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The political limits of the Office of the Mufti of Perlis

  • It is inappropriate for a serving mufti to give opinions freely about the political management of this country and pass sweeping negative judgments.

By Professor Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi

In this column piece, as a Muslim, a Malay and as a peace loving Malaysian, I would like to ask the State Islamic Authority whether it is appropriate for a serving Mufti to give opinions freely about the political management of Malaysia and pass sweeping negative judgments on minority groups that have contributed significantly to the development of their own communities and others as well for more than half a century.

In our nation’s history, the minority groups have seen their tax money help the Malay Felda in the tune of billions, the matriculation quota that favors the Malays after decades and the bailing out of many Malay entities like MAS. All this while the minority groups have not accused in the open of the Malays being ‘racist’ or enemies of Malaysia. To cite one small incident of questioning an Arabic script in Bahasa Malaysia seems to be a surprisingly petty act.

On the issue of Zakir Naik, there is already a strong agreement that he has abused his PR privileges by questioning the loyalty of our Chinese and Indian brethren Malaysians. In another issue, Asri has displayed a racist sentiment and poor acceptance of Indian leaders like Waythamoorthy, P. Ramasamy and Kulasegaran when he advises them to leave Malaysia to their place or origin in India if they lose a debate with Zakir Naik.

This was a highly inappropriate thing to say as a Mufti, as a Malaysian and even as a decent Muslim because all these are Malaysians with centuries old roots in this country whereas Zakir has nothing comparable. Furthermore, there is no such thing as a religious debate since all religions are based on personal faith and thus calls for mutual acceptance and tolerance.

In a previous statement the Mufti of Perlis seemed to be talking like a member of a race based or religious based political party and have made references to the importance of Malay dominance in controlling what he rudely considers as ‘anti-Malay’ groups. He quotes the disagreement of these groups in the ‘khat issue’ as a prime example and their criticism of Zakir Naik’s hate speeches as another.

Recently, Dr. Asri has mentioned that Malaysia needs a ‘Saddam Hussein’ to be the ‘gangster-leader’ among the many ‘gangsters’ in this country. Asri had not mentioned who the gangsters are in this country. He could mean the member party leadership of PH or the Dong Zong Education group.

In either case Asri seems to encourage a leader like Saddam who governed as an uncontrolled dictator that does not respect the rule of democratic governance and basic morality. Have we forgotten how Saddam had ordered the killing of 5,000 Kurdish nationals consisting of women, children and the elderly using Sarin Gas and Mustard Gas both outlawed by the Geneva Convention? Would Asri truly recommend a leader like that as a leader par excellence for the Muslims as well as for the Malays?

As a citizen and a Muslim I have been appalled by the Suhakam report that concluded of possible state sponsored disappearance of Malaysian individuals that had no record of threatening the bombing or killing of innocent lives. If true, is this the kind of dictatorship that Asri wants for our country?

In the context of certain ethnic and religious NGOs and political parties gathering for the Ummah Rally in the coming days, Asri’s statements can be seen as fuel for the racial and religious resentment in this country. I was very grateful to the police and the Home Ministry in stopping the hate speeches of Zakir Naik only now, it seems, to be replaced by a serving Mufti of a state.

I am sure that the civil societies, academics and concerned citizens would welcome any open debate on governance and political thoughts phrased in a balanced and harmonious discourse. It is the mark of a great success to the PH that dissenting voices are heard not only in the cabinet but also in society. According to Asri, this is the fault of the PH in allowing too much freedom of speech to the detrimental of the fate of Islam.

I am also sure that the civil society respects Asri as an intellectual and an Islamic Scholar from USM. If he wishes to debate with the people of Malaysia on his concerns about the welfare of Islam under the governance of Tun M and the PH, we most welcome him. But he must not wear the mantle of the Mufti when he engages in this discussion and debate.

Thus, I would like to request, with utmost respect, that Asri should vacate the position of the Mufti of Perlis so that he is free to air his view in any media or open forum. As an Associate Professor in USM he would be most valuable to add to the discourse of Islam, modernity and democracy. But as a Mufti, he should refrain from passing sweeping judgments on minority organizations especially from the non-Malay groups as well as make unresearched and unverified commentary on how the country is being managed by the PH government.

Finally, I wish to implore the State Islamic Authority for their wisdom and guidance in this great time of crisis in Malaysia. This Merdeka may be the worst in this country if wisdom and compassion fail the day.

(Professor Dr. Mohd Tajuddin Mohd Rasdi is Professor at UCSI University.)

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