Millions of ringgit stopping Islamic enforcers from giving up power, academic claims

Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi , Emeritus Professor of Law, UiTM, speaks during the roundtable discussion on Islam and human rights, in Kuala Lumpur, June 14, 2015. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi , Emeritus Professor of Law, UiTM, speaks during the roundtable discussion on Islam and human rights, in Kuala Lumpur, June 14, 2015. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, June 14 — Islamic authorities loathe to reform the institutionalisation of the religion as they will lose their coffers, a local academic said today, pointing out that Malaysia’s federal Islamic body receives hundreds of millions of ringgit from taxpayers each year.

In a roundtable discussion on Islam and human rights today, several speakers also criticised Malaysian religious enforcers of repeatedly exceeding not only their jurisdiction, but also Islamic injunctions and teachings prescribed in holy texts.

“Institutionalisation is not simply a religious issue. There are economic implications. These people will never give up power because of the tremendous economic benefit that they receive,” said Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi, an emeritus professor of law at Universiti Teknologi Mara.

“Don’t expect them to give that up. What as regarded as a religious struggle is basically actually an economic struggle.”

The Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) is budgeted to receive more than RM783 million for its spending this year under the Prime Minister’s Department.

The figure was only slightly lower than its spending allowance of over RM806 million last year, according to the Ministry of Finance.

UK-based academic James Piscatori from Durham University had earlier blamed the bureaucratisation of Islam as one of the major challenges facing modern Muslims worldwide, calling the trend “inevitable”.

“If you were to say to me, ‘in one sentence, what is the biggest enemy for modern Islam?’. I have to say bureaucratisation, even more than fundamentalism.

“Bureaucratism, it’s the presumption that you should speak on behalf of my god,” said Piscatori, a professor of International Relations.

Former Sessions Court judge Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin speaks during the roundtable discussion on Islam and human rights, in Kuala Lumpur, June 14, 2015. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Former Sessions Court judge Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin speaks during the roundtable discussion on Islam and human rights, in Kuala Lumpur, June 14, 2015. — Picture by Choo Choy May

Former Sessions Court judge Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin claimed religious enforcers have interpreted Islamic teachings to make it a religion that is coercive, unkind, and emphasise more punishment instead on kindness and justice.

“Here in Malaysia, they have even added things which are not even in the traditional interpretation of Shariah, especially when it comes to moral policing, intrusion of private space of Muslims,” said Noor Farida.

“Most of the Shariah laws in this country, many of them are in violation of human rights as we know them. They’re even in violation of fundamental liberties enshrined in our Constitution.”