The Malaysian delegation to the four Middle Eastern countries to study various aspects of the syariah law and its implementation in Islamic countries should also consider the overall record of governance of these countries

- at the forum “Is Malaysia an Islamic state?” organised by the Catholic Research Centre (CRC) at the St Francis Xavier’s Church
Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Friday): Last week, it was reported that a Malaysian delegation headed by Tan Sri Harun Hashim, former Federal Court judge and a professor at the International Islamic University Malaysia, was touring four Middle Eastern countries to study various aspects of the syariah law and its implementation in Islamic countries - the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Egypt and  Saudi Arabia.

With the announcement by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad on September 29, 2001 that Malaysia was already an Islamic state, non-Muslim Malaysians must be equally interested and concerned about the visit of the Malaysian delegation to the four Middle Eastern countries to study the standardisation, codification and administration of Islamic laws in these countries.

Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, President of JUST (International Movement for a Just World), in his Ismail al-Faruqi Memorial Lecture delivered at the 30th Annual Conference of the Association of Muslim Social Scientists (AMSS) at the University of Michigan, 26-28 October 2001 entitled “Morality in Public Life: the Challenge before Religion” posed ten questions as benchmarks to evaluate the governance of Islamic states,  relating to  some of the cardinal moral positions on leadership, government and authority embodied in the Quran and the Sunnah, viz:

One, have Islamic states made sincere efforts to alleviate poverty and improve  the lot of the downtrodden?

Two, have Islamic states sought to curb opulence and ostentation among their elites?

Three, does any Islamic state show any promise of reducing the gap between the 'have-a-lot' and the 'have-a-little'?

Four, have Islamic governments made a serious attempt to check abuse of power and eradicate elite level corruption?

Five, how many Islamic governments are prepared to investigate and expose sexual misdemeanours among the elites themselves, without any pressure from the people or from other quarters?

Six, how many Islamic states uphold the rule of law and respect the independence of the judiciary?

Seven, do contemporary Islamic governments observe the canons of public accountability?

Eight, do Islamic governments make it a practice to consult their citizens on laws, policies and programmes meant for them?

Nine, do Islamic governments regard it as their cardinal duty to protect and preserve the freedom and responsibility of the human being to enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong?

Ten, are there Islamic states which are totally committed to protecting and enhancing the rights of non-Muslims, on the basis of the principle that we are all human beings?

The Malaysian delegation to UAE, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia to study the various aspects of the syariah law and its implementation should also evaluate the record of governance of these four countries according these ten benchmarks posed by Chandra and compare them with Malaysia’s record.

The many questions raised about the  rights of minorities and women,  particularly  the laws of succession and testimony affecting women, in an Islamic state  have shown that these are not only the concerns of Muslims but of non-Muslims as well, especially with the announcement by the Prime Minister that Malaysia is already an Islamic state.

It is not only Muslims, but non-Muslims, who would want to know whether there is support for the position taken by some Muslim scholars who distinguish the eternal, immutable principles and laws in the Quran from those prescriptions that are continent responses to specific or particular contexts - as for instance, distinguishing between the Meccan and Medinan suras (chapters): the Meccan chapters regarded as the earlier and more religiously binding texts while the Medinan seen as primarily political, concerned with Prophet Muhammad’s creation of the Medinan state and therefore not universally binding.

Last month,  Freedom House in New York released its survey entitled  "Freedom in the World 2001-2002" where it reported that  more than three-quarters of 145 non-Muslim nations around the world are now democracies, while most countries with an Islamic majority continue to defy the trend

The survey concluded that many Muslims, including in the Islamic Republic of Iran, have learned that religion does not solve a country's social or economic problems and is not a substitute for democracy.

The survey found  only 11 democratic countries In the Islamic world, comprising only 23 percent of the 47 nations that are predominantly Muslim. The study noted: "Since the early 1970's, when the third major historical wave of  democratization began, the Islamic world and, in particular, its Arab core, have seen little evidence of improvements in political openness, respect for human rights and transparency."

These are food for thought for all  Malaysians, Muslim and non-Muslim, especially after the Prime Minister’s declaration that Malaysia is already an Islamic state.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman