This recently published book serves as a good entry point for those who desire to understand the influence of Islam in Malaysia. The author, Julian Lee, makes it clear that Malaysia's Islam is not representing all Muslims but only one segment of the religious community worldwide. "[Islamic] cosmology, as it is manifest in Malaysia, gives precedence to Muslims over non-Muslims, and then to Sunni Muslims before others, and within that to those who follow the Shafi'i school, and males before females." (p.25)
The work highlights how this cosmology adopted by the ruling government UMNO and the Muslim community in Malaysia at large has undesirable socio-political impact on its multicultural society. The author lists high-profile cases where individual rights like that of Lina Joy, Kamariah Ali, and Shamala Sathiyaseelan are being violated. There are also discussions on the State-sanctioned religious authority's policing of individual's lifestyles including the raid at Zouk KL in 2005 and the banning of yoga among Muslims.
There are discussions over the different interpretations by Muslims over Malaysia's Constitution article 11 and certain Islamic practices. The book also underlines the various weaknesses of Malaysia's judiciary and how such weaknesses are forcing citizens like Sathiyaseelan and Kamariah Ali "into a lacunae where no law applies" since the civil court does not want to deal with these cases (p.86). In view of these weaknesses, Haris bin Mohamed Ibrahim remarked,
[Civil court judges] abdicated in their duty... by the simple mechanism... of finding jurisdiction in some other court, which 'til this day cannot be justified by written law... To my mind, that is nothing short of an abdication of their duty owed to the citizenry. (p.87, emphasis added)Well said, Haris!
The author went on to discuss the electoral system in Malaysia. The author highlighted the practice of "First-Past-The-Post" system where there is no "representational value" on behalf of the voters if their candidate does not win. Julian Lee explains, "Hypothetically, even if Party A were to lose every context only by the slimmest of margins, Party A would be completely unrepresented." This contrasts with "proportional representational electoral system" where "losing votes still have representational value in the upper house." (p.111)
Another downside of this electoral system is the constraint of political expression. As Julian recounts a remark made by an individual he interviewed, "A relative of [the interviewee] was the head of PAS in his village, but that the only reason he was with PAS was "because he hates UMNO. He's not pious at all! He just hates UMNO." (p.113)
One of the good observations made in the book is its documentation of how socio-political forces shape some local Muslims' interpretation of their own faith and religious ideal. The author recounts the victory won by PAS in 1999. Between 1999 and 2004, PAS has been publicly pronouncing their plan to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state. This move made them unpopular and resulted in their lost during the 2004 election. Since then they have "toned down greatly its Islamic state discourse, affirmed the place of non-Muslims in Malaysia, and behaved more conciliatory towards the DAP and PKR." (p.113) This example shows how easy these religious people change their religious ideal for political gain, from a superior outlook to one that is moderate. Hence non-Muslims are right to remain suspicious of them. Will they turn back to their superior outlook when they are ruling the country?
This book is a good resource for anyone who are interested to learn more about the place and role of Islam in Malaysia.