PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia has grown by leaps and bounds while undergoing several spectacular episodes of ‘hijrah’ (evolution) since the country gained its independence 62 years ago.
Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah said apart from rapid development and stronger economic growth, the nation’s political landscape has matured.
“From my observation, there is still room for us to continue embracing hijrah together,” said Sultan Abdullah in his speech at the national-level Maal Hijrah celebration here today.
Raja Permaisuri Agong, Tunku Hajah Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah, was present.
Also present were Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa.
“The strengthening of ethics and nurturing noble values are important in the management and administration of the country.
“Building a developed nation without the highest culture of integrity will deviate the country from the true form of hijrah.
“I fully support efforts to implement the administration of the country based on the discipline outlined in Maqasid Syariah (primary goals of the Islamic law).
“The highest form of hijrah can be achieved by upholding good and rejecting all forms of prejudices among people in the country,” the King said.
Islam, he said, encourages and promotes peace and good relationships within society, which should be emphasised among the people to strengthen unity.
“The is to ensure that the country achieves a higher form of hijrah through the spirit of tolerance and cooperation among people from various races, which is the strength of the country’s unity.
“This concept, however, should not be interpreted in a general manner to the extent of violating the teachings of the religion.
“Matters and efforts that are against the teachings of Islam, if tolerated, will lead to the collapse of the religion’s ‘wall’.
“In our efforts to embrace hijrah and tolerance among society, we should not neglect the demands of the religion.”
Published in: The New Straits Times, 02 September 2019
I remember reading a research done in Indonesia some years back that science students are more readily radicalised to commit violence and extremism compared with their non-science counterparts.
One of the reasons cited was because science is a more rigid — black or white — discipline with few grey areas in between. As a result, science students are more inclined to decide on one or the other.
Whereas the humanities students are more used to choosing the “in-betweens” and feel comfortable with it. Although they may later gravitate towards violence but there is also a chance they may do otherwise.
In other words, religion may not be the main cause for violence per se.
That said, many were relieved to learn from the International Seminar on Religious Values in Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism held last week at International Islamic University Malaysia that religions are indeed innocent bystanders being (mis)assigned the malicious blame.
There are many factors that drive someone towards extremism. According to an expert on religion-state-society studies, geopolitical or economic influences are more likely to be the cause, although religious labelling are more often used which then makes the issues more complex. At times politicians are the culprits by using religions for their vested interest.
Professor Mark Woodward said religious leaders instead have a crucial role and responsibility to play in stopping violent extremism. Together with politicians, religious leaders should refrain from using religious hatred as political tools to advance their own interests.
Policy makers are, therefore, ill-advised to use theological orientation as a factor in assessing the violent potential of Muslim movements and organisations, he writes. Instead more attention should be paid to variables that measure political attitudes and behaviour.
In line with this, the United Nations Security Council resolution 2250 (2015) urged states “to consider ways to have a more inclusive representation of youth in decision-making at all levels in local, national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention and resolution of conflict, including institutions and mechanisms to counter violent extremism”.
The seminar thus recommends the formation of a coordinating body, i.e. a secretariat, to facilitate the National Action Plan for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (PCVE) under the purview of the Home Ministry.
This is to consolidate government resources towards actionable response on PCVE issues and to also involve other stakeholders and acquire expertise from educational, civil society organisations and the private sector.
As it is, a survey of existing PCVE programmes across various ministries and agencies, such as the Department of National Unity and Integration under the Prime Minister’s Department, indicates that there are significant efforts at engagement and capacity building for PCVE.
However, there are also overlapping and duplication of efforts and responsibilities of these different government agencies which may prevent effective and cost-efficient enforcement of policies. By having a national secretariat, better optimisation of resources and best practices can be achieved. In addition, it also recommends the development of a PCVE programme package for Malaysian youths for national implementation.
This will be ascertained through a pilot study and identification of existing best practices across government ministries and agencies.
The principles of public health provide a useful framework for PCVE using capacity building especially in terms of research, collaboration, advocacy and engagement as part of more general nation-building efforts and also target segmentation of those considered to be at risk of radicalisation and violence.
By rigorously understanding the causes and consequences of violent extremism and terrorism via research and instrumentation, a more general but relevant primary prevention programme, policy interventions, advocacy; and a more focused countering of violent extremism programmes can be created.
Before all those, it also recommends that outmoded aspects of PCVE be reformed and expanded in the so-called post-ISIS period, by giving focus on the threat of far-right extremism and other religious and ideological radicalism, and the dynamics of their exchanges intra and between communities that threaten local and global peace.
It is our fervent Merdeka wish that through better understanding of PCVE, the level of violence and aggression could be better handled and reduced.
The writer, an NST columnist for more than 20 years, is International Islamic University Malaysia rector.
Published in: The New Straits Times, 31 August 2019
As our beloved Malaysia just celebrated its 61st independence on Aug 31, let us remember the journey we have travelled so far.
Before the British left this country 61 years ago, the journey towards independence had gone through different patches and challenges. The Malays, who were deeply loyal to the sultans, rose against the British. Datuk Maharaja Lela, Datuk Bahaman, Dol Said and Mat Kilau were among the Malay warriors who were willing to bear arms against the British.
Many of these acts of resistance ended in bloodshed. For instance, Maharaja Lela was hanged to death for killing J.W.W. Birch, a British Resident in Perak, in protest over the intervention by the British in the affairs of the state.
In an armed offensive launched by the British, together with the then Pahang authorities against Bahaman and his followers, renewed hatred against the British hindered their hostile operation and eventually caused it to fail.
Fast forward to about a decade before independence, the Malays rose against the British intervention which sought to reduce the power of the sultans by introducing the Malayan Union on April 1, 1946. Consequently, the brazen British intervention in the local political framework raised the spirit of Malay unity against the British. The Malays succeeded in convincing the Malay rulers to boycott the proclamation of Malayan Union. Eventually, the British’s plan failed, and it was replaced by the Federation of Malaya in 1948.
The struggle against the British did not end there. Looking at the success of Indonesians, who managed to “expel” the Dutch from their homeland, the Malays were inspired to end the British influence for good and free Malaya.
The quest for independence culminated when the Alliance Party (later Barisan Nasional) which consisted of Umno, MCA, and MIC— with full support from the nation — managed to negotiate with the British in London to pave the way for independence. The negotiations ended in favour of the Malayans, which saw Malaya gain her independence on Aug 31, 1957.
A commission — the Reid Commission — was set up by the British to draft a written constitution for the Merdeka Malaya. The Malay rulers were accorded a major role in assisting the commission to prepare their task.
In total, the commission held 118 meetings and received 131 memoranda from all parties, including from the Malay rulers.
On the surface, the Constitution seemed to be biased with special provisions given to the:
POSITION of Islam in (Article 3);
MALAY privileges, (and later in 1963, the natives of Sabah and Sarawak) in Article 153; and,
POSITION of the Malay rulers in Article 38.
However, many have forgotten that the Constitution we inherited today is a product achieved by stakeholders and parties from different ethnicities and religious groups, and is famous for its balanced provisions.
This agreement to give and take for the sake of unity and achieving a common goal is commonly known as the “social contract” — a contract that the three major political parties of the Alliance, representing the three major ethnicities, understood and ultimately acknowledged throughout their coalition.
In return for the special Malay provisions, non-Malay minorities were given citizenship, freedom of religion, cultural rights, educational and economic rights.
Throughout the decades, the three major ethnic groups have worked side by side in political coalitions and in government. In fact, this inter-ethnic cooperation can also be observed in the new Pakatan Harapan government.
Despite the diversity of culture, language, the way of life, political ideologies, economic status, and even marriage laws, Malaysians have proven that they can live peacefully and harmoniously, side by side.
Indeed, the pluralistic society of Malaysia is a huge asset to the country, and what makes it a beautiful and unique nation. Instead of a melting pot, Malaysia is a rich cultural mosaic. The various races, religions, cultures, and regions are like a rainbow which of consists of different colours, but stay together under the same arc.
However, some parties, often among the younger generation, due to a lack of understanding of the history behind the Constitution, have arbitrarily denied the existence of the “social contract”. One of their arguments is that it does not exist in the Constitution.
As a retort, the Constitution also does not contain terms such as “democracy”, “the rules of laws”, “separation of powers” and “independence of the judiciary”.
Even if the Constitution does not expressly contain a certain term or concept, it does not necessarily render them false or unacceptable. It turns out that the Constitution has many implied provisions, including, non-textualised ideas.
The denial of the existence of a social contract, in fact, has denied the historic ethnic cooperation and consultation which were encapsulated in the memorandum by the Alliance, articulated and conveyed to the Reid Commission.
There are also some who argue that the social contract is a legacy that is no longer in line with the demands of the present society. Thus, they demand amendments to the existing Constitution to suit current needs. While it is true that amendments should be made to fulfil contemporary needs, many have been integrated in the numerous amendments made to the Constitution from time to time.
Yet, the essential foundations of the Constitution must be preserved to safeguard the current social balance and avoid any racial conflict. The wisdom behind the social contract and the compromises that have been practised by all parties since independence must also be understood and respected.
A call to amend provisions such as the position of Islam, the privilege of the Malays, the Malay language and the position of the Malay rulers is against the spirit of unity prescribed by the Constitution.
The Constitution is a document that balances between the demands of the various groups of society. Remedies include the practice of “give and take” between ethnic groups, and to be free from extremities in action and ideology.
For that matter, it was the intention of our forefathers and the Reid Commission in drafting the Merdeka Constitution for all Malaysians to enjoy a good and peaceful life.
The document is an embodiment of the unity within diversity among the multicultural society of Malaysia.
The high spirit of tolerance and acceptance propagated in the social contract by both the majorities and minorities are the fruits of a balanced approach framed in the Constitution.
Any readings on the Constitution must be done in a holistic manner. Thus, demanding equality in reference to Article 8 of the Constitution must not ignore other provisions in the Constitution which were included as part of the social contract.
Since the Constitution is the supreme law in Malaysia as per Article 4 (1), this living document is a prime source of unity for Malaysians.
As such, it is our obligation to uphold the constitutional objectives for all Malaysians to live in peace and harmony, despite their different backgrounds, ethnicity and religions.
The writer is associate professor and deputy chief executive officer of International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia.
Published in: New Straits Times, Wednesday 5 September 2018