MARCH 29 — There was a time when it was hard to imagine Malaysia as anything even resembling an Islamic state.
Our administration was sufficiently secular, and Article 3 of the Federal Constitution that states Islam as religion of the federation meant the recital of prayers before official events.
Shariah courts were somewhere people went to get divorced, and religious authorities were people who officiated at weddings.
There was a lull where even Islamist party PAS pledged to work towards a “benevolent state” to ensure the welfare and interests of all citizens, regardless of religion.
Not anymore. Things seem to have escalated quickly after the 13th general elections after Malay-Muslim-majority PAS and Umno struggled to stay relevant in an increasingly colour-blind political scene.
Struggling to find their place among the remaining rural and conservative Malay voters, both PAS and Umno decided to draw the Islamic card.
PAS, confident after retaining Kelantan, decided to dig deep back into 1993 to resurrect its long-sidelined Shariah Criminal Code II Enactment, to dangle the hudud carrot once again in front of its supporters.
In return, Umno feigned support and kept mum on the issue, knowing it would both draw support for itself and away from a crumbling Pakatan Rakyat.
It is no longer hard to imagine Malaysia’s future as a quasi-islamic state, if the last few days were any indication.
The biggest victim so far has been our freedom of speech. There seems to be almost no space left to discuss Islamic laws in an objective and civil manner.
If you are non-Muslim, you will not even be allowed to talk about these issues, especially on hudud.
Regardless of the fact that non-Muslims cannot totally escape hudud in its implementation.
Regardless of the fact that proponents of hudud wish for it to be implemented in its “truest” sense, which means it applies to all citizens — Muslims or not. Which was the similar interpretation taken by Malaysia’s federal Islamic authority when it proposed a roadmap towards hudud’s nationwide implementation.
“Hudud is the right of Muslims” seems to be the mantra of the defenders of Islam, forgetting the fact that while Muslims have the right to observe their practices, they cannot enact a public policy that encroaches on other rights guaranteed to every citizen.
If you are Muslim, it is perhaps even worse. Thinking Muslims are not valued in this country, because blind faith is what mostly stands for religion here.
And it is worse when you are an outspoken Muslim woman, whose opinion is somehow valued even less.
Opening a debate on Islamic policies, laws, enforcement and teachings in Malaysia is now tantamount to insulting Islam and God.
If this is the sort of reaction that we receive while debating hudud’s implementation in one state, what hope is there if it sweeps the country and Islam permeates every nook and cranny of our administration?
Forget our pretentious Shariah Index. There can be no improvement to the way Islam is administered in this country if it leaves itself blind and deaf to valid criticism and questioning.
The previous generations put a lot of respect and reverence towards the Federal Constitution. After all, it is the bedrock upon which Malaysian society is built.
It is a sad reality that the younger generation no longer sees it that way.
It is a mystery how just in a few generations, Malaysians have forgotten what it means to be fellow citizens. For the majority Malays, it is mostly about Malay supremacy and Islamic glory now.
Thing is, we do not even need to have Islamic holy texts as the country’s supreme law to experience living in such a quasi-Islamic state.
Article 3 will continue to be the blunt tool that Islamists will use to bludgeon its critics to death, abusing it to justify the rampage against our civil liberties.
There is already a move by Putrajaya to empower Shariah courts, with increasing calls for it to undeservedly have the same authority as civil courts. When that happens, we can expect more and more aspects of Islamic laws affecting our lives.
Religious enforcers are already playing moral police to govern as much of our private lives as they can get away with. From what we wear, where we go, and how we worship — all is game for religious authorities with the sort of power they wield.
Even our secular policemen are jumping into action, with how much attention and manpower being put into monitoring the public’s perception and opinion on Islam.
We already have blasphemy laws in our civil laws, especially Section 298 of the Penal Code. Although it regulates the act of “wounding the religious feelings of any person”, it seems that the only people in the crosshairs are critics of Islam.
Our civil liberties are being eroded day by day. The politicians know this. They also do not care much about it, because it helps keep them in power.
In December 2013, I wrote that the next general election will all be about Islam. It is not much of a stretch to say that Islam will be all that matters when everything is done and dusted.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.