Bad politics in mosques: The Star columnist

Malaysian Muslims offer Eid al-Fitr prayers at the National mosque in Kuala Lumpur on July 6.
Malaysian Muslims offer Eid al-Fitr prayers at the National mosque in Kuala Lumpur on July 6.PHOTO: AFP

Friday prayers are not the time for political statements and partisan sermons

Wan Saiful Wan Jan

The Star/Asia News Network

I am deeply disappointed with the sermon prepared by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) for the recent Hari Raya.

The text of the sermon, in Malay, can be found on Jais' website.

My translation of the offending section: "We are thankful for our victory in bringing the motion on the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) (Amendment) Bill 2016 to Parliament in order to uplift the position of Syariah Courts in this country. And we are thankful that the High Court rejected the application by Sisters in Islam to challenge the decision of the Selangor Fatwa Council on liberalism in this state in order to protect the sanctity and the special position of Islam so that Islam is not denigrated by others."

Let me explain why this paragraph is so wrong.

The first part refers to the parliamentary motion from Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) president Abdul Hadi Awang in May this year. Datuk Seri Hadi's motion sought to enhance the jurisdiction of the syariah courts to enable them to impose more punishments than what is prescribed today.

I don't want to dwell too much on Mr Hadi's motion itself. You may disagree with his motion. But he was bringing his agenda to be debated by our elected representatives.

That is parliamentary democracy and within the limitations of our current system, I believe he did it the right way.

The wrong thing was when Jais claimed that Mr Hadi's action was "our victory in bringing the motion" to Parliament. Jais is a government agency. Mr Hadi's action was that of a political party. How is it that the action of a politician became Jais' victory? Is Jais an agent of PAS?

Some may argue that PAS is part of the Selangor state government and this allows Jais to make this claim. This, too, is wrong.

Mr Hadi represents the constituency of Marang and PAS. He does not represent Selangor in any way.

For Jais to claim that Mr Hadi's action is the government agency's victory is almost admitting that Jais works for PAS' political agenda. Pakatan was re-elected in 2013 on the promise to run a clean administration. Abusing state machinery for partisan purposes is not at all clean, even if cloaked behind Islam.

The sermon also makes a mockery of what the Sultan of Selangor said just a few days before Hari Raya, when His Royal Highness warned mosque administrators to ensure that mosques are not used for political purposes.

Jais' sermon was worse than just a political statement. It was a partisan sermon.

It didn't just bring politics into mosques, it implies that Jais as a whole has turned into a cheerleader for PAS. Jais must ensure all their staff respect the commands of the Sultan because His Royal Highness is the head of religion in the state.

The second part of the sermon touches on the ongoing legal battle between Sisters in Islam (SIS) and the religious authority in Selangor. The latter issued a fatwa that specifically names SIS as deviating from Islamic teachings. SIS is challenging this fatwa but the High Court recently decided that only a syariah court can look into this case.

The sermon says "we are thankful that the High Court rejected the application by Sisters in Islam to challenge the decision of the Selangor Fatwa Council on liberalism."

This is where the person drafting the sermon was acting irresponsibly.

The fatwa was gazetted on July 31, 2014 and it was very specifically about "liberalism and religious pluralism". If you read comments by the Mufti of Selangor when the fatwa was gazetted, his disagreement too was exclusively on "liberalism and religious pluralism".

But when the sermon drops religious pluralism from its text, it cunningly turns a specific ruling into a misleadingly overarching edict. The impact of this wrongful generalisation can only be bad.

If someone drops the word "State" from "Islamic State (IS)" when describing the murderous nature of its adherents, would we accept it? Dropping just one word would inadvertently make it a claim on a much bigger group. That was what this sermon did. It turns a specific into a general.

Tens of thousands of people listened to a half-truth Hari Raya sermon. A sermon like this is insidious because of its subtlety in promoting abuse of a government agency and in enhancing ignorance.

Many people would miss it, not realising what is wrong about such statements. Maybe even the sermon author did not realise it. But if allowed to continue, listeners would gradually take it as acceptable without realising how wrong it actually is.

After the sermon was finished, I returned into the mosque and spoke to the khatib(the person delivering the sermon). He politely told me that he read what was prepared for him.

It is unfortunate that such a knowledgeable ustaz, whose evening kuliah is something I quite enjoy, was not allowed to write his own sermon. He is more than capable of writing a brilliant one, but unfortunately the system does not allow him.

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The writer is the chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (www.ideas.org.my). The views expressed here are entirely the writer's own.