By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
The increasing number of ustaz and ustazah (Islamic preachers, not scholars both male and female) is there for a reason. The cause for the proliferation of their number can be traced to money and there are heaps of it, courtesy of a generous government who feels that the only way to the Malay Muslim community is via religion. And the constant badgering via our government-controlled media network bears testimony to this general perception. The federal government, through Jakim (Jabatan Kemajuan Islam Malaysia) or the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia, allocates a whooping RM1 billion annually to the department for the development of Islam and this is being widely reported and questioned.
The department is under the stewardship of Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, formerly the director of KAGAT (Kor Agama Angkatan Tentera) or the Armed Forces Religious Corps. His rank in the armed forces was that of a major-general. Jamil resigned from military service in 2009 and assumed the post of a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department. He was placed in charge of Jakim’s wellbeing.
As per stated in the department’s website, its historical origins are appended as follows:
“In 1968, the Malaysian Council of Rulers decided that there was a need for a body that could mobilise the development and progress of Muslims in Malaysia, in line with the country’s status as an Islamic country, which was growing in strength as well as fast gaining worldwide recognition. In realising the fact, a secretariat for the National Council of Islamic Affairs of Malaysia was formed to protect the purity of faith and the teachings of Islam. This secretariat was later expanded to become the Religious Division, Prime Minister’s Department which was later upgraded to become the Islamic Affairs Division.
On 1st January 1997, in line with the country’s steadfast Islamic development and progress, the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) was established by the Government of Malaysia to take over the role of the Islamic Affairs Division.”
Why the sudden hike in status-quo? I believe it is more about placing everything and anything pertaining to Islam under one authority, perhaps due to the fact that Islam comes under the purview of the nine sultans, as mandated by the Federal Constitution. That being the case, Islam is the responsibility of the sultans rather than a controlling body in Putrajaya.
Then came the heady end when the Sultan of Johor rebuked Jakim and Zamihan Mat Din, a preacher under the employ of Jakim, for criticising him over his objections to the Muslim-only launderette in Muar. Sultan Ibrahim had called Zamihan “an empty tin with no brain”. To emphasise his displeasure the sultan decreed that the state religious authority (Majlis Agama Islam Johor) not to deal with Jakim on matters pertaining to Islam. A similar rebuke was made by the Raja Muda of Perlis when one such launderette made an appearance in Kangar, Perlis.
Subsequently, a statement by the Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal was issued on behalf of the Conference of Rulers on Tuesday, October 10 cautioning against the spread of religious bigotry and fundamentalism. The statement rejects extremism and divisiveness in our society. The blame is directed at those who deliberately instil this feeling of uneasiness for their own ends.
The Sultans have made it clear that they do not want religion to be hijacked and made an exclusive right of anyone. Islam should remain a “religion of tolerance, moderation and inclusiveness,” as being widely perceived.
Similarly, on October 7, 2015. The Council had expressed its views about aspects of financial management of the nation that impact upon its integrity. It was in obvious reference to the still unresolved 1MDB scandal that has affected the reputation of the nation globally.
When the Council of Rulers takes a stand on matters pertaining to governance, integrity and the role of Islam in a multi-ethnic country like ours, the government and its citizens should take heed. The Sultan of Johor, Sultan of Selangor and the Regent of Perlis have spoken up, hopefully others would follow suit. This is to reinforce the point that religion should not be left to the extremists whose goal is the destruction of civil society, and the nation, eventually.
Not to be outdone a Penang-based preacher, Zahul Hamid, insisted that Muslims should not patronise hair salons run by non-Muslims as interaction with them is considered “haram” (taboo). He had since denied the accusation in spite of the presence of a live recording from the media. This little hiccup only accentuates the idiocy of some who pine for attention without knowing the consequences. To them making an unsubstantiated statement that borders on the incredible is permissible so long as there is a receptive audience who is prepared to accept and ingest their pronouncements, however ridiculous they may be.
This has been the trend since the upswing in religious fervour following the Iranian revolution of 1977. Islam, being the “official” religion of the country, thus has commonality with the majority Malay Muslim community. It is only to be expected. And a ruling coalition, on the verge of being irrelevant, will do whatever in its power to use it as a tool to fulfil its hegemonic dreams.
The unholy alliance between Islamist party PAS and UMNO is a clear indication of this unhealthy development. This holier-than-thou stance is not benefiting the nation in any way, and the only people who will gain are the corrupt and the irresponsible. They, God forbid, have no qualms about turning this bountiful country into another Afghanistan or Syria. Perhaps, sending these recalcitrant preachers on a “lawatan sambil belajar” (study) trip to these warring countries may be the answer.
By Fathol Zaman Bukhari