ANALYSIS: Progressives Want Secular Future
This resulted in the creation of a powerful Islamic bureaucracy at both federal and state levels. The UMNO-led government spoke the language of ‘Islamic values’; their rivals in the Islamic Party PAS in response out-bid them and called for Islamic law. The country witnessed a spiral of Islamization as the two political groups slugged it out to win the hearts and minds of the majority Malays.
The impact on religious minorities
The forty per cent non-Malay religious minority meanwhile felt marginalized as institutions assumed an increasingly Islamic hue. One key area affected was education, as explained by Tan Kong Beng, Executive Secretary of the Christian Federation of Malaysia, who told Lapido: ‘Creeping Islamization in Malaysia’s schools has been going on for over twenty years.’
This is reflected in many ways, including the favouring of Muslims in teacher recruitment and in the curriculum. The study of Islam is enhanced in government schools and the study of other faiths is excluded, replaced by ‘ethics’.
Even more debilitating for inter-religious harmony is the subtle humiliation of non-Muslims in their dealings with government that has sometimes accompanied the Islamization process.
Tan Kong Beng explains: ‘We have to be over-courteous in formal meetings. The form of courtesy is: “Pardon my ignorance, I would like to ask a question.”’
Dr Hermen Shastri, General Secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia, concurs. Inter-religious meetings with Government are constrained, he says. ‘There is this constant permeation of a culture of fear. Somehow you cannot be open about taking a different stand.'
The hudud debate
In a context of pervasive interfaith dysfunction, the introduction by the leader of PAS of a private member’s bill calling on the Malaysian Federal Parliament for hudud criminal codes will hardly help.
Sitting just off stage on this hudud issue is the powerful Islamic bureaucracy, created by the UMNO-led government.
Eugene Yapp, Executive Director of the Kairos Dialogue Network, an NGO dedicated to dialogue on issues affecting Christian-Muslim relations, claims that the religious bureaucracy aims to widen the powers of the shariah courts to facilitate the implementation of hudud laws.
‘It is part of its plan to review the entire shariah judicial system, which includes upgrading the levels of the shariah court and the harmonization of shariah and civil laws, as part of the Islamization agenda’, he said.
This is not good news for Malaysia’s religious minority population who find small comfort in the assurances by the authorities that it will only apply to Muslims.
Cases of non-Muslims having to comply with Islamic regulations already abound in today’s Malaysia. Several examples will suffice.
Two Chinese non-Muslim young people were charged in the City Hall magistrate’s court with hugging and kissing in a park, just last year.
And a middle-aged Chinese woman was refused service in a Department of Transport office until she covered her bare lower legs with a sarong, an ankle-length item of Malay apparel.
Food items popular among non-Muslim (and many Muslim) Malaysians which carry names considered offensive to Muslims - such as ‘ginger beer’ and ‘hot dog’ - have had to change their names in order to receive halal certification.