Hornbill Unleashed

December 21, 2009


By Zhang ML

The Chief Minister (CM) of Sarawak, Abdul Taib Mahmud, has finally said it.

In his attempt to sell Tanjung Manis as a halal (acceptable to Muslims) food and non-food processing hub in Sarawak, as well as promoting it as part of SCORE, the CM has today proclaimed that Malaysia is an Islamic State, just as a few others before him have done.

Was this declaration made simply because he wants to attract or boost participation by locals, as well as foreign investors in the halal hub as part of SCORE? “The advantage that we have is that Malaysia is an Islamic country. Although there are halal products from non-Islamic countries, the consumers, especially the Muslims, will have the tendency to buy halal products from fellow Islamic countries…They do so because they have more confidence in halal products from Islamic countries”.

The CM did go on to admit that it was odd that the non-Islamic countries like Australia, New Zealand and others are leading in terms of producing halal products, especially dairy and meat products. Whether or not his statement about Muslim consumer behavior was true or not, he certainly seems to want us to believe it.

So was it an innocent proclamation, as the CM might want you and me, his fellow Sarawakians, to believe? Or does it reveal the current views of the Sarawak government with regard to this ongoing debate of whether Malaysia is a secular or Islamic state?

And if it is the official position of the Sarawak government, does it really matter you ask? Many scholars are of the view that this subject is only of interest to academics, and has no relevance in the day-to-day affairs of ordinary citizens, the vast majority of people.

Well, it you belong to this category of Sarawak folk, I urge you to not to resign yourself to the view that Malaysia is an Islamic State.

A play on words?

Personally, I am of the view that what we call ourselves, or how we label our state, is important. It is not mere semantics, or a play on words, as some say.  According to this view, the vast majority of Malaysians do not even bother. I hit the roof when former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohammed declared, way back in 2001, that Malaysia is an Islamic State. It was of course during a spat with PAS. Subsequently during the reign of Pak Lah, he too made the same proclamation, in 2007. The current Prime Minister, then Deputy, followed suit, when he said that Malaysia was not a secular state.

The Nutgraph recently did an excellent report on the launching of the PerlembagaanKu (My Constitution) campaign of the Bar Council and the public forum that followed. The history of who said what, and when, appears in the Nutgraph report, as they were the fuel for the debate that has now developed.

Since it was first proclaimed, I have had numerous conversations with friends on the subject of whether our country is a secular or Islamic State. The response, more often than not, is that Malaysia is indeed an Islamic state.

At some point during all of these conversations or debates (however one wishes to see it) I have attempted to explain the facts from interpretations of our Constitution, as enunciated by the courts in many long-established decisions.

Judicial rulings and pronouncements have stated that we are a secular state (and secular here does not mean godless or without God). These decisions alluded to historical and pre-constitution documents stating this fact and intent, that Malaysia should be a secular state, although Islam still is the official religion of the country. (I often have to stop myself from continuing, because otherwise I might turn blue in the face!)

“Come on”, this friend once argued, “why then is the name of Allah invoked at every official prayer before some public function, or conference, or seminar, or assembly is declared open?”

And so he insisted that it does not matter what the judges and the constitution say. Malaysia is for all intents and purposes an Islamic state.

I went on, “But friend, no one imposes Islamic or syariah law on you, do they?” to my Chinese friend, who in this instance professes the Christian faith. My wandering mind began to postulate what would happen if he chooses to marry a Muslim lady.

The more kindly and less opinionated friends usually nod their heads, when I try to explain the distinction and why we should not accept what has been declared by those in power.

But I have not yet engaged myself in any such conversations with a fellow Malaysian of the Muslim faith. I wonder what her or his response would be.

Is Malaysia a ‘hybrid’ state?

I find it fascinating that there are academicians in the middle of the political spectrum, holding the view that Malaysia is a hybrid state: neither fully secular, nor fully Islamic. That, to me, is certainly a play on words!

Law Professor Shad Saleem Faruqi thinks being a hybrid state is a blessing, because the balancing act required can protect plurality.

“A hybrid state allows us to harmonise different interests. Given the fact that Islam is the defining feature of Malay [Malaysians], the idea of an Islamic state will not go away. But given the fact also that 45% of the population is non-Muslim, being a hybrid state is the best middle path we can take,” he says.

Is it right to interpret the Constitution on the basis that a particular interpretation might just bring about ‘harmony’ amongst its people?

To me, the answer has to be either black or white. Otherwise, the constitution would be subject to wrong interpretations by the executive arm of government. The executive branch would be able to interpret the constitution as it likes in its formation of regulations and implementation of policies and laws. No two ways about that.

The Pakatan factor

The Pakatan Rakyat is holding its inaugural convention over this weekend and it will of course be interesting to see how PKR is going to play ‘bridge’ between PAS and DAP on this issue, and where the opposition alliance stands in its common manifesto.

For now, they are only saying: “The common policy will reject discrimination in whatever form and there are a lot of human rights elements in the draft.” It is therefore timely, in the light of the Sarawak CM’s pronouncement, that the opposition delegates from Sarawak attending this convention, will know better than to play at spouting rhetoric, or to treat it as a game of semantics.

Meanwhile, my quixotic quest to tell as many of my friends that Malaysia is a secular state, continues.


  1. CM of Sarawak Taik Mammoth proclaimation is mere manipulation and self-propagada for his bloody self-interest.

    Comment by tsunami unleashed — December 22, 2009 @ 8:54 AM | Reply

  2. “…The advantage that we have is that Malaysia is an Islamic country. Although there are halal products from non-Islamic countries, the consumers, especially Muslims, will have the tendency to buy halal products from fellow Islamic countries.

    “They do so because they have more confidence in halal products from Islamic countries. And this is one advantage we must capitalise on,” he said when launching the Seminar on Sarawak Halal Industry Development at Islamic Information Centre here.The Borneo Post…”

    And of course, by his logic non Muslims will buy from non Muslim countries and that is 4.5 billion non Muslims, the 1.5 being Muslims. The Japs buy a lot of our timber which, by purist Muslims feel, is from Allah (God). They pay good money for freight, too, which is another aspect of Muslim Sarawak’s service sector.

    At the end of the day, the larger population of Muslims, which by purist Muslims feel should include the Penans, stay quite impoverished.

    We still have to sort out the bigger paradox!

    “…Wa Allahu bikulli syai ‘in alim!…”

    Comment by Bangau — December 21, 2009 @ 11:59 PM | Reply

  3. Halal Hub is still about money and credit as the purported players will need it to oil the hub’s wheels.

    Dubai debts are still not sorted out, not in a short while, and it takes no genius to understand that greed has a lot of gusto, still!

    Considering our BN government record of governance, we see a lot of mess in the making!

    Comment by Bangau — December 21, 2009 @ 10:46 PM | Reply

  4. […] 21, 2009 Joey received a call from a PAS sympathiser and the person said,” Tell the BN brothers to enjoy their stay at the TOP when they still have the time and not to try […]

    Pingback by PAS..BN ENJOY WHILE IT LASTS..!!” « Audie61’s Weblog — December 21, 2009 @ 7:35 PM | Reply

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