Institutionalising religion

Hafidz Baharom

FOR those not in the know, religion has always been under the purview of each state, and not a federal authority. For some reason, this became less obvious with the setting up of the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) in 1997. Since then, religious affairs have been continually centralised towards the federal level rather than the state.

The advantage of having Jakim was the ability to use federal resources to promote ideals of Malaysia in line with Islam as well as multiculturalism – sadly, they focused purely on the former.

These are the objectives listed on Jakim’s website: to ensure that Islam is widespread, to shape a leadership that is authoritative (berwibawa) and give birth to an administration that is trained, skilful, dedicated and wise, and to produce value-based management and Islamic ethics.

Primarily, institutionalising religion offers the ability to control the message being propagated to the masses, more so when the said religion has a mandatory one day where everyone has to congregate.

For Muslims, it remains the Friday prayers during the afternoon. Institutionalising allows the message to be the same throughout the nation, and thus avoiding schisms across the country. 

Furthermore, having a standardised sermon was supposed to act as a deterrent against external threats such as terrorism, or even uniting the Muslims against perceived threats by harmonising the masses towards multiculturalism and the multireligious society that we have had since our nation’s inception.

Sadly, I doubt that this is the case.

Instead, Jakim has been using the pulpit to promote pro-government political agendas to the point of calling for loyalty towards leaders and insisting on merely talking about social ills when it fits the government agenda of needing a diversion. Otherwise, Jakim doesn’t have enough pull when the sermons talk against extremism or even against anti-vaccination.

It could vet the credentials of international preachers invited to speak in the country to ensure it does not threaten national harmony.

Instead, it has also unheedingly encouraged disunity and the destabilisation of harmony in Malaysia – particularly by openly supporting religious conservatives who are willing to brand those who do not follow their beliefs as “murtads”.

This video is now on Youtube. It is the same guy who believes the Chinese Malaysian community doesn’t wash their rears in a country that has embraced the shower bidet for more than three decades now. Of course, he has now caused Johor to no longer associate themselves with Jakim, and has lost his ability to preach in Selangor.

But he is not alone, because in Penang, particularly Bayan Lepas, we just had a religious teacher who believes that non-Muslims and Muslims should not share the same barber or hairdresser. And apparently, according to him, we can’t wish each other happy birthday, regardless how Facebook reminds you to wish them.

We have had multiple conmen winning our Maal Hijrah award – a fake former priest who was allegedly the confessor of the Pope and yet not a Catholic priest, and even a urologist in Australia who was found to have tempered with his claims.

Somehow, vetting doesn’t seem to be Jakim’s strong suit, unless it involves halal foods named “pretzel dogs”, or even “ginger beer”, or a “coney dog”, or even a “root beer” – I’m sure you get the gist by now.

Thus, when the Sultan of Johor cut ties with Jakim, he has a very brilliant point – Jakim has become a threat towards harmony inclusive of all races and religions, by promoting, hiring and encouraging preachers and conmen who promote Islamic unity rather than national unity.

The Sultan of Selangor who revoked the preacher’s credentials, also ruled that all mosques (and hopefully suraus and tahfiz schools) will have to shut off their external speakers for sermons, and must also record all said sermons for review. This will allow the Selangor religious authorities to weed out extremist preachers.

Subsequently, I have a question – are these recorded sermons subject to Selangor’s Freedom of Information Act. If so, can these sermons be taken by interested members of the public to vet and file police reports against said preachers?

But more importantly, institutionalising religion does have its pros and cons but it depends on its ability to understand its standing in a multireligious society, with a goal of harmonising and not promoting disunity, with the objective of allowing intellectual discourse openly rather than being authoritarian.

Since Jakim has failed on all accounts, they should be disbanded and return that right to the respective states. Personally, I can think of better ways to spend RM839 mil estimated in 2017 (page 119). – October 20, 2017.

* Hafidz loves to ruffle feathers and believes in the EA Games tag line of challenging everything. Most times, he represents the Devil’s Advocate on multiple issues.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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  • Gutsy, logically argued article. Joining other voices calling for the same.

    Posted 6 years ago by Dr. Patricia Martinez · Reply

  • The sultans, as heads of Islam, will act to stop the politicisation of Islam which places them in great danger.

    Posted 6 years ago by Joe Fernandez · Reply