How to transform the Islamic administration

MAY 25 — The new government is still riding high after two weeks. Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s popularity, according to an online poll, is higher than even that of rock stars and footballers, and that is saying a lot! 

I am not surprised either. I truly believe that only a man of his capacity could have pulled off a victory against the seemingly immovable BN government. But now he is facing his greatest challenge yet — declawing the Islamofascists. 

Tun had already said the Islamic administration is due for a change. Although it was he who created Jakim in the first place during his first time round as PM, I am sure he did not mean for Jakim to be as dysfunctional as it currently is. 

But this is one of the side effects of the post-Mahathir government. For 15 years BN needed the Islamic administration to bolster their own religious legitimacy and thus threw money at it. 

It was no less than the Sultan of Johore himself who demanded to know why Jakim needed a budget of RM1 billion. That was three years ago. 

Till today, a detailed accounting is still forthcoming. 

What does Jakim do with its budget? Among its activities is advising Muslims against keeping dogs. This shows their policy makers’ ignorance of the Quran which explicitly mentions the dog as a hunting animal whose gains are halal. 

Another one of its more titillating activities was to determine the gender of a local entrepreneur. Jakim needed a month to figure it out! Such are the activities which have totally brought this organisation into disrepute. 

Yet, even with these fiascos, Jakim still enjoys the support — even though it is rather diminished now — of the Malay Muslims. I surmise that this is because it is seen by its supporters as the protector of the faith, whatever that means. 

That said, the nation is enjoying the spirit of change. We have successfully removed the coalition which has ruled us since independence itself so why can we not also see some changes to the Islamic administration? 

If there is a person with the political will to bring about said changes, it can only be Tun himself. 

To me, the best change is simply full secularisation. Religion can never be officialised and monetised and remain authentic to itself. 

When we appoint people to be paid religious officers, they must make themselves perpetually relevant in order to keep their jobs. This is simple economics. 

This is why we find Jakim taking up trivial matters such as dog-owning by Muslims. They needed to find some way to remain relevant and deeper philosophical issues were simply beyond their grasp. 

If we were to secularise the nation completely, we would be able to cut through the fat and arrive to the essence of the faith. 

However, I doubt secularisation is possible now so we must go for less radical solutions. For example, we must legislate Jakim to be led by the most highly qualified PhD holders (in the fields of philosophy and religion) from Western universities. 

This would ensure that the most able critical thinking types are leading Jakim. These individuals would not worry about moral policing as much as they would moral development. 

They would not tolerate the low-level PAS style tribal politics either. They would certainly raise the level of religious consciousness among the Malays. 

And that brings us to another important point. We must give the Muslims the freedom to opt out of Islamic jurisdiction. 

If they choose to be placed under civil jurisdiction, they must be allowed to do so. A great number of Muslim women especially, feel justice has been denied to them by Shariah courts which operate on archaic, misogynistic laws. 

If freedom to opt out cannot be given, then at least these laws need to be reformed. There are many Islamic thinkers who offer the tools to do so.

Finally, religious classes in schools. These classes are simply not providing a humanistic religious experience. Rather, they are used to disseminate artificially constructed sets of rules and regulations which do not touch at the spiritual centre of Islam. 

Worse still, the ones conducting these classes are graduates of Islamic institutions who tend to create a separate identity from other Malaysians. 

Parents should be free to send kids to religious classes but it must be a choice. Other parents may choose more progressive routes. 

Malaysia has just awakened from a long slumber during which the Islamic administration held us hostage. We must be brave now, else our impetus to transformation be stopped dead in its tracks. 

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.