Hornbill Unleashed

November 7, 2014

The real power in Malaysia

Filed under: Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 8:00 AM
Tags: , , ,

Zaid Ibrahim

The so-called “Malay moderate” leaders normally expound their sugar-coated liberal ideas in international forums and always in English because they know that the Malay-Muslim audience at home will miss it completely.

This is true of both Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Their actions are, however, diametrically opposite to what they profess to believe.

Let’s see how they handle the issues of “liberalism” and “pluralism”:

The state religious authorities have labelled Muslims deemed “liberal” and “pluralistic” in outlook as “deviants” (i.e. those who have strayed from the true path of Islam).

This accusation is cruel and totally unjustified. It should not have been made by the state religious authorities and certainly not by those who claim to be religious and pious men.

Muslims the world over take pride in the fact that their religion is “simple” and has no clergy that act as intermediaries with God.

This is not the case in Malaysia. Here, there are religious authorities who have usurped the power of God and pass judgement on Muslims long before they die and long before The Day of Judgement.

Forty years ago, it was PAS that labelled Umno “infidels” but today this is no longer merely a game of political point-scoring. Now it goes to the core of religious belief: if you do not follow the rulings of the state religious authorities, you are not a Muslim.

What do the religious authorities teach? Liberalism and pluralism are sinful. That’s why the authorities have effectively banned Sisters in Islam by labelling the group “deviants”.

But what is so wrong about being liberal? A liberal is merely someone who has forward-looking and progressive ideas. Being liberal means just being “open minded” about things.

When the Prime Minister said that Selangor Umno had to think outside the box and come up with new ideas to retake the state, he was being liberal and progressive. You can also say that, in the context of Umno, Najib, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein and Khairy Jamaluddin are liberals and progressives while Utusan Malaysia, Dr Ridhuan Tee Abdullah, Datuk Ibrahim Ali and Isma are conservatives.

There is nothing “sinful” about this classification.

But another dirty and sinful word is “pluralism”. The religious authorities seem to think that it means all religions are the same and that Islam is on par with other religions in Malaysia—Muslims are therefore prohibited from being pluralistic because Islam is the only true religion.

The religious authorities should learn to relax a little.

In the context of our country, pluralism does not mean what they think it means. We use “pluralism” as a way of saying all religions have the right to exist in this land. It’s not a measure of which one is truer than the other. It’s not a judgement about which religion is better.

As Muslims, we believe of course that Islam is better, but no one is preventing us from believing this. Equally, Hindus (for example) are entitled to their own set of religious beliefs in what constitutes the path to salvation.

This pluralism is not merely “permitted” in our country, it is a fundamental characteristic of our nation enshrined in the Federal Constitution. On the other hand, what is certainly not permitted is religious hegemony.

Pluralism means we accept that there are different religious faiths in the country and that our fellow; citizens have the right to practise those faiths freely. It is the idea that we must coexist peacefully. That’s the essence of Article 11 of our Constitution and the religious authorities really should not be afraid of the word.

We are a democracy. Furthermore, we have recently been elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. We should have the courage to lead by example.

But what are our political leaders doing about this?

Instead of calling up the religious authorities to explain to them the dangers of their rulings and how they violate our constitutional freedoms—and how Muslims will be adversely affected by such rulings—our political leaders have done nothing.

Recently, Anwar was at his usual charismatic best when delivering a talk at a posh hotel to some “Muslim democrats”. He said there was nothing wrong with pluralism and liberal ideas but also that he would not change the decision of the religious authority in Selangor where his party is in government.

Najib, on the other hand, has been acting as he has always been, expressing an “elegant silence” on everything important happening in the country.

What is abundantly clear to Malaysians who care to see is that Malay political leaders are afraid of the religious authorities.

Our leaders are like the Imperial Chinese eunuchs who would always obey the Emperor for the privilege of living in the Palace and having control over state finances.

In this matter, there is no difference at all whether Umno or the Pakatan Rakyat has political power and occupies Putrajaya—today the real power in our lives emanates from the religious authorities.



  1. If our government led by PM Najib, refuses to take a stand and allows religious bigots to run wild and loose, there is little hope left for Malaysia.
    We didn’t have such religious extremism in Malaysia 30 years ago. Suddenly some Muslims are so religious. Religion is in your hearts not what you try to exhibit outside.

    Comment by G Rajan — November 8, 2014 @ 9:54 AM | Reply

  2. In malaysia, politics and religion are inseparable. When umno wants to score points in politics, they use religion and versi versa. We are seeing extremism on the rise because of this point scoring. Unmo wants to be seen to be more religious then its opponent so they use utusan,ibrahim ali, reduan tee, isma etc to help them score points amongst the malays. Its a vicious circle being played but thats tolerable to those who are suppose to keep in check these kind of extreme politics even how seditious they are in their speeches and actions!

    Comment by brian — November 7, 2014 @ 6:44 PM | Reply

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