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The declaration by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad that Malaysia is already an Islamic state when he opened the Gerakan annual delegates conference in September further complicated the Islamic state controversy in our country.

Mahathir's declaration could be seen as a two-pronged political gimmick to out-do PAS on the Islamic state issue. On one hand, he wants the Malays to believe that Umno is no less Islamic than PAS. On the other, he tries to convince the non-Malays that Umno's version of Islamic state is more moderate and acceptable compared with PAS'.

Bar Council chairperson Mah Weng Kwai says that the PM's declaration is "essentially a political statement".

According to Mah, the Bar Council is of the view that the fact that some countries perceive Malaysia as an Islamic state, that Malaysia may qualify as one according to definitions by the ulama and that the prime minister has made what is essentially a political statement, does not change the legal religious stand of Malaysia as a secular state as expressed in the constitution.

Mah further stressed that the rule of law demands that the religious status of the country must be interpreted in accordance with the constitution. The principles that drove all the races to unite and struggle for independence must be honoured and preserved.

Deplorable statement

It is highly deplorable that our de facto Law Minister Dr Rais Yatim has forsaken the rule of law in compliance with the PM's political agenda when he remarked that Article 3 of the Federal Constitution is adequate to conclude that Malaysia has all the attributes of an Islamic state.

However, the above-mentioned remark was refuted by the former Lord President Salleh Abas, who pointed out that the highest law in the country is the Federal Constitution and Syariah law (Islamic law) is only a branch within the constitution.

Salleh said that his stand on Article 3 was clearly stated in a 1988 judgment which ruled that the term 'Islam' in Article 3 referred only to acts relating to "rituals and ceremonies".

He stressed that Malaysia can only be converted into an Islamic state when the word 'Islam' in Article 3 is amended so that Syariah could be applied fully to at least all Muslims.

Terengganu Mentri Besar and PAS national deputy president Abdul Hadi Awang was quoted as saying that once an Islamic state is established, non-Muslims will be subjected to Islamic laws involving public interests although there will be exceptions for certain areas.

The Bar Council and the former Lord President's common view that Malaysia is a secular state is widely supported by many legal experts who respected the 'social contract' of various races before independence and have the rule of law in mind. In fact, as early as 1958, the late Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, the first prime minister of our country had solemnly made a declaration in our august Parliament that Malaysia (then Malaya) was a secular state.

Hence, the unilateral and unconstitutional declaration of Mahathir that our country is already an Islamic state is most uncalled for by a prime minister, because he is fully aware that this is the most sensitive and controversial issue of the time.

It is awful but comprehensible that this declaration is unconditionally accepted and parroted by our de facto law minister and all component parties of the Barisan Nasional, who have no choice but to fall in line with the official position declared by Mahathir.

Political exploitations

Thus, great confusion is caused among people of various ethnic and religious backgrounds. If not properly handled, the harmony and stability of our country could be threatened. Regrettably, some political parties are scrambling to exploit the issue to gain political mileage at the expense of the well-being of the people.

PAS, for example, has spared no efforts in trying to put forward its version of Islamic state (and strangely enough, to hand it over in the form of a memorandum to Mahathir), never considering that by doing so, it would further isolate itself from the moderate Muslims and non-Muslims, and cause great dilemma to other component parties of the Barisan Alternatif who do not subscribe to the fight for the establishment of an Islamic state in the context of the BA alliance.

DAP, after quitting BA, is in no position to contain PAS from within through consultation, positive criticism, and democratic decision of majority voices. Tactically speaking, it is unwise for the Chinese-predominant DAP to single-handedly champion the course of secularism in our country. By so doing, it might further isolate itself from the mainstream Malays, and as a result, cause even greater polarisation between the Muslims and non-Muslims.

s The most shameful and ridiculous are the non-Malay based component parties of the BN, which have been opposing the establishment of an Islamic state all along, to suddenly make an about-turn and support unconditionally Mahathir's version of Islamic state - albeit with an guilty conscience, if they still have one, that is.

'Secular Islamic state'

The MCA propaganda machine had to invent an incredible term, "secular Islamic state", as a compromise to their former strong anti-Islamic state stand. It might be okay to appease the muddle-headed who have very little knowledge about Islamic state, but for the knowledgeable, especially among Muslims, a secular Islamic state is just unthinkable because "there is no half-way house between secularism and Islam", to quote Salleh Abas.

MCA president Dr Ling Liong Sik has exposed his out-and-out opportunistic political stand when he, on one hand agreeing with Mahathir's declaration that Malaysia is already an Islamic state, on the other said that Malaysia can also be called a secular state and that it was only a matter of interpretation!

He even resorted to sophistry, saying that many things can be called by more than one name. A rose in English is a rose, in Mandarin it is mei-kwei , in Malay bunga mawar and in Tamil roja but they all mean the same thing.

But sophistry won't alter facts. An Islamic state in English is an Islamic state, in Mandarin it is hui-jiao-guo , in Malay kerajaan Islam . It is true that they all mean the same thing, but they definitely do not mean secular state as suggested by Ling!

Worrying trend

It is undeniable that Mahathir's declaration is a political gimmick with a hidden agenda aimed to pick up the gauntlet thrown down by PAS.

As rightly pointed out by Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi, a law professor at Universiti Teknologi Mara, the more Umno tries to project itself as Islamic, the more PAS will move to the right, creating a sort of 'priestly aristocracy'.

In other words, it is worrying that in future more Islamisation regulations and programmes might be introduced by both BN's central government and PAS' state governments to out-do each other in the wake of Muslim radicalism and fundamentalism worldwide and within our country.

The Islamic state, no matter if it is Umno's version or PAS's, has now become a real issue in our pluralist society. It is the duty of those who are truly committed to the spirit and principles of democracy, freedom, justice, equality and rule of law, irrespective of ethnic and religious backgrounds, to be united and through concerted efforts, to find a solution acceptable to both Muslims and non-Muslims, for the well-being of our people as a whole.

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