Archive for January, 2006

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Once taboo, Islam turns hot topic in Malaysia

January 5, 2006

 

Islam tops Malaysia‘s long list of “sensitive subjects” forbidden from being raised in public – but things have changed in the past two weeks  
 
 
 
Monday, January 02, 2006
by Baradan Kuppusamy

Islam tops Malaysia’s long list of “sensitive subjects” that are forbidden from being raised in public but, over the last two weeks, it is as if nothing else can be discussed. Two dissimilar events coming one after another, late December, has put religion on notice. One is the passage of an Islamic family law, opposed by feminists and moderate Muslims. The other is the forced burial, according to Muslim rites, of a Hindu soldier by Islamic authorities who insist he had converted to Islam.

Two dissimilar events coming one after another, late December, has put religion on notice. One is the passage of an Islamic family law, opposed by feminists and moderate Muslims. The other is the forced burial, according to Muslim rites, of a Hindu soldier by Islamic authorities who insist he had converted to Islam.Both issues have questioned the role of an increasingly puritanical Islam in a multi-ethnic society that prides itself on tolerance and an easygoing, modern way of life.

Under Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s more liberal and less authoritarian administration, long suppressed frustrations are rising to the surface and there are growing calls for fairness and justice.

On one side, the debate is between Islamic fundamentalists who dominate the burgeoning Islamic Affairs Department that administers Shariah law and mostly western educated Muslim feminists who say the department, in it’s overzealous interpretation of the Quran, has gone overboard in making new laws that discriminate against women and children.

Since the 1980s, they say, women’s position vis-à-vis Muslim men have gradually eroded. The latest is a new Islamic family law that makes divorce and polygamy easy and allows husbands to lay claim to the wife’s properties, even to the extent of freezing the bank accounts of former spouses and their children.

“Nowhere is there, in the Islamic world, a law that discriminates so thoroughly against women,” said Zainah Anwar, executive director of Sisters in Islam, a feminist movement that is spearheading a national campaign to repeal the new law.

The campaign has won widespread support, within the government, in academia and among the general public winning. .

Likewise the forced burial of M. Moorthy, a Hindu soldier claimed by the Islamic authorities to have converted to Islam, has sparked a storm among non-Muslims and moderate Muslims alike. They are demanding that the government amend the constitution to make civil law supreme over Islamic Shariah law especially in matters where non-Muslims are involved.

Debate over these issues, Islam, once a taboo subject, is now openly debated by mainstream media, television stations and over the Internet.

Newspapers that are linked to government that normally would not have touched the subject, now freely publish strongly-worded letters and commentaries by their own writers and outside experts, many of whom are Muslims. Letters from the public are bravely aired.

Internet chatrooms are racier and less inhibited in their comments. A coalition of human rights NGOs, including Muslim feminist groups, have also launched a month-long candle light vigil outside the High Court to protest a Muslim judge’s ruling, earlier this month, that the civil court has no jurisdiction over Islamic matters.

Relying on an ex-parte Shariah Court order, Islamic religious authorities gave M. Moorthy a Muslim burial over the protests by his Hindu family, last week. Anger boiled over when Judge Raus Sharif washed his hands off, saying the civil court had no jurisdiction.

“They have been telling lies. Nothing but lies,” said Kaliammal Sinnasamy, Moorthy’s wife. “I was shocked when they told me that they would take the body when he died.”

The court refused to intervene or hear evidence from the family that Moorthy could not have converted, saying it had no jurisdiction over matters under the purview of the Shariah court. Three days later, the same court gave similar arguments while rejecting an application by two formerly Muslim women for a declaration that they have left Islam.

“We cannot allow a small group (of Muslim administrators) who are extreme in their views to dominate the nation’s social and religious life,” said Wong Kim Kong, a spokesman for the Malaysian Consultative Council for Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism (MCCBCHS). “If no action is taken by the government then it might sow disharmony.”

The council launched a campaign to amend the constitution to allow civil law supremacy over Shariah in cases involving non-Muslims i.e conversion, child custody, disposal of property and other family or personal matters.

The main opposition Democratic Action Party has called for a major review of Article 121(1A), which states that the civil courts shall have no jurisdiction in respect of “any matter” within the jurisdiction of the Shariah courts.

The clause was inserted into the constitution by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1988 after he had jailed over 100 parliamentarians and democracy activists and closed down three newspapers including the influential, mass-circulated ‘The Star’ daily.

Mahathir’s government had given a truncated parliament a day’s notice of the constitutional change which was carried with overwhelming support by government backbenchers.

In the case of the Islamic family law a little more time was given but arms were twisted to ensure its passage in parliament, earlier this month, only to face an avalanche of protest from civil society groups and Muslim feminists.

The law affects only Muslims who make up about 60 percent of the population of 26 million people. Restrictions against Malaysian Muslim men taking four wives under Islamic law have been eased and they no longer have to prove financial capacity or the ability to treat all wives fairly.

Women’s groups are planning petitions, letter-writing campaigns and other strategies to put pressure on the government not to gazette the bill into law.

>From the numerous letters in mainstream newspapers and in internet chatrooms, most Malaysians are outraged and feel that injustice has been done to minorities and moderate Muslims alike.

“This entire episode has painted a negative image of Islam not just to Malaysians of other faiths but to the rest of the world,” Ezam Mohamad, a senior leader of the National Justice Party, told IPS.

“More must be done to enhance mutual trust and harmony among the different communities and the manner in which the present authorities are doing it represents a step backwards in inter-racial and inter-religious relations,” said Ezam.

Badawi’s brand of tolerant Islam or ‘Islam Hadhari’ took a beating as people question the wide gulf between his moderate leanings and the fanaticism of the Islamic authorities that, gained strength under Mahathir’s 22-year rule.

Abdullah, who is equally respected by Muslims and non-Muslims, has the difficult and unenviable task of reigning in the runaway horses or see his popularity rating plunge.

If he fails to contain excesses, his grand vision of all the races living together happily under a caring and tolerant multi-culturalism stands to be stillborn.

Experts say success for Badawi lies in tackling and resolving the racial and discriminatory policies that form the bedrock of Malaysia’s so-called “happy” society.

“Unless the deep seated issues of racism and religious freedom are openly discussed and resolved Malaysians would continue to live in fear and suspicious of one another,” said S. Arulchelvam, secretary general of the Socialist Party of Malaysia.

“Malaysian unity is a farce unless these issues are met head on and adequately resolved,” he told IPS.

“All discriminatory policies based on race and religion must be outlawed. It is impossible to build unity based merely on slogans and propaganda,” he said.
IPS News
Source: http://www.speroforum.com/site/article.asp?idCategory=33&idsub=122&id=2350

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Cabinet changes on the cards

January 4, 2006

By WONG CHUN WAI
newsdesk@thestar.com.my

PUTRAJAYA: The Prime Minister flew back quietly to Kuala Lumpur on New Year’s Day after a short break in Perth. He has since kept himself busy meeting small groups of people at his official residence here. 

One top item is the Cabinet reshuffle, which Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has kept his options only to himself, ahead of the changes coming up. 

He is still on leave, taking time to reflect on the important changes he is making. He will chair his first Cabinet meeting for the year on Jan 11, one day after Hari Raya Haji. 

Abdullah is expected to make numerous changes to the Cabinet line-up as well as those at the deputy ministers’ level to strengthen his two-year-old administration. 

For sure, a decision is expected on the Federal Territories Minister’s post following the resignation of Tan Sri Mohamed Isa Samad after he was suspended from Umno for money politics. 

Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil is the current acting minister. The Lembah Pantai MP is the Women, Family and Community Development Minister.  

Abdullah would also make known his stand on the fate of Information Minister Datuk Seri Kadir Sheikh Fadzir and Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Azmi Khalid, who failed to get elected into the Umno supreme council. 

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Mohd Radzi Sheikh Ahmad is tipped to move to another portfolio. He is also the Umno secretary-general. 

The spotlight will also be on Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz, the longest serving International Trade and Industries Minister, who was embroiled in the Approved Permit issue last year. It is likely that she would remain in the Cabinet but the position remains to be seen. 

There have been suggestions that Abdullah should abolish various ministries in a move to reduce the size of the administration but it is not clear whether he would fill up the various positions or abolish them.  

While most of the Barisan leaders are likely to maintain the status quo for their respective ministerial positions in the Cabinet, some are expected to make changes to their deputy ministers’ line-up. 

It is understood that MCA president Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting has already submitted the party’s proposals, including changes of deputy ministers, to Abdullah. 

Ka Ting and his deputy Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy are almost certain to keep their posts at the Housing and Local Government and Transport Ministries respectively. 

“The other two Cabinet members are Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek and Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Dr Fong Chan Onn. The status quo is expected,” one source said. 

Abdullah, however, is expected to make changes to the positions of the party’s various deputies. They are Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen, Deputy Education Minister Datuk Hon Choon Kim, Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Ong Tee Keat, Deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Fu Ah Kiow, Deputy Information Minister Datuk Donald Lim, and Deputy Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Wong Kam Hoong. 

The MCA’s recommendations are based on the results of the party elections in June, which saw Lim and Tee Keat being elected as two of the four vice-presidents. 

Then, there is also Datuk Liow Tiong Lai, who was elected as the MCA Youth chief. Traditionally, the Youth chief gets a deputy minister’s post, and one vacancy which the MCA is eyeing is the deputy tourism minister’s post.  

Gerakan president Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik said the central working committee had given him the authority to draw up the party’s list of names and submit it to the Prime Minister if there was a reshuffle. 

Looking dicey is the position of Deputy Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Kerk Choo Ting, who lost his deputy president’s post in last year’s party polls. 

MIC sources said party president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu, who is the only Cabinet minister from the party, is not expected to propose changes at the deputy ministers’ level. The MIC has three deputy ministers. 

Abdullah would, however, have to decide on the position of Deputy Foreign Minister Datuk Joseph Salang. He was the Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak secretary-general but since the deregistration of PBDS, he has been left without a party. 

“He is in an awkward position but his attempt to join Parti Bumiputra Bersatu seems to be fruitless. He could well lose his post because of the political uncertainty,” one analyst said. 

Another PBDS leader Datuk Joseph Entulu Belaun, who is a Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, has joined Parti Rakyat Sarawak.  

Source: The Star

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Islam becomes hot topic in Malaysia

January 4, 2006

04-01-2006

By Baradan Kuppusamy

KUALA LUMPUR – Islam tops Malaysia’s long list of “sensitive subjects” that are forbidden from being raised in public. However, it was as if nothing else could be discussed over the past two weeks.

Two dissimilar events coming one after the other in late December have put religion on notice. One was passage of an Islamic family law, opposed by feminists and moderate Muslims. The other was the forced burial, according to Muslim rites, of a Hindu soldier by Islamic authorities who insisted he had converted to Islam.

Both issues have questioned the role of an increasingly puritanical Islam in a multi-ethnic society that prides itself on tolerance and an easygoing, modern way of life.

Under Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s more liberal and less authoritarian administration, long-suppressed frustrations are rising to the surface and there are growing calls for fairness and justice.

On one side, the debate is between Islamic fundamentalists who dominate the burgeoning Islamic Affairs Department that administers Sharia (Islamic) law and mostly Western-educated Muslim feminists who say the department, in its overzealous interpretation of the Koran, has gone overboard in making new laws that discriminate against women and children.

Since the 1980s, they say, women’s position vis-a-vis Muslim men has gradually eroded. The latest is a new Islamic family law that makes divorce and polygamy easy and allows husbands to lay claim to a wife’s property, even to the extent of freezing bank accounts of former spouses and their children.

“Nowhere is there, in the Islamic world, a law that discriminates so thoroughly against women,” said Zainah Anwar, executive director of Sisters in Islam, a feminist movement that is spearheading a national campaign to repeal the new law.

The campaign has won widespread support within the government, in academia and among the general public.

Likewise the forced burial of M Moorthy, a Hindu soldier claimed by the Islamic authorities to have converted to Islam, has sparked a storm among non-Muslims and moderate Muslims alike. They are demanding that the government amend the constitution to make civil law supreme over Sharia law especially in matters where non-Muslims are involved.

Islam, once a taboo subject, is now openly debated by mainstream media, on television and over the Internet.

Newspapers that are linked to government and normally would not have touched the subject now freely publish strongly worded letters and commentaries by their own writers and outside experts, many of whom are Muslims. Letters from the public are published.

Internet chat rooms are racier and less inhibited in their comments. A coalition of human-rights non-governmental organizations, including Muslim feminist groups, has also launched a month-long candlelight vigil outside the High Court to protest a Muslim judge’s ruling last month that the civil court has no jurisdiction over Islamic matters.

Relying on an ex parte Sharia court order, Islamic religious authorities last week gave Moorthy a Muslim burial over the protests of his Hindu family. Anger boiled over when Judge Raus Sharif washed his hands of the case, saying the civil court had no jurisdiction.

“They have been telling lies. Nothing but lies,” said Kaliammal Sinnasamy, Moorthy’s wife. “I was shocked when they told me that they would take the body when he died.”

The court refused to intervene or hear evidence from the family that Moorthy could not have converted, saying it had no jurisdiction over matters under the purview of the Sharia court. Three days later, the same court gave similar arguments while rejecting an application by two formerly Muslim women for a declaration that they had left Islam.

“We cannot allow a small group [of Muslim administrators] who are extreme in their views to dominate the nation’s social and religious life,” said Wong Kim Kong, a spokesman for the Malaysian Consultative Council for Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism (MCCBCHS). “If no action is taken by the government then it might sow disharmony.”

The council launched a campaign to amend the constitution to allow civil-law supremacy over Sharia in cases involving non-Muslims, ie conversion, child custody, disposal of property and other family or personal matters.

The main opposition Democratic Action Party has called for a major review of Article 121(1A), which states that the civil courts have no jurisdiction in respect of “any matter” within the jurisdiction of the Sharia courts.

The clause was inserted into the constitution by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1988 after he had jailed more than 100 parliamentarians and democracy activists and closed down three newspapers, including the influential mass-circulated Star daily.

Mahathir’s government had given a truncated parliament a day’s notice of the constitutional change, which was carried with overwhelming support by government backbenchers.

In the case of the Islamic family law, a little more time was given but arms were twisted to ensure its passage in parliament last month, only to face an avalanche of protest from civil-society groups and Muslim feminists.

The law affects only Muslims, who make up about 60% of the population of 26 million people. Restrictions against Malaysian Muslim men taking four wives under Islamic law have been eased and they no longer have to prove financial capacity or the ability to treat all wives fairly.

Women’s groups are planning petitions, letter-writing campaigns and other strategies to put pressure on the government not to gazette the bill into law.

Judging from the numerous letters in mainstream newspapers and in Internet chat rooms, most Malaysians are outraged and feel that injustice has been done to minorities and moderate Muslims alike.

“This entire episode has painted a negative image of Islam not just to Malaysians of other faiths, but to the rest of the world,” said Ezam Mohamad, a senior leader of the National Justice Party.

“More must be done to enhance mutual trust and harmony among the different communities, and the manner in which the present authorities are doing it represents a step backwards in interracial and interreligious relations.”

Abdullah’s brand of tolerant Islam, or Islam Hadhari, is taking a beating as people question the wide gulf between his moderate leanings and the fanaticism of the Islamic authorities, which gained strength under Mahathir’s 22-year rule.

Abdullah, who is equally respected by Muslims and non-Muslims, has the difficult and unenviable task of reining in the runaway horses or see his popularity rating plunge.

If he fails to contain excesses, his grand vision of all the races living together happily under a caring and tolerant multiculturalism stands to be stillborn.

Experts say success for Abdullah lies in tackling and resolving the racial and discriminatory policies that form the bedrock of Malaysia’s so-called “happy” society.

“Unless the deep-seated issues of racism and religious freedom are openly discussed and resolved, Malaysians would continue to live in fear and suspicious of one another,” said S Arulchelvam, secretary general of the Socialist Party of Malaysia. “Malaysian unity is a farce unless these issues are met head-on and adequately resolved.

“All discriminatory policies based on race and religion must be outlawed. It is impossible to build unity based merely on slogans and propaganda.”

Source: Inter Press Service