On Nov 3, 2012, OHMSI or the Oriental Hearts and Mind Study Institute, collaborating with the Islamic Renaissance Front or IRF, will organise a public dialogue on the above topic.

In my estimate, Christians form about 10 percent of the Malaysian population and have a voting power of about 800,000 at the coming general election (GE). Therefore, my advice to both parties at the GE is: please do not take the Christians for granted. Our votes do matter and in about 30 percent of the constituencies we can shape the general election, I suspect.

Consequently also, it is obvious why all parties, whether mainstream media, or alternative media, or either component of the partisan politics prefers to think they can influence our stance on issues or our position on matters of principle. Therefore, the current slugfest after the Penang state government held a public dialogue with all the clergy and elders in Penang.

Actually, all governments, whether state, federal, or local, should have formal meetings to dialogue with religious communities to understand and appreciate their concerns, cares and especially frustrations with poor governance and with incompetent public servants and services.

The Islamic state ideal

An Islamic state (Arabic: al-dawlah al-islamîyah) is a type of government, in which the primary basis for government is Islamic religious law. From the early years of Islam, numerous governments have been founded as ‘Islamic’, beginning most notably with the Caliphate established by Muhammad himself and including subsequent governments ruled under the direction of a caliph (meaning, ‘successor’ to the prophet Muhammad).

However, the term ‘Islamic state’ has taken on a more specific modern connotation since the 20th century. The concept of the modern Islamic state has been articulated and promoted by ideologues such as Abul Ala Maududi, Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini, and Sayyid Qutb. Like the earlier notion of the caliphate, the modern Islamic state is rooted in Islamic law. It is modelled after the rule of Mohammad.

However, unlike caliph-led governments which were imperial despotisms or monarchies (Arabic: ‘mulk‘), a modern Islamic state can incorporate modern political institutions such as elections, parliamentary rule, judicial review, and popular sovereignty. (Source: Wikipedia)

Without going to a debate of what is or is not a modern Islamic State, my preference is to simply focus on Wikipedia’s final sentence in the definition, that is:

However, unlike caliph-led governments which were imperial despotisms or monarchies (Arabic: 'mulk'), a modern Islamic state can incorporate modern political institutions such as elections, parliamentary rule, judicial review, and popular sovereignty.

Malaysia, in my view, can become a modern Islamic state of exemplary form if we can incorporate these defined modern features, and a few more but principally remain responsible and accountable to a government of the people, by the people and for the people; a democratically elected government instead of a government set up under some unclear statutes of dubious interpretive form.

The democratic ideal

In my Malay Mail column of Monday, April 9, 2012, I wrote about: ‘The challenge of good governance with ‘regime’ change.’ I wrote:

It shifts the authority and responsibility for good governance away from any absolute human face towards an equal consideration of an ‘other’ and fully welcomes the concept of stewardship juxtaposed against the older idea of absolute ownership of a material kind, and done only at the level of humankind.

This means, in simple language, that the days of God’s governance, as in the Old Testament and in the days of the historical nation of Israel, are over. We, as stewards of the same God, are to assume full accountability and responsibility for human governance.

Governing by proxy, in God’s name, is no more acceptable, only because it is obvious that no human being is simply good enough; and all are fraught with wickedness to some degree at least.

Therefore as argued by most scholars of political democracy, this system of democracy is not perfect, but this is still only the best that humans could innovate until modern times.

A constitutional democracy

Unlike the American constitution, which defines, “We the People” in unambiguous and clear terms, the Malaysian federal constitution does not have a preamble of like value. Therefore, whether judges or governors, like in specific situations, when the sultans can act to interpret the law, do not have a formal and documented guide for our “true and value-adding inspiration” which defines our ultimate values as a community of human beings called a state.

In the absence of that defining spirit within our federal constitution, we remain simply a federation of states (11 in the early instance of 1957, and three in the later instance of 1965) wherein the constitution itself defines itself as the supreme law of the federation. Therefore, we are a democracy defined by the constitution, and nothing else. Yes, and nothing else.
Is personal faith an issue?

One’s personal faith position is well and clearly defined by Article 11. Every Malaysian’s (including the atheist) faith is clearly protected and preserved.

The only other caveat the drafters presumably needed was the imperative to protect and preserve the institutions of the sultan for nine states, and also the need for legitimisation of a brand new institution of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, or the King for Malaysia.

The rulers are to also protect the Muslim religion and Malay culture.

Therefore also, the drafters of the federal constitution wrote into the clause, “Islam as the religion of the federation....”  Note that it does not say the official religion of the federation. Neither did the drafters of Round 2, when Malaysia was being formed, state that Islam is the religion of Sabah and Sarawak.  This was in fact one of the issues of contention in the Malaysia Agreements.

The original intent was and is, until today, that good Islamic values can become the foundation for formal cultural values of this nation, but that does not make us an Islamic state with one formal religious system. To me, there is zero confusion on this matter. I was a student of constitutional law of the late Professor Ahmad Ibrahim and there is little or no doubt in my heart and mind. Am I wrong?