WHAT is the role of a religious authority like the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) in the country? How much influence does it wield in Malaysia’s governmental and administrative affairs?
It may seem like the people in Jakim are just old wise men with long beards and a magical staffs who advise the ruler of the country – much like the magician Jaafar did in the Disney movie Aladdin.
In the case of Jaafar, he makes colourful potions and smoke screens to impress the king, using his powers to hide his sinister plans before going on to usurp the ruler’s power.
This analogy struck me when I was watching the 2017 National Budget presentation by the Prime Minister Najib Razak last Friday in Parliament.
Najib made everyone aware that he had referred to the Islamic authorities for advice on the best and, I’m assuming, the most blessed way to allocate and spend the nation’s money.
In fact, Jakim was even allocated RM1 billion (US$240 million) for the coming year. What will they be using that money for? No one really knows for sure.
The Islamic department has been busy making sure than society is free from evil and non-Islamic influence that they believe would lead Muslims astray.
The most recent was the haram declaration of the ‘Pretzel Dog’. Dogs are filthy in Islam and hence a food item named like that would be, well, filthy, according to the department. Even if the meat was beef or chicken.
Following that logic, hot dogs, root beer, beef bacon, turkey ham and the like would all be considered haram, even if the ingredients used are clean and the meat slaughtered according to Muslim rituals.
In fact, there are so many other traditional Malay dishes that would be considered haram, just from the name of the dishes alone. It would just cause too much confusion.
But Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of religious affairs Jamil Khir Baharom clarified everything by saying there won’t be a ban on the name ‘Pretzel Dog’.
This is despite the fact that under the halal certification guidelines by Jakim, it does say that a name of a dish can be deemed unclean.
Yes, ridiculous as it is, Jakim has that guideline.
Aside from being vigilant to food names, Jakim has also spent a lot of time doing other things that protect the sanctity of Islam and the purity of Malaysian Muslims.
Another one of their operations is the regular review and banning of books that they deem are against the teaching of the brand of Islam that they approve of.
One can just do a Google search for the official list of books that gets banned annually. It is as long as the hard copy of Najib’s national budget speech.
Jakim has also restricted the use of the word ‘Allah’ to only Muslims. Apparently, the Arabic word for ‘God’ cannot be used by people other than Malays and Muslims.
— Avinash (@avinashk1975) October 7, 2016
Their reason is that Malays can easily be confused if they heard people of another religion using the word. This can lead them astray and they will became apostates without even knowing so.
Don’t get me wrong. I do not object to having bodies and agencies that work towards protecting their chosen religion. It is a basic human right to have freedom of religion.
What I am against is the fact that this one particular religion has been incorporated into a governmental system that is supposed to be secular and represent everyone regardless of faith.
It has infiltrated it so much that for many Malaysians, expressing any opinion that is just slightly against their accepted interpretation of Islam means that you are an infidel.
They are the be all and end all when it comes to religious knowledge and interpretation. Nobody should question their actions and motives – if you do, you’ll be accused of going against Islam.
For a multi-racial and multi-religious society that is far from homogenous like Malaysia, it is unhealthy and plain wrong when one religious group is allowed to impose their authority on all.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent