Determined to speak out

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 24 Jan 2016

Breaking ground: Datuk Latifah Merican Cheong talking about G25’s book, ‘Breaking the Silence: Voices of Moderation: Islam in a Constitutional Democracy’. On her right is fellow founder member Datuk Redzuan Kushairi.

OVER the past couple months, the G25 Group of Moderate Muslims have been labelled extremist, dangerous, anti-Islam, deviationist, biadab (disrespectful) and disloyal to the King.

The group of senior retired civil servants first made the news in December 2014 with an open letter about their concerns on areas of conflict and overlap between civil and syariah law. Their call for consultation to harmonise syariah laws and the Federal Constitution gained support and inspired an “I am #26” petition.

There were some opponents, notes founder member Datuk Latifah Merican Cheong, former assistant governor of Bank Negara and former programme director with the World Bank. Groups such as Perkasa “caricatured and made fun of us. But they quietened down when others supported us”.

But as G25 marked their first anniversary in December 2015 with a forum, “Islam in a Constitutional Democracy”, and a book, Breaking the Silence: Voices of Moderation - Islam in a Constitutional Democracy, the criticism started again – in both the mainstream and social media.

Another founder member, former diplomat and deputy chairman of the Foreign Policy Study Group Datuk M. Redzuan Kushairi, left the board of the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation this month. Pioneer trustee Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai has also resigned.

“I thought it was natural for GMMF and G25 to work together,” Redzuan says.

At the G25 forum in December last year, GMMF Chairman Tan Sri Razali Ismail spoke on moderation. But the new GMM CEO Nasharudin Mat Isa reportedly saw G25 as a danger, whose views could challenge the position of Islam and whose positions were extreme, Redzuan points out.

Latifah thinks the recent attacks on G25 could be because the group is seen to be making a bigger impact.

“It is possible that they see we could be effective, or because we are raising questions about the bureaucracy and the bureaucratisation of Islam,” she adds. “There will be detractors and they will see us as a threat.”

It is unIslamic to jump to conclusions and accuse others, let alone fellow Muslims, without trying to ascertain the truth, adds Redzuan.

“Otherwise, it will be fitnah (slander), a very serious sin in Islam.”

G25 is undeterred by the slurs and is still focussed on its goals. “We are not responding to every criticism,” says Latifah. “We still want to focus on the big picture.”

Adds Redzuan, “We don’t want to get ‘ambushed’ and for small issues to be spun out of proportion as if they were the main concerns and objectives of G25.”

The group will continue to support and work towards the realisation of the Quranic principles of the Maqasid al Syariah (the higher purpose of syariah) and wasatiyyah (moderation or the middle way), he says.

And this year, it will reach out to the youth, asking for their views on G25’s objectives and on justice, democratic governance and accountability, the rule of law, corruption and abuse of power, the former ambassador says. The group plans to have regular dialogues with them as well as a major forum.

At the G25 forum last month, for example, some young members of the audience asked the group to define Salafism and wasatiyyah. “We may come up with a booklet on this,” says Redzuan.

At the December forum, the group reaffirmed that it would work towards setting up an inclusive consultative committee of experts advising the Government on amendments to state syariah laws to bring them in line with the Constitution and the spirit of the Rukun Negara.

“We need to change the mindset of those in authority to put the house in order and be open to reform,” says Latifah. “Negri Sembilan has made quite positive changes relating to conversion. We need to do background work and research on this.”

After the recent Court of Appeal ruling on M. Indira Gandhi’s case, the Prime Minister asked three ministers to speak to the Attorney-General to find a solution, and “in principle” agreed to look at amendments to existing laws to prevent unilateral conversion of children. According to Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam, these amendments are likely to be tabled when the Dewan Rakyat meets in March.

“Any amendments are welcome,” says Latifah. Redzuan is also encouraged by a recent report that the Government is considering the Negri Sembilan law that divorce should first be settled in civil court before a conversion.

Commenting on the National Consultative Council proposed by Datuk Seri Nazir Razak, Redzuan recommends going back to the work of the National Unity Consultative Council on the National Harmony Act.

“There are good ideas in there,” he says. “If Datuk Seri Nazir is prepared to go through with it, the work of the NUCC should be factored in.”

Looking back, G25 members believe that in their first year, they have succeeded in opening up the debate.

“Before, the newspapers were dominated by Perkasa, Malaysian Muslim Solidarity (Isma) and the extreme rightist groups,” says Redzuan. “Now, more are encouraged to speak out. Our attempt to bring balance is bearing fruit.”

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