In the discussions about whether Malaysia is a secular or Islamic
state (On the Islamic state), I see a stark contrast
between the theoretical arguments of the writer and the very personal concerns of those who responded.
Experts keep harking back to Malaysian history, colonial history,
the history of Islam and so on. These are good reference points.
But what about today's realities in Malaysian society and where we
are headed: individual mobility, urbanisation, technological change,
globalisation, nuclear families, single-parent households?
These are realities of change. How do you prescribe laws for a society in flux?
Experts can clarify complex and contentious issues, but they could
also become distanced from the life and experiences of ordinary folk.
Each body of expert knowledge, whether law, medicine or theology,
is built like how physical structures are erected: they have
foundations, or fundamental beliefs, and frameworks within which are
contained their respective formulations and prescriptions.
Bodies of knowledge and their analytical practices remain fixed for
long periods at a time. It is not surprising, therefore, that experts
in each field hold fixed views.
Some experts are dogmatic, which is not very different from being
fanatical. Dogmatic scientists are just as intolerant of contrary
opinions as the fanatics of faith.
This is not to say that truth, morality or the laws of nature can
or should change with time.
Or that scientists and theologians should discard their beliefs. But change is a reality. The nature of people and societies keep changing in ways not provided for in existing bodies of knowledge.
Many of our present laws were made when communities were much
smaller, more stable and monolithic and centred on extended families.
Traditionally, the elders in small communities made and enforced their own laws.
The concept of nation state is relatively new. Malaysia is a young
How do you implement laws made for 500-year-old tribal
communities across the board in modern multi-cultural Malaysia?
Legal experts should take a closer look at Malaysian society, how
it has evolved and is continuing to evolve.
Laws should be relevant, harmonious, forward-looking and helpful to the smooth functioning of society.
Looked at from this perspective, can any system of law be feasible
that does not accept religion as a matter of personal belief and
Are state-enforced religious laws compatible with the concepts of individual rights and freedoms? Can a Malaysian Muslim live in a Christian or Hindu theocratic state?
Come to think of it, experts can make a great contribution to this
discussion, if they place people above theoretical concepts.