Tuesday 27 November 2012

The politics of faith

My definition of politics is: “Any intervention into time and space with a view to make change happen”. By “faith” I mean an internal and personal value that guides one’s behaviour based on one’s belief or faith system. The specific object of one’s faith is a non-issue. To get into that dialogue would be the politics of theology.

One’s beliefs, values, attitudes and subsequent behaviour often define one’s worldview. I use that worldview model to generalise two major categories of worldviews: sacred, and secular. They are intended to be descriptive of what can be found in the world. It is a generalisation but one that helps one understand and appreciate one’s thinking to appreciate one’s own actions and belief systems.

Subsequent ‘actions’ when defined by other observers are labelled as another’s ‘behaviour’; even if the observer does not know the true motives behind such action by the actor. Nurul Izzah Anwar was recently abused in this way.

Premised upon a sacred worldview model; one would consider another more important than self. It begins with the Sacred Other. Such belief defines values like “faith;” not just as an externally declared environment of imposed religiosity. Instead, it is a kind of spirituality found within internal values about right and wrong and how it guides one’s action.

The key to such a definition is voluntary adherence or self-compliance to spiritual values as a way of life; rather than allow it to become a visible gap between one’s espoused theory and one’s theory-in-use, often made visible through practice. Integrity is the non-existence of such a gap.

In a secular worldview, as currently applied in modern parlance, public space governance relates to the deployment of universal values of morality. It means not applying any particular and specific set of religious values for public space ethics and morality.

Imposition of alien values

When any such particular public space morality is imposed, I have usually labelled it “a green air environment and theology”. I reject any such particular imposition of alien values as a denial of one’s human dignity.

Two weeks ago, the Sunday Star column by its group chief editor screamed with the headline: ‘Keep faith out of politics’. My previous column argued against that hypothesis. Now, the same newspaper carried a major full page story about “the politics of faith” in Kelantan.

While some readers appreciated my opinion piece, not all were accepting. One reader, with the benefit of many other views from writers and commenters including myself, wrote the following comment:

“Faith is a private matter that should never enter the public realm. The author should never use the political system to validate his arbitrary views on the relation between a purported God and the earthly realm. Be spiritual for all you want, but leave it at your door.

“Clinging to the Rukun Negara to forward your position is a desperate act. The modern path is pluralistic and open, so please do not insert your spiritual authoritarianism into an already messy political system.

“Dialogue and relying on the best ideas will take Malaysia forward - never confuse religion with morality.

Morality has many roots, and in fact is only weakly supported by religion. What kind of morality allows for stoning people not observing the Sabbath. This is God gone mad. We humans can do better than the morality of any God. So live and let live.”

NONEI appreciate and respect the views of this respondent, but let us review the reality as we see reported in our newspapers. The reality of what happened in Kelantan was that the Chinese (and presumably Buddhist or Christian or free thinkers) hairdressers who are giving haircuts to their male customers were accused of an offence and if they plead guilty, they were required to pay a fine.

A number of them paid the fine; yet others simply moved their business elsewhere. But, my concern is; if these are Kelantanese residents, why should they move out or go elsewhere? 

This is the classic case of the abuse of one’s faith to impose one’s set of values upon someone else. So, my question to both The Star and other mainstream newspapers is: Please teach us how to keep such bad faith (pun intended) out of politics?

The framework for the imposition of “such Islamic regulation” is the ‘hudud system’ that PAS has enacted in Kelantan but not implemented. It involves a particular interpretation of Islamic faith and the fundamental belief that “mixing and meeting between men and women of marriageable age” can lead to “khalwat” or close proximity between the unmarried.

Many other cultures also “discourage mixing of sexes within certain spiritually contexts”, but none that I am aware of, which legislate such prohibitions on their own non-adherents, as part and parcel of civil and public governance.

Personal and family matters

If I am not mistaken; all Islamic laws in Malaysia relate to personal and family matters as interpreted and enforced by state-level religious authorities, but which are not explicitly legislated as criminal law through federal government rules or regulations. These only apply to Muslims and are not enforceable by the police.

Only the federal parliament is enabled under the constitution to enact criminal laws in Malaysia. All other federal laws are civil and common laws and are applicable equally to all citizens of Malaysia. Islamic faith-related laws come under state jurisdiction, and can and will vary between one state to another in the nine states with Rulers in the peninsula.

islamic lawNevertheless, all Islamic laws are primarily family and personal laws and cannot become a framework to “enforce so-called non criminal but moral behaviour in public spaces”. That is what the federal constitution states, and sufficiently asserts. It says of itself; the constitution is the supreme law of Malaysia.

In the specific case of Kelantan, such regulations relating to “defining morality with hairdressers” are dependent on state-related hudud interpretation deployed through federal-based public or civil local government regulations. The legitimacy of such laws is completely in doubt.

Therefore, allow me to urge MCA to seek a court order to review the enforcement of non-unisex salons in Kelantan for non-Muslim businesses and their customers. It is time for MCA to start supporting the Chinese community in Kelantan, especially since they have a president who is willing to speak about hudud matters.

May God safeguard Malaysia.

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