Response To Dennis Ignatius : What Is He So Afraid Of? – Presiden Gerakan QIAM

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This is a point-by point response to the article Malaysia’s Grim Islamic Future written by Dennis Ignatius published by the Asia Sentinel on 16 June 2023. Responses are in bold italic font.  

A modern, moderate Southeast Asian nation of 34 million people with a healthy ethnic minority  of Chinese, Indian, and indigenous groupings to go with its 58 percent Malay majority, Malaysia appears to be hurtling toward a 6th Century Islamic Shariah future. It is happening not because of overwhelming  popular  demand  but  because  of  years  of  cynical  political  manipulation  and corruption.

Secularists like Mr. Ignatius fail to recognize that Islam is a prime mover for Muslims. Islam is the primary concern for Muslims and it will always be. The politicians are simply responding to what the electorate wants. That is more of an indictment against democracy as a severely faulty system, rather than against Islam as a worldview per se. There is nothing wrong with Islam. Don’t blame Islam for what politicians do. The blame is with liberal democracy for giving power to the majority. 

Will Islam ever become unimportant to Muslims? It is highly unlikely. Mr Ignatius should learn the lessons from Al-Andalus. When the Muslims took over the Iberian peninsula in the 8th century, the majority of the population converted to Islam within a hundred years, and minorities especially the Jews also flourished and lived in peace. But when Ferdinand and Isabella commissioned the Spanish Inquisition in 1478, it took over 300 years through torture, expulsions, and executions before apparent evidence of Muslims living there disappeared. There are still remains of bodies uncovered till this day, buried under kitchen floors facing Mecca dating up to the 18th century, evidence of Muslims practicing their faith in secret in the face of violent persecution centuries later. Muslims do not give up their faith on a whim. Islam is a potent prime mover which in its highest form, enabled the Rashidun Caliphate to come out of the deep desert and conquer the Roman and Persian Empires within 15 years. That is analogous to Malaya conquering the United States and China in today’s terms. Islamic sensibilities in this country will far outlast any political parties. 

When it comes to the 75-year old Hadi, there seems to be a certain political paralysis; no one really knows how to deal with the challenge he poses. Some call for his arrest but they are too afraid to arrest him. There have also been calls for the government to come up with an effective counter-narrative to challenge Hadi’s disruptive, divisive, and disagreeable brand of political Islam. Others are hoping that the Malay-Muslim intelligentsia will take him on.

What Mr. Ignatius means by the ‘Malay-Muslim intelligentsia’ is the neo colonized secular Malay elite. The colonized always want to imitate the colonizers. There are plenty of stooges out there, some paid and some not. But they will have no capital with the masses because true leadership does not come from the spineless who simply bend following the winds of the zeitgeist.  

What most still don’t get, however, is that Hadi represents the face of Malaysia’s future. He’s a sign of the times, an augury of the change that is coming upon our nation. We are a nation in transition – from  an unfinished and deeply flawed  Westminster-style secular constitutional  democracy to an as-yet undefined Islamic state.

This is bigotry, pure and simple. Bring forward arguments for why a Westminster-styled constitutional democracy is superior to Islamic governance. Do we simply take it at face value? Again, the neo colonized mentality is apparent here. 

It’s already too late to talk about stopping Hadi or about reversing the slide towards an Islamic state. It is now only a matter of time before political Islam triumphs over Malaysia’s secular constitution. We are only deluding ourselves if we think the clock can be rolled back. There’s no  going back anymore; all that remains to be seen is what kind of Islamic state will emerge and who will shape it.

Correct, this is consistent with global trends which should be accepted. But do not fall for the lies and deceptions of the West who have demonized Islam from day one. Engage with orthodox Muslim intellectuals and we will prove to you why Islamic governance is superior to secular liberal values. Non-Muslims have nothing to fear, only to gain in the long run. Muslims are not Modi’s lynch mobs, nor are we the CCP gulag or the child murderers of Zionist Israel or Serbian war criminals. 

The signs of political Islam’s ascendancy and the future that Hadi represents have, in fact, been obvious for quite some time; the process is already far advanced on several fronts. Decades of intensive indoctrination within our national institutions, for example, have quietly but decisively transformed them into bastions of political Islam. The lines between private religious obligations and institutional responsibilities have been increasingly blurred. Many Malay-Muslim public  servants now feel obliged to prioritize their religious imperatives (as defined by the ulema) ahead of their duties as public servants.

Kedah MB Sanusi Md Nor summed it up well when justifying his outright ban on gambling in the state: “I am a Muslim and cannot gamble. Later in the hereafter, I will be asked what I did on this issue, and if I did not do anything, I will be punished (kena tibai).”

This fear of damnation in the hereafter weighs increasingly on Malay-Muslim officials. When  applied to public office, it has huge consequences.

This is a very incoherent argument. Isn’t this type of morality very much desired? The fear of God instilled in administrators? Isn’t this the correct way to combat  corruption? Or is this a valid point only because the MB referred to ‘gambling’? If so, then that is Mr Ignatius’ bigotry showing itself again. If the MB had said corruption instead of gambling, would Mr Ignatius still hold this view? 

This approach to public office has taken on a life of its own; individual officers at various levels seek to ensure that their respective departments and their policies and programs are sharia compliant to the fullest extent possible. As a consequence, the dictates of political Islam are gradually being imposed on Muslims and non Muslims alike not by law but by administrative fiat.

The dress code issue is one example. The government denies that there is a specific dress code and blames the “little Napoleons.” Nonetheless, dress codes have become the norm because it is  promoted by an Islamic-minded bureaucracy and enforced by “little mullahs” across the system.

This  is  the  power  of  Islamists  in  advancing  what  has  been  called  Malaysia’s  “invisible” constitution.

Mr. Ignatius needs to understand that all worldviews presuppose a paradigm. One paradigm must be dominant. In the West, because they no longer believe in God due to the deep European trauma with the Catholic Church, that paradigm is secular liberalism. However, in Malaysia, that paradigm is the Islamic Shari’a. Limits are imposed upon us by any paradigm. For example, in the West, we must agree with them that there are more than two genders and that a man can become a woman, and a woman can become a man simply because they self-identify as  such. In Malaysia (and other places too) there are limits imposed upon attire for very good reasons and these limits need to be adhered to, for example, on the golf course, one must wear collared shirts. In certain social functions there are dress codes such as black tie or baju Melayu. Of course, we know that what Mr Ignatius is really complaining about is enforcing modesty in women’s dressing. This is the ultimate slap in the face of secularism which constantly reminds them that Islam refuses to be secularized. We will not bow. Even by thinking logically, there are good reasons for enforced modest dressing. These limits are completely scientific and rational because as we all know from basic physiology, men are stimulated primarily by visual inputs, a biological fact that has been capitalized upon by the advertising industry for as long as we can remember. Hence, limits are imposed on women’s dressing to avoid constantly triggering men. This does not mean Islam is ‘oppressive’ because secular liberalism also imposes ‘oppressive’ limits. All dominant paradigms do. What we should do as citizens is to assess the core principles of each of these paradigms to see which is superior. The Islamic  Shari’a, which prioritizes the preservation of marriage, family, community and religion at the expense of some freedoms, is superior to secular liberalism which prioritizes maximal freedom whilst sacrificing marriage, family and community. These facts are also well supported by the classic work of Cambridge social anthropologist JD Unwin published in 1934, called Sex and Culture which showed a correlation between a society’s level of ‘cultural achievement’ and its level of ‘sexual restraint’. He concluded that if a country becomes increasingly liberal with sexual immorality after becoming prosperous, the creative and expansive energy of the society will be irrevocably lost within three generations. If Mr. Ignatius is willing to intellectually rebut these arguments, he is very welcome to. 

The security services too have been persuaded to see themselves as defenders of the faith first, upholders of the secular constitutional order second.

A former IGP, for example, refused to abide by a court order to locate and return to her mother an underaged girl who was illegally converted because of a contradictory ruling by the Shariah court.

The police also made headlines after it was discovered that a Special Branch officer warned of the dangers of Christian proselytization at an anti-Christianization seminar at a university campus.

Despite the public outcry, the then-Inspector General of Police, the country’s top law enforcement official, insisted that there was nothing wrong with it.

Whilst we do not condone any overstepping of duties by the security forces, it seems ludicrous that Mr Ignatius can only come up with these two incidents to support his claim. The world is a messy place and whilst we certainly do not trivialize the two incidents he mentioned, we would hope that Mr Ignatius could contextualize what he is saying. He is implying that the increasing Islamization in Malaysia is the cause of these two violent episodes. Is Mr Ignatius even aware of the violence, nay genocide, visited upon Muslims worldwide simply because of their faith? Muslims are lynched to death daily in Hindutva India whilst their Prime  Minister’s visit  is  celebrated  in  the  US.  Where  is  the outrage? The sanctions? The Uyghur Muslims are put into concentration camps in China, their women forced to have relations with Chinese men to ‘breed the Islam out of them’. They are forced to eat pork, not allowed to pray or fast, imprisoned for no other reason than their faith. The Rohingyan Muslims are massacred by Buddhist extremists in Myanmar. The Palestinians have suffered at the hands of European Zionists for more than three generations now. We hope Mr Ignatius is aware of how many UN resolutions the Zionists have violated with full support of the Western powers. Let’s not forget either not too long ago, the Srebrenica Massacre during the Bosnian War where 8000 Muslim men and boys were massacred by their own neighbours, of the same skin colour, purely because they were of the Muslim faith. Islamization prevents these incidents from happening because protection of minorities is codified in the Shari’ah. But as we Muslims know the hard way, being on the other side of the fence offers no protection at all. In the current milieu, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth when the vast majority of non- Muslims live prosperously and peacefully in Malaysia whilst our Muslim brethren are genocided in the countries of their ethnic origin.   

This fundamental shift is not confined to public institutions alone. The shift to a more conservative expression of Islam is also broadly evident within Malay-Muslim society as a whole.

Social media – especially that put out by PAS – has had a huge impact on the dissemination of the message of political Islam and religious conservatism.

It might have even overtaken the power of the massive ‘ceramah’ network as a means of propagating political Islam.

As well, thanks to the takeover of our education system by Islamists, generations of students steeped in the narrative of political Islam are now reshaping all aspects of Malaysian society.

Concomitant with this Islamic ‘awakening’ is the growing belief – a belief that is encouraged by PAS as well as many influential Islamists – that Malaysia cannot be truly Islamic until the Koran rather than the Federal Constitution forms the foundation of the state, until Sharia law supersedes the civil code.

One indicator of the change that is shaping the Malay Muslim world comes from a Merdeka Centre poll which found that the number of Malay-Muslim youth (15-25) who feel that the Koran should replace the Federal Constitution had jumped from 72 percent in 2010 to 82 percent in 2022.

Absolutely. This is again consistent with global trends. The onus is on Mr Ignatius to explain why this would be a bad thing. Why is the ‘civil code’ seen as some sort of axiomatic truth to be defended at all costs? Is it because it came from the British? We hate to keep saying it but again, this is evidence of a neo colonized mind. We await Mr Ignatius’ arguments with bated breath.

…It goes without saying that Malay-Muslims form the most important demographic in Malaysia;  they determine the direction of the nation and the pace of change. If such large numbers favor an Islamic state, it’s going to happen one way or another, whether the rest like it or not.

To be sure, there is no objective way of knowing what the “silent” (Malay-Muslim) majority really  think about an Islamic state.

Malay-Muslim society is far from homogenous in its thinking or outlook. Generally, however, on  matters of religion, Malay-Muslims tend to defer to the ulama, the body of Islamic scholars.

There is also some anecdotal evidence that growing political disenchantment is driving more and more Malay-Muslims to look to political Islam for answers. This gives the ulama and parties like PAS disproportionate power and influence.

Whatever it is, for so long as the silent majority remain silent and allow the Islamists and others to speak and act in their name, they have rendered themselves inconsequential to the whole Islamic state issue, at least in the short to medium term.

This is true and it is testament to the superiority of the Shariah in preserving family, marriage, community and religion. Malay-Muslims still have the highest fertility rate in this country, well past the replacement rate needed although still below what it used to be. Malay-Muslims are also the most successful at passing down their religion to the next generation. Our mosques are full of young people. So in a numbers game, be it for combat or for democracy, a Shari’ah based system is clearly superior. Whereas in secular liberalism where children are encouraged to ‘explore alternative sexualities’ which do not produce offspring, and damage is incurred on young women and men through normalized promiscuity, a path to extinction is more likely. 

Some argue that better economic programs could slow the advance of political Islam. While better economic strategies are certainly needed, that in itself is unlikely to change the trajectory towards an Islamic state.

Remember, that on the whole, Malay-Muslim society has grown progressively wealthier since the 1980s but that has not stopped the drift towards religious conservatism.

Why in the world would more wealth slow down the trajectory to Islamic governance? Islam is not a Marxist ideology. Wealth is allowed and is preferred because Muslims are commanded to share this wealth instead of hoarding it. This is good for the economy. Zakat and sadaqah which are integral parts of Islam help to alleviate poverty. If Elon Musk became Muslim and paid 2.5% zakat, we could solve world hunger. Mr Ignatius is implying that having more wealth would make Muslims more interested in this material world, subsequently prone to ‘imitating the colonizer’ and paying less attention to matters of faith. Again, Mr Ignatius underestimates the power of Islam as a prime mover. 

No one left to stand up for a secular Malaysia

What is needed, of course, is a concerted effort to confront the political narrative of Islamists like Hadi, but that is unlikely to happen because few are willing to challenge them politically or theologically.

Recently, one respected commentator pleaded with non-Malays not to attack Hadi but to leave it to the Malay-Muslim intelligentsia to take him on.

But Hadi has been ranting and raving and making the most outrageous statements against non Malays and non-Muslims for years. With few exceptions, most Muslim scholars and academics have either kept silent or downplayed his remarks.

In fact, Malay-Muslim academics are the least likely to challenge Hadi and the Islamists. Many simply lack the intellectual capacity or credentials to take them on; others simply lack the courage.

Most, I suspect, are quietly sympathetic. The few that endeavor to engage the Islamists in rational discussion find themselves quickly marginalized.

Again, what is it about the political narrative of Islamists that need to be challenged? Mr Ignatius should specify what it is that he and his friends are so hot and bothered about. Not only does he need to specify, but also argue objectively why the secular political narrative or solution would be better. As can be seen in the West now, where secularism has been taken to its logical postmodernist conclusion, there is no neutrality in secular liberal philosophy. Secularism is intolerant of everything except itself. This is in contrast to Islamic governance which has a rich history of ruling minorities, from the Medinan charter, to the millet system of the Ottoman Empire and to the preservation of the Jewish peoples and traditions in Al-Andalus.  

Rather than accuse Malay-Muslim academics of lacking intellectual capacity, credentials or courage, it would behoove Mr Ignatius to consider that perhaps it is HE who lacks objectivity, knowledge and most of all, the ability to overcome frank prejudice and bias. 

Our politicians are no better. Many, if not most, already subscribe to the general goals of political Islam. They all understand that the ground has shifted.

There’s nothing to be gained politically by defending Malaysia’s secular multicultural identity. The fight among them now is not about whether Malaysia should be an Islamic state or not but about who ought to lead the emerging Islamic polity.

In any case, all too many of our politicians are thoroughly indolent, iniquitous, self-centered, and corrupt. All they want is power, position, and privilege; they have no commitment to the well-being of the nation. This collapse of leadership has created a political vacuum which Islamists are now rushing to fill.

This is to be expected because democracy as a system creates ‘leaders’ who actively seek power. In and of itself this will almost certainly result in selection of those who are ‘indolent, iniquitous, self-centered, and corrupt.’ So we should not be surprised. Even though there are many good and capable ‘Islamists’ as it were, the type of people who enter politics leave much to be desired simply because the system attracts those types of personalities. 

Non-Malay political parties are fully aware of what is going on as well. They’ve had plenty of opportunities to seriously engage Malay-Muslim parties, but they have consistently failed to defend the secular foundations of our nation.

Again, democracy is a numbers game. The electorate cares about Islam. Why would anyone who wants to win elections stand up for secularism which is antithetical to Islam? Additionally, secularism prioritizes maximizing freedom at the expense of marriage and family, so with every generation there will be fewer and fewer ‘progeny’ of secularism. 

When then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad triumphantly declared Malaysia an Islamic state at the Gerakan annual delegates conference in 2001 – barely days after the 9/11 attack – he did so with the acquiescence and support of Gerakan, MCA, and MIC leaders.

At the time, only the DAP vigorously struggled to defend the secular foundations of Malaysia. But that was before the party tasted federal power. Since 2018 (when they became part of the federal government for the first time ever) they’ve backed away from many of the issues they once championed.

Twice in the last few months, for example, the issue of RUU355 – which many view as a major step forward in the evolution of an Islamic state – has been raised in parliament by the minister of religious affairs; the DAP has said nothing.

The DAP skillfully preys on non – Malay fears about the green wave and presents itself as a bulwark against it but like the MCA before them, they too have made their accommodation with political Islam.

This is the realpolitik. You reap what you sow. 

Whatever it is, the duplicity of our politicians is nothing short of criminal. In exchange for temporary power, position, and privilege, they are willing to compromise, even abandon, the fundamental and sacred principles that underpin Malaysia’s status as a secular multicultural constitutional democracy.

What hope can there be for Malaysia’s future as a secular nation when even non-Muslim political leaders are unwilling to fight for it?

Hopefully there is no future for Malaysia as a secular nation. Islamic governance should be the stated aim, which will reunite morality with law rather than relegate morality to an unenforceable issue ‘behind closed doors’. Core principles of marriage, family, community and religion should be focused on to stabilize society and  this  will  eventually  result  in  a  productive,  prosperous  and  flourishing civilization, God-willing. 

Can Anwar save Malaysia?

Many – especially non-Muslims – are now looking to Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim to stem the advance of political Islam and preserve Malaysia as a secular multicultural democracy. I suspect that they are going to be very disappointed.

Anwar rose to national prominence as an Islamist. Along with Hadi Awang, he cut his teeth in ABIM, the Muslim youth movement, of which he was a founding member as well as its second president.

Anwar was subsequently recruited by Mahathir to shore up UMNO’s Islamic credentials as a counterweight to PAS. With Dr. Mahathir’s full support, Anwar set about to Islamize the government along with the education sector. His policies directly contributed to the rapid rise of political Islam in Malaysia.

Since coming to power, Anwar has attempted to hunt with the hounds and run with the hares, playing up his commitment to secular multiculturalism while deepening his ties with Islamists.

He has organized several large Islamic events to burnish his Islamic credentials. He has also sought to win over the Islamic bureaucracy with a range of financial incentives and support for initiatives like RUU355, a federal parliamentary measure to allow for the implementation of Shariah law.

As well, Anwar seems intent on expanding the role and powers of JAKIM (the Malay acronym for the Department of Islamic Development) in the affairs of government. In May, it was announced that the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) would collaborate with JAKIM to censor material deemed offensive or deviant.

His latest move – inviting JAKIM to play a bigger role in policymaking, drafting the national budget and national development plans, and reforming national and governmental institutions – is the most ominous sign thus far of where he is headed.

It will entrench the mullahs at the heart of government and put them in a position to influence the entire machinery of government and the policies that ensue from it. It might well lead to a burgeoning of the Islamic bureaucracy, perhaps even the creation of a parallel religious civil service.

This is actually what PAS has been pushing for. In 2020, PAS Dewan Ulama chief Nik Zawawi called for Shariah advisers – political commissars really – to be embedded in every government agency “to ensure that Islam’s position as the national religion was upheld when carrying out policies.”

Anwar’s actions have effectively redefined the Federal Constitution by giving religious authorities like JAKIM powers that the framers of the constitution never intended.

In this issue we share the concerns of Mr Ignatius. Traditionally, in Islamic governance, the ‘ulama or scholars must be independent of the government or the rulers. ‘Ulama must have the remit to call truth to power and to put the rulers in their place whenever and wherever it is needed. This is an urgent need which must be addressed immediately. The ‘ulama are the best way to provide checks and balances because unlike the laypersons of the electorate, they will utilize sacred knowledge to address iniquities within the ruling class. For this reason, they must be independent from the administration. For this purpose, the waqf system which was dismantled by the British land-grabbers, which traditionally supported the ‘ulama class, must be resurrected with utmost urgency. 

Many including Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and the G25 reform group have argued that JAKIM itself is an unconstitutional body but that has not stopped it from becoming the behemoth that it is today.

The G25 are part of the secular liberal Malay elite who are imitating the colonizer. We should not look to them for leadership. 

It is the most significant step ever taken by a prime minister to empower the Islamic bureaucracy and should put to rest the issue of what Anwar’s priorities are. There’s a danger now that JAKIM’s influence on national policy could even eclipse that of the Malay rulers.

In retrospect, one wonders whether all the talk about reformasi while Anwar was in the wilderness and needed the support of a plurality of Malaysians was all just an elaborate public relations exercise.

Tellingly,  all  the  ‘reformasi’  stalwarts  within  Anwar’s  multiracial  party – once  passionate advocates of the nation’s secular constitutional democracy – have suddenly gone silent as their president leads Malaysia further down the road to an Islamic state.

Again, this is realpolitik. Democracy means you will have to pander to the electorate. The electorate wants Islam. 

In the meantime, Anwar continues to crisscross the country preaching about respect, tolerance, and inclusiveness. But it may be all just a charade, a clever move to keep non-Muslims on his side while pushing ahead with his Islamic agenda.

Despite his stirring speeches on tolerance and inclusion, he has done very little by way of actual policies to advance these goals. National unity and inclusiveness, for example, cannot be sustained without a more balanced civil service; something which Anwar has already ruled out for fear of upsetting the Islamists and Malay nationalists who see the civil service as their exclusive domain.

Even if Anwar genuinely wanted to rebuild Malaysia’s secular foundations, he does not appear to have the political strength, patience or the skill set that is needed to oversee the kind of vast institutional transformation that can counter the rising tide of political Islam. Being the populist that he is, he’ll just go with the flow.

Whatever it is, one thing is certain: Malaysia is quickly coming to an inflection point. Islamists have ploughed the ground well; Hadi’s version of an Islamic state will soon enough become Malaysia’s new political reality. Founding Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman’s “beacon of light” speech proclaiming independence as a secular nation in 1957 is about to go out.

Indeed, we hope for this to be the case. But we do not wish for the non-Muslim residents of this land to be fearful. On the other hand, we urge you to get over your prejudices and discuss your worries with Muslim intellectuals in an objective fashion rather than be consumed by bigotry. Secularism is not some sort of axiomatic truth. In fact, the 20th century was the deadliest century of human history at the hands of those who erased God from the public space. Even the leading Orientalist Samuel Huntington wrote that “the West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion, but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.” So why do we cling on to this idea of secularism when we can see the implosion of secular Western societies in real time right before our eyes? It is no longer the heyday of 1989. Yes, after the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended, liberal intellectuals like Fukuyama declared arrogantly that “liberal democracy will be the final form of government for all nations.” In 2023, as secular liberal nations obsess about all things sexual and even the definition of a woman is up for debate, it is plain to see that they have lost the plot and we certainly should not go down that same path. It is time that Malaysia comes into its traditional inheritance, Islamic governance, which once shaped our land without violence and made it flourish. 

Dato’ Sirajuddinn Hj Salleh


1 July 2023 

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