Islamic state or Islamic laws for Muslims?

Saifuddin Morat
(Updated )

Most political analysts and observers concluded that the main factor Barisan Alternatif failed to win the non-Muslim vote was due to the mainstream media playing up two major issues: racial riots and an Islamic state. But what is an Islamic state? Does an Islamic state ever exist? Is there a necessity for an Islamic state (i.e. is an Islamic state part of Islamic law)?

Firstly, let us try to define the term "Islamic". Islam by itself is defined as worshipping, prostrating in front of God (Allah) and being a slave or servant to Allah. Therefore, "Islamic" means acting in a way that shows we are a servant to Allah.

God's living creations are categorised as Islamic and non-Islamic. For example, there is such a thing as an Islamic genie ( jinn ) and non-Islamic genie but there is no such a thing as Islamic and non-Islamic car. In other words, Islam is for living beings. A state is a sovereign territory and therefore is a physical space that is not alive. The point that I am getting at is there is no such a thing as Islamic state unless a state is a living being. Since a state is not a living being there is no such a thing as an Islamic state.

Secondly, there is no such teaching in the Quran or hadith (Prophet Muhammad's sayings) that implies the concept of an Islamic state where one pan-Islamic head or khalifah on earth governs all Muslims. One of the most popular ideologies is that a perfect Islamic state is where all Muslims are headed by one khalifah , such as during Muhammad's time. But this is also inaccurate since during Muhammad's time, the King of Habsyah still governed his subjects who later included Muslims.

Muhamad did not ask the King of Habsyah or his subjects to surrender their sovereignty to him. If a kingdom is not allowed or the king should bow to Muhammad as the leader of the Islamic community, why did Muhammad not ask the King of Habsyah to abdicate? The fact is that any form of government is allowed, so long as they do not run contrary to Islamic laws.

In fact, it is written in the Quran that all humans are sent down to earth as khalifah s (defined as a 'leaders' and 'administrators'). The khalifah s in this context must administer the earth as Allah ordained them to. Therefore, the conclusion I make is that there is no such a thing as an Islamic state and an Islamic state is not part of Islamic law as revealed strictly by the Quran or hadith . Since it is not a part of Islamic Law, an Islamic state is not a necessity.

But if an Islamic state is not a necessity, then what is necessary? Islamic laws are the panacea prescribed by Allah to all Muslims as a solution to all worldly problems and to bring peace and morality to this earth. Islamic law is the necessary ( wajib ) thing to govern a Muslim and includes hudud, faraid, munakahat , etc.

Since we have established that there is no such a thing as Islamic state, we must then ask ourselves whether it is a folly for PAS to have an Islamic state as one of its ideologies when it is a stumbling block for PAS or BA to secure non-Muslim votes.

Let us examine our Constitution regarding the question of an Islamic state. While an Islamic state is not a part of Islamic law per se (being neither expressed in the Quran or hadith ), there are elements in our Constitution which attempt to create an Islamic state which, though noble, are not entirely in tune (in terms of form) with Islamic law. What PAS members aspire most to is for Islamic laws for Muslims and not some man-made constitution to make Malaysia an Islamic state in spirit rather than form.

The most popular concept of an Islamic state (or in the spirit of an Islamic state) is having a pan-state head of Islam such as the khalifah or the sultanate ruling over all Muslims. Article 3(2) of the Constitution allows the conference of rulers to authorise the King to be head of Islam in the respective states. Even if this is restricted to certain acts, observances and ceremonies duly authorised by the council of rulers, it can be said that the King is the head of Islam for every state, and thus the pan-Malaysian head of Islam.

Mohamed Suffian bin Hashim, one-time Federal judge, once wrote in his seminal An Introduction to the Constitution of Malaysia (1972): "In providing for Islam to be the religion of the Federation, the constitution does not at the same time provide that the [King] should be the head of Islam throughout the Federation".

However, Parliament did not act according to Suffian's interpretation when it amended article 3 (3) on 27 August 1976, four years after Suffian's book, to include Sabah and Sarawak, in addition to Penang and Malacca, in states needing to amend their state constitutions to make the King the head of Islam in that state.

Historically, the inclusion of Islam as the official religion of the Federation of Malaya in the Constitution was as a bargaining chip to accommodate Chinese and Indians regarding citizenship during independence. Prior to the entry of Sabah and Sarawak into Malaysia, the majority non-Muslim population there rejected Islam as the religion of the Federation.

Divided, the Cobbold Commission decided that it would deal with this hurdle by requiring that further discussions be had in an Inter-Governmental Committee made up of representatives from Malaya and Borneo. At that time that Committee gave explicit assurances that the secular nature of the Federation would be maintained. In this connection, the Constitution does not authorise the King to exercise any such religious authority as provided under article 3 (2) in Borneo.

However, when article 3 (3) was amended, even Sabah and Sarawak were bound by article 3 (2). Article 3 (3) of the Constitution which mandates the provision for the King to be head of Islam was only amended in 1976 [1] to include Sabah and Sarawak.

The revised article 3 (3) of the Federal Constitution says: "The Constitution of the States of Malacca, Penang, Sabah and Sarawak shall each make provision for conferring on the [King] the position of Head of the religion of Islam in that State". The basis that qualifies Malaysia as an Islamic state is article 3 (1) which states that Islam is the official religion of the Federation but only in ritualistic and ceremonial roles while article 3 (2) merely qualifies the King as the Pan-Malaysian head of Islam.

Article 3 (2) of the Constitution reads: "...but in any acts, observences or ceremonies with respect to which the Conference of Rulers has agreed that they should extend to the Federation as a whole each of the other Rulers shall in his capacity as Head of the religion of Islam authorise the King to represent him".

To say Malaysia is a totally secular country is not entirely accurate because secularism is the total separation of state and religion. For non-Muslims, this is so, but Muslims still fall under some syariah (Islamic) laws.

For Muslims, enforcement of some Islamic duties and penalties for sins under Islam is a matter of law. Some actions in their daily lives are governed by Islamic laws, though not to the full extent of the complete set of Islamic laws. Malaysia is a Muslim country by virtue of the majority of the population embracing the Islamic faith. Malaysia is also a pseudo Islamic state by virtue of article 3 (1) which states that "Islam is the religion of the Federation..." but practices secularism for non-Muslims.

I have already established the fact that presently Malaysia is a pseudo Islamic state by virtue of the Constitution. However, are we satisfied with this status quo? The fact that PAS is still fighting to impose Islamic law means that we are not. Therefore we must ask ourselves whether the term "Islamic state" in the recent Terengganu PAS manifesto or as implicit in the PAS constitution and through various PAS ceramah s is still relevant.

What PAS is really fighting for is to enforce Islamic laws for all Muslims. Therefore, I suggest that the party avoid any reference to an Islamic state in its manifesto, ceramah s, etc, whether implicitly or explicitly. The Islamic state issue is a major stumbling block for BA in securing the votes of non-Muslims and was the main issue played up by BN to spook non-Muslims.

Once PAS makes it clear that an Islamic state is only a man-made constitution and not necessary under Islamic law, and that the imposition of Islamic law only applies to Muslims, BN would lose a major issue to play up and the major stumbling block for non-Muslims voting PAS will be overcome. This will certainly augur well for the next elections.

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