When Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak declared that Malaysia is an “Islamic state”, he created quite a stir and quickly polarised public opinion between advocates of an Islamic state and those who believe Malaysia is a secular nation.
Much of the debate now is constrained by knee-jerk reactions to the labels. So let’s go behind the labels and look at the substance: what exactly does Najib mean by “Islamic state”?
An academic friend of mine shared these thoughts with me:
“Does he (Najib) mean a state which:
- has a constitutional monarchy,
- espouses parliamentary democracy with an equal franchise for all regardless of religion,
- has a plural system of laws (although non-bumiputera customary law has been eliminated), with the civil law based upon the Constitution as supreme and the final arbiter of our worldly affairs,
- has no restrictions on who, in principle, can be the prime minister of the federation or the chief minister of any state in the federation, not unlike, say, (Shmu’el) HaNagid (993-1056), the leader of Andalusia’s Jews, who became, in 1037, vizier of the Muslim kingdom of Granada and commander in chief of its Islamic armed forces, second only to the king of Granada,
- provides for equal rights for all citizens,
- upholds equality before the law,
- practises a single system of taxation for all,
- provides for the free practice of all religions without discrimination?
“OR, instead, does he mean a state in which:
- non-Muslims must cede all secular power to Muslims,
- non-Muslims are subject to discriminatory taxation,
- non-Muslims live and worship only by the secular grace of Muslims,
- non-Muslims cannot, in principle, hold any positions above a certain technical level,
- a non-plural system of laws, defined by someone’s interpretation of sharia (see, Abdullah an-Na’im), is imposed upon all,
- the Constitution does not represent the supreme law of the land,
- non-Muslims are not free to live where they choose,
- there is no concept of citizenship regardless of religion?
“It seems to me that if we can get a declaration of assent to the first set – that that is indeed what is meant by an Islamic state – then it would not quite matter what adjective is prefixed to our state. And if such a notion of an Islamic state gains wider assent, that would be a major positive contribution to the global battle.”