Prominent Mufti sacked by Malaysian government

Developing Just Leadership

Kuala Lumpur Correspondent

Shawwal 21, 1417 1997-11-01

South-East Asia

by Kuala Lumpur Correspondent (South-East Asia, Crescent International Vol. 26, No. 17, Shawwal, 1417)

One of Malaysia’s prominent alims (Islamic scholars), Datuk Ishak Baharom, is to lose his job as the State Mufti of Selangor - Malaysia’s richest state - effective from October 31, 1997.

Ishak was lately in the news for his strictures against some of the UMNO government leaders for their utterances and jokes about the Shariah and the Islamic law. The Mufti’s criticisms irritated and angered the prime minister, Mahathir Mohamed, who took these comments rather personally.

Ishak’s contract with the government was renewed only a few months ago before the war of words erupted between the Malaysian government and the local Muslim scholars (ulama) in July. It is an open secret that the ‘termination of contract’ is in effect his dismissal by the UMNO-led government for criticising its policies on Islam.

The ulama had recently expressed concern over the government’s move to review all Islamic laws in the country and redefine the powers of the Muftis, whose duties include advising State governments on religious matters. Their fear is now confirmed by the sudden decision by the Selangor State government to terminate Ishak’s contract, which had been renewed six times in the past. Muslim bodies have expressed concern and protested against the decision. On October 17, thousands of Muslims held prayers (“solat Hajat”) at the University of Malaya mosque to express support for the Mufti. Understandably, these protests were blacked out by the tightly-controlled mainstream media.

In explaining the decision, the Selangor chief minister said it was time the position be given to ‘a younger leader who is more able’. The age was the only factor the government could bring against the Mufti but this age factor, however, was not an issue in Mahathir continuing as the prime minister of Malaysia. (Dr. Mahathir is 71 and is one year older than the Mufti, who is in better health.)

Saying that the ‘termination of contract’ was a ‘normal matter’, the chief minister made no secret of the government’s intention to appoint a Mufti who would tow the government line and who ‘is acceptable to all’. Presumably, anything not in line with the prime minister’s version of Islam is ‘not acceptable to all’.

Muslim leaders, including Muftis of other UMNO-controlled states have voiced concern that the government was trying to silence them from speaking out against government policies which are repugnant to the Shariah, and encouraging moral corruption among the Muslim youth.

The tiff between the ulama and the prime minister began in July this year when the latter lashed out at the ulama for using their “little powers” in arresting three Muslim women for participating in a beauty contest - an act which violated a fatwa banning Muslims women from participating in such contests. “At a time when the whole world recognised Malaysia as a model Islamic state, some among us want to make other Muslim countries as their model,” said Mahathir, actually believing his own rhetoric that Malaysia is a ‘model Islamic state’.

Mahathir’s statement was in fact a shot in the arm for anti-Islam groups in the country. The media then ran into an anti-Islamic frenzy led by none other than his own daughter, Marina Mahathir, together with a group of zionist-sponsored anti-religious feminists, euphemistically called the ‘Sisters-In-Islam’. The group is notorious for its anti-ulama and anti-Shariah statements over recent years. Entrenched in one of the leading media giants in the country, they even claimed that there was no such thing as an Islamic dress code and invented their own Islamic dress for women called the “dress of Taqwa”, probably a transparent dress like in the story of The King without Clothes!

Nevertheless, Ishak, a Mufti for 12 years, was brave enough in the face of the anti-Islamic media blitzkrieg and the government’s attempt to silence Muslim scholars. He called on religious scholars to have the courage to expose unIslamic practices coming from whatever sources. “We must be brave even though what we say or decide may not be accepted [by the regime]. As ulama, our aim is to state what is true,” he said.

Widely regarded as an authoritative reference point on issues affecting Muslims in Malaysia, Ishak had been making regular appearances in official forums and television talk shows. His most recent statement called on the government to stop issuing gambling and liquor licences as he said these were directly responsible for the increasing social ills which have plagued this predominantly Malay-Muslim nation.

Despite being on the government payroll, Ishak never minced his words to state what he believes or tried to curry favour with the political leadership. Last year, he called for a ban on smoking and this year he did not hesitate to enforce the fatwa banning Muslim women from participating in beauty contests which started the row. He had also openly criticised UMNO leadership for blocking the attempts to implement Shariah (Islamic laws). Urging them not to make fun of such laws, he warned that even mild hatred towards the word ‘Hudud’ (Islamic Criminal Law) could endanger one’s aqidah (Islamic belief). His remarks came in the wake of derogatory statements about Hudud made by UMNO ministers to block the partial implementation of the Shariah in the opposition PAS-led state of Kelantan. Mahathir, for instance, had said that if the law was implemented, people would start losing their limbs. Another minister joked that there would be no more stones left for development projects as all of them would have been used up for stoning adulterers, and so on.

Such blatant ignorance of Islam among UMNO leaders does not stop there. In other aspects of Islam, such as Islamic economy, UMNO leaders are known for their blunders. Two years ago, an UMNO member of parliament lashed out at PAS’s economic policy for failing to produce ‘even a single Muslim millionaire’ in Kelantan. This would perhaps explain why UMNO’s support among the Malay-Muslims and even among the official ulama has fallen to an all-time low. Nowadays, UMNO can only count on non-Muslim votes and continue playing its racist politics to remain in power.

Muslimedia: November 1-15, 1997

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