Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Reduce the Scope of Islam in Government

Written by johnleemk on 1:48:39 pm Jul 9, 2007.
Categories: ,

There has recently been quite a hubbub amongst Malaysian bloggers, but also in foreign news publications, about the case of a singer who was issued a summons to appear before the Syariah court for supposedly indecent and unIslamic behaviour.

Now, I am not one to jump on a fad; much of what ought to be said about the case has already been said, and I am not eager to beat a dead horse. I don't like to read something I've already read in a slightly different form elsewhere, and I'm sure you don't either, dear reader.

So, what am I going to do is to ponder the question of what structural reforms can be carried out to address this problem. Most reactions to this have been kneejerk, without considering possible long-term solutions.

Before I continue, just to shut up those who argue I have no right to comment on Islamic issues, as long as Islamic law is enforced with my tax money, and my taxes fund these moral police, I am completely within my rights, because I am commenting on how my money is spent.

The main cause of this problem, as I see it, is the making of a personal issue (religion and morality) a public issue. Through the excuse of Islam's status as the official religion of the country, the government has increased its control over people's lives by insisting it has the right to govern and adjudicate moral and immoral behaviour.

I noticed there were quite a few Muslims supporting the move to throw the book at the entertainer for her ostensibly immoral activities. Putting aside the question of whether what she did was actually immoral, why should it matter to you if what she was doing was immoral?

Her relationship with God is not something you are allowed to trespass on, unless how she practices her faith affects you. If she was *gasp* singing in public, you might have cause for complaint, but she was performing on private premises.

If what she is doing is a sin, she will receive her just deserts when her time comes. Why should man take it upon himself to enforce God's law? Will God punish you for the sins of someone you have never met?

The way I see it, what we ought to be doing is reducing the scope and influence of Islam in our public life. The less taxpayer money wasted on this pointless gallivanting, even as the rule of law breaks down throughout the country, the less right I will have to comment on and criticise Islam, because the less it will affect me.

Tunku Abdul Rahman once pointedly told off a Member of Parliament for criticising the government after it served alcoholic beverages at a public function. The purpose of having Islam as our official religion, Tunku said, is so that it is lawful for prayers to be said at government functions, and for other such ceremonial reasons to reflect Malaysia's cultural heritage (such prayers might run foul of the Constitution if it made Malaysia a completely secular state).

Now, would this downsizing of the pointless Islamic bureaucracy (which is appointed by the government, rather than by the religious communities it serves anyway) be politically feasible? I suppose so, but only if carried out in incremental steps.

There is a great paranoia amongst Muslims that their faith will be threatened if its interference in public life is reduced. If you ask me, nothing could be further from the truth. By making faith truly personal, by shutting down the pointless moral police, and by restoring the determination of imams and ulamas to the religious communities instead of making them government appointees, we would be returning religion to its purest roots — the relationship between man and God. Everyone will be free to worship God on their own terms, without worrying about the government, because the only authority we will answer to is the one higher than anyone on this earth.

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