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FEER: Question of Faith
By Kapal Berita

14/10/2000 3:08 am Sat


Rencana ini memang layak masuk ke dalam tong sampah..... tetapi dihantar keforum ini supaya kita dapat mengenalpasti siapakah yang berpura-pura berjuang dan siapa yang "naik tocang". Lihatlah bagaimana Noraishah dikatakan kononya "bercinta" sedangkan beliau sebenarnya terpedaya.

Seperti biasa ramai yang bersedap kata tetapi ia hanyalah setakat dibibir sahaja. Patutlah gejala murtad tidak menemui kesudahannya kerana negara asyik membina mercu tanda di bandar dan di desa, tetapi lupa untuk menapak iman di dada...

Perenggan terakhir menunjukkan sikap Farish Nor yang kekal sebagai seorang yang tidak mahu Islam mencorakkan politik tanahair... ie fahaman sekular.

From The Far Eastern Economic Review
Issue cover-dated 19th October 2000

Question of Faith

Concern grows that the ruling party may seize the Islamic initiative to win votes

By S. Jayasankaran/KUALA LUMPUR

IN KUALA LUMPUR in 1998, bank executive Nur'aishah Bukhari, a Malay Muslim, fell in love with her colleague Joseph Lee, a Roman Catholic of Chinese-Indian parentage. This should have mattered little in Malaysia, where Muslim-Christian marriages are fairly common and the non-Muslim partner typically embraces Islam.

But Nur'aishah converted to Catholicism, thus turning her back on Islam and committing apostasy, a cardinal sin in the eyes of many Muslims. The resulting uproar from Malaysia's majority Malays, who are defined as Muslims by the constitution, finally forced the couple to flee the country.

Two years later, apostasy is again a national issue, but with politics behind it.

This time the focus is a federal bill on apostasy drafted by the United Malays National Organization, which leads the country's ruling coalition. Designed as a guideline for Malaysia's states, which administer sharia (Islamic) law, the bill has prompted many people to wonder whether the supposedly secular Umno is trying to "out-Islamize" the opposition Islamic Party of Malaysia, or Pas, which made big gains in elections last year.

The bill was modelled on legislation adopted in April, with Umno's backing, in the northern state of Perlis. It proposed sweeping powers for religious officials to detain apostates--as well as anyone merely suspected of planning to convert from Islam--for up to a year of "rehabilitation."

But in September, amid protests from women's groups and a lively debate in the media, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad appeared to back down. At this point, the measure was being checked by the attorney-general prior to being put before parliament. "We have found some weaknesses in it, rendering it quite ineffective, so we have yet to make a decision on it until it can be improved," the prime minister told reporters. "We cannot make hasty decisions," he added, noting that apostasy has been debated since Islam emerged 1,400 years ago.

Nonetheless, the fact that the bill almost reached parliament and was supported by Umno shocked many people. Critics fear it has been only temporarily shelved and will be revived whenever Umno thinks it can make political mileage out of it.

Opponents suggest Umno is seeking a more zealous image only to woo disaffected Malay voters back from Pas. The Sisters in Islam, a group campaigning to protect the rights of women in Islam, denounced the bill as a "holier-than-thou battle for the hearts and minds of Muslim voters."

Syed Azman Syed Ahmad, a Pas member of parliament, sees more than just an attempt to win votes. "Some say Umno is trying to outwit Pas on Islamic issues," he says. "One of the targets could be Pas. They could arrest anyone on vague charges of apostasy or for supporting deviationist groups."

Upping the religious stakes creates a potentially slippery slope in multiracial Malaysia. The Perlis apostasy law allows "religious authorities to decide who's a Muslim and who's not," says Farish Noor, a writer on Islamic affairs. "There is no room for individual interpretation of faith any longer. It's now become a matter for the state authorities to decide." No one, however, has yet been prosecuted for apostasy in Perlis.

For their part, non-Muslims fear Islamic one-upmanship may ultimately lead to an erosion of their rights. Analysts believe that Mahathir, who holds that Islamic values cannot be instilled by coercion, is unlikely to revive the bill. But the prime minister has said his current term will be his last, raising the possibility that his successors may revive the measure in the future, especially if Umno feels under threat.

An Islamic resurgence has been evident in Malaysia since the 1980s, but it posed no political threat to Umno until Deputy Premier Anwar Ibrahim was sacked in 1998. To many Malays, Anwar represented Umno's Islamic credentials, and the manner of his ouster on s###my charges pushed them into the arms of the Pas-dominated opposition.

Farish warns Umno against going down the Islamist path. "That will only play into the hands of the Islamists and add to the already overdetermined role of Islam in this country," he says. "Nobody has even thought of its long-term consequences. The bottom line is that religion is an unpredictable variable that should not be used in politics."