Tuesday 7 June 2011

Anwar stresses 'twin pillars' of religious concordat

COMMENT Cynics may scoff but Anwar Ibrahim's tack with regard to the rights of non-Muslims in Malaysia remains consistent, as the latest meeting between the PKR leadership and representatives of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) indicated.

NONESome attendees at last night's meeting in Kuala Lumpur could not help but recall a similar encounter between PKR and MCCBCHST in Petaling Jaya in December 2007 that dealt with the same issues but was held in a less fraught atmosphere than presently prevailing.

Then, matters to do with forced conversions, temple demolitions and the incipient rise of the 'Allah' issue brought furrows to non-Muslim brows.

Now these issues have abated somewhat, not so much from the application of legislative or administrative nostrums as from an apparent let-up in the zeal of state functionaries intent on enforcing the letter more than the spirit of the law.

However, in the apparent lull, have risen conspiracy theorists, conjuring sinister plots about one religious community's aim to supersede Islam's special place in Malaysia's constitutional order.

NONEFew things can be more baleful than a vacant, desperate disposition with idle time to spare.

Anwar Ibrahim, who has plenty to be desperate over these days, but unlike conspiracy theorists has a stored mind for resource, has come up with the 'maqasid syariah' as response to the scare tactics of desperados.

In Anwar's formulation, the 'maqasid syariah', said to be the higher objectives of Islamic law, is almost Jeffersonian in resonance.

Al-Shatibi, the 12th century Islamic jurist who first enunciated the maqasid syariah as the protection of religion, life, property, intellect and human dignity, in Anwar's telling, appears to have been an ideological precursor to Thomas Jefferson whose incandescent “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” defined the American search for self-fulfillment.

Anwar spoke at last night's meeting with the MCCBCHST representatives about the twin pillars of PKR's stance towards the religious question: uphold the status of Islam as the country's official religion and respect for the rights of non-Muslims to freedom of worship.

Anwar said the charter of the maqasid syariah would be the guiding light of PKR's adherence to the twin pillars.

As if in intuitive corroboration of this stance of the PKR leader, two newly-empowered PAS leaders, Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud and Dzulkefly Ahmad, sauntered into the meeting after it had started and were immediately made welcome, a healthy sign of emerging convergence between PKR and Pas on religious questions.

Siti Mariah, MP for Kota Raja, was elected deputy chief of Wanita Pas and Dzulkefly polled strongly in the election for the party's central working committee.

Both federal legislators belong to the wing of PAS that wants broader engagement with non-Muslims, a stance Islamic supremacists disdain because it implies parity between Islamic and non-Islamic religions.

The MCCBCHST wants to engage with the newly-elected PAS leadership as part of ongoing efforts to build consensus on a broad range of issues.

The MCCBCHST has also gone on record as wanting to talk with the right-wing Malays rights body, Perkasa, which has caused widespread unease with its strident calls to Malays to wake up to alleged erosion of their rights and privileges.

Anwar and the loose opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, he leads have navigated the potentially treacherous shoals between the non-Muslim demand for rights and Muslim constitutional imperatives by talking up the paramount importance of justice as an Islamic value.

NONEBy introducing the anodyne of the maqasid syariah, Anwar and Islamic intellectuals in PKR, joined hopefully by the outward-looking leaders PAS had endorsed at party elections last weekend, would be able to raise the level of dialogue on the vital questions of the day in Malaysian society.

The MCCBCHST emphasised at its meeting yesterday that it was concerned not just with religious rights per se, but with a host of issues – poverty, education, gender equality, institutional decay, etc – that periodically sizzle in the national arena.

As Reverend Thomas Phillips, current president of MCCBCHST, said in preliminary remarks at yesterday's meeting that his organization wanted to explore the opinions of political leaders across the ideological spectrum in Malaysia “so that we can know what they feel and they can know what our views are.”

Dialogue, he said, was the best way to a “better future for our country”, a sentiment that Anwar expanded on when he offered his view that “extremism and a narrow parochialism” endangered the “twin pillars” of the Malaysian concordat on religion – Islam's official status and non-Muslim freedom of worship.

He assured his interlocutors that PKR and Pakatan's conception of Islam would not countenance the deprivation of the right of non-Muslims to practice their faith.

His interpretation of the maqasid syariah forbade the violation of human dignity such a deprivation would entail.

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