I read a recent newspaper report on the Warrior's Day commemoration ceremony at the National Monument in Kuala Lumpur and was shocked to note that for the second year running the Yang di-Pertuan Agong did not attend the ceremony.
I think both Istana Negara and the government should give the public an explanation. More importantly, I fail to understand why the ex-servicemen's associations of both the armed forces and the police have kept quiet about this.
It does not behold the King as supreme commander of the armed forces, with such illustrious ranks as Field Marshal of the Army, Admiral of the Fleet and Marshal of the Air Force, to conspicuously absent himself from this remembrance ceremony.
The ceremony is held not just to pay tribute to our fallen heroes in particular, or the armed forces and police in general, but more importantly as a symbolic reaffirmation of the ancient ties that bind the armed forces to the crown as its head.
It must be remembered that while constitutionally the armed forces are under the control of the executive, they owe their loyalty to the King and not to the government of the day. This is exemplified by certain privileges and honours accorded to the armed forces in the context of the law.
The armed forces are not, in that sense, part of the civil service. Accordingly, as providers of the very security and stability that allows us to live in peace, comfort and harmony, the armed forces should be treated with the utmost respect and admiration by all patriotic Malaysians.
At times I sense that we take things too lightly in our quest for progress and material prosperity, often at the expense of our sense of history, tradition and customs. How many of us think of our servicemen and women who risk their lives in the service of this country despite all sorts of shortcomings, notably in terms of pay, service conditions and facilities.
While I concede that our armed forces needs to be reformed and modernised in order to ensure its continued national relevance, that should not be done at the expense of certain traditions and values. Most importantly, the value and respect that the armed forces commands as an institution pivotal to our survival as an independent and sovereign nation should not be diminished.
I am not aware of any grounds, reasonable or otherwise, for the King's absence from the Warrior's Day ceremony.
If there exists some religious edict somewhere that states that such ceremonies are un-Islamic, then such edicts need to be studied again and revised, as the prime minister recently said.
Being a non-Muslim, I'm unable to comment on such edicts in any great depth, but as a layperson, I do not think that laying a wreath at the National Monument amounts to worshiping the dead or idolatry. Neither is it a ritual.
The ceremony is one of remembrance and recollection and in fact verses from the Holy Quran are recited at the event. Therefore, I fail to see why the religious authorities may have taken some objection to this ceremony.
I do not think that Islam teaches its followers not to show gratitude and appreciation for the sacrifices made by fallen heroes, who have lost their lives in the defence of the country, religion and race.
After all, Muslims remember their dead by visiting cemeteries and offering prayers for the souls of the deceased. They do not go there to worship the tombstone or the dead. As such I seriously doubt that by laying a wreath at the National Monument, the King can be accused of being less of a Muslim.
The fact that some of the rulers in other states have continued with this tradition of remembering our fallen heroes only demonstrates that some rulers and religious authorities of certain states differ on this narrow and restrictive interpretation of their faith.
The monarchy as an institution can only thrive and remain relevant in a modern society if there is greater understanding and appreciation by the sovereign and rulers of their constitutional and public roles. These roles encompass virtues such as selfless service, dedication to duty, compassion, honesty, trust and decency.
To this add ceremony, pomp and pageantry of monarchy and you have an institution that is the embodiment of the nation's ancient history, tradition and continuity. A symbol of unity in diversity and the focal point of our loyalty and patriotism.
Without all these, it may one day decline into insignificance, irreverence and disrepute.