MALAYSIA must return to its traditions of compromise, conciliation, tolerance and compassion in Islam as it has diverged from the path despite the government’s push for moderation, said constitutional law expert Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi.
The emeritus professor at Universiti Malaya, who is under police investigation for one of his newspaper articles on Islam, said Malaysia’s founding fathers had built a country that was different from other Muslim countries, setting an example on how to succeed in inter-communal living.
“Malaysia was an exemplar to Third World countries (and) Muslim countries up until the 1990s. Then we sort of made a U-turn.
“I’m hopeful that things will change again, because one of the reasons we were able to balance religion with secularism, democracy with development, Malay supremacy and at the same time keeping other people reasonably contented – I think it was because of moderation,” he said after the roundtable discussion on “Does religiosity lead to authoritarianism” in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
In his presentation, Shad said the Malay cultural ethos has always been about moderation, conciliation and compromise. The federal constitution was crafted to emphasise moderation, he added.
“The problem now is Malaysia has become Arabised… it’s a very fashionable thing now to dress like the Arabs, behave like Arabs, talk like Arabs (and) hold up some Arab countries as the paragon of what Islam ought to be.
“I think Malaysia is forgetting its own roots (and) what is happening now is there is a rise of religious establishment.”
He added that since the 1990s, Wahabi and Salafist interpretations of Islam have taken hold, leading to “unIslamic” tendencies taking root among Malaysian Muslims.
“Questioning a fatwa is a criminal offence and, of course, if there is any attempt on anyone’s part to attempt apostasy, some states will indulge in rehabilitation and some states will say this is an insult to Islam and the person will be jailed.”
Shad’s views on Islam recently led to a police report lodged against him by the Malaysia Islamic Strategic Research Institute (IKSIM) over his column in The Star.
The piece, Religious radicalism on the rise, was in response to a booklet by IKSIM which argued that “secularism, liberalism and cultural diversity are elements that will undermine the Islamic agenda and destroy the country’s sovereignty”.
He wrote that he was shocked to read that IKSIM viewed “cultural diversity” as a threat to Islam and to the country.
Shad is being investigated under Section 504 of the Penal Code, which deals with intentional insult with intent to provoke a breach of the peace.
At his talk yesterday, the professor said that although Malaysia’s constitution allowed freedom of speech and other fundamental civil rights, recent developments have raised questions whether Muslims in the country could enjoy these rights.
“At one time, these (rights) were available but now the increasing trend is this – the chapter on fundamental rights, Articles 5 to 13, are not available to Muslims whenever issues of shariah is involved, or when the shariah courts are involved.”
These articles cover, among other civil liberties, the right to life and liberty, equality, freedom of movement, freedom of speech, assembly and association and freedom of religion.
“(And) the way the law has been interpreted by our civil courts, civil courts are complicit in this rewriting of the constitution. Civil courts are giving immunity not only to the shariah courts but also to shariah officials,” Shad said, adding that the civil courts are allowing shariah courts to have the final say in many cases involving constitutional issues.