their power and authority to further their own interests.

The main culprit of this is the Mufti of Perak, Harussani Zakaria. Last year, he deemed it forbidden for Qurans to be promulgated without the accompanying original text regardless of the fact that most Muslims can barely read it.

His opinion effectively killed off the “Let’s Read The Quran” campaign and helped him retain sole rights over the divine text. This was nothing more than a capitalist manoeuvre designed to corner the Malay-Muslim market.

Presently, the Mufti of Pahang, Abdul Rahman Osman, is following suit. Abdul Rahman has claimed that supporting the DAP is sinful because they are, kafir harbi (infidels at war with the Muslims). They are deemed so because they oppose Islamic law. There is so much wrong with the mufti’s statement that we need to refute it from a number of angles.

Firstly, on the obviously political bias being employed by Abdul Rahman. It must be remembered that the largest political party most unfortunately for the nation is the Malay-Muslim UMNO. Despite PAS’s .pressure to implement Shariah law, UMNO has resisted all this while.

If UMNO was truly committed to its implementation, they would have cast aside their coalition partners for the sake of “Islam.” No, they chose to remain in power (back then MCA and MIC actually mattered) and put Shariah in second place. Are they kafir harbi or at least munafik (hypocrites)? Not a peep from Abdul Rahman. Secondly, is Abdul Rahman himself implementing Shariah?  Ok, I admit he cannot ratify the barbaric hudud laws but where is his denouncement of Malaysia’s Las Vegas in his home state? I don’t recall any condemnation from him because his Dar al-Islam (abode of Islam) is being compromised?

If he was a staunch believer in Shariah, he would have resigned and have no part in this policy. He is no better than those who served YAPEIM and enjoyed golfing holidays at their expense.

And finally, the term kafir harbi (warring infidel) itself.  This term was used in medieval Islam to address people from other nations who were warring against the corrupt, imperialistic and absolutely monarchical Islamic state.

It was a politically motivated classification designed to stir up the masses and keep them supporting the corrupt state. It is the same with kafirdhimmi (infidels who pay tribute to the state). They are the disempowered people within the Islamic state. They were denied the highest official roles due to their faith, just like ethnic minorities are denied the same.

When I read the Quran, I see that neither kafir harbi or kafirdhimmi are used. Rather, the Quran’s use of the term kafir is trans-religious, just like its use of the word mu’min (believer). In other words, a person’s behaviour determines whether they are a believer or otherwise, not the religious tribe they subscribe to.

If we analyse Judgement Day scenarios in the Quran, we will see that it is our actions which save us. No religious tribal privileges existed then. Therefore, calling any non-Muslim kafir is wrong. As wrong as assuming all Muslims are mu’min. Let God be the judge.

The institution of muftis in our country is an archaic one and will hold us back from true progress. To be fair, there are progressive muftis like Dr Asri from Perlis but even so, we do not need this institution any longer. Rather, the Malay Muslims must learn to think independently about Islam.