Mujahid pushes for more inclusive Islamic reforms

Datuk Seri Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa. -filepic

MINISTER in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa speaks about the need for reforms in the governance of religious affairs of Islam and inclusivity.

What label do you give yourself as a Muslim?

I am a Muslim who wants to live with my faith, practise what my religion taught me in a contemporary world with dynamic changes and adapt myself to the surroundings. Being a Muslim politician, I am in a bigger framework committed to my faith, but that will never stop me from being a citizen to the country and to the world.

Are you a conservative, a liberal, an extremist or someone who just calls himself a Muslim?

I have to be conservative in my belief but in terms of how you interact with others, you might have to be liberal in terms of living together. If you become conservative in that sense, you will not be together with society. Extremism is not in my dictionary.

What kind of Islam does the Pakatan Harapan government intend to practise?

Number one is to protect freedom of belief and faith, and also to respect others as long as it is not against the law, as enshrined in our constitution.

The government has a narrative on how Islam is presented to the people – what we call the “compassionate Islam” or rahmatan lil alamin (compassion for all) because this dictates you to be inclusive. 

Number two is to be compassionate and number three is to be progressive.

You talk about rahmatan lil alamin and inclusivity. Are you talking about both Muslims and non-Muslims?

Article 3 states that Islam is the official religion of the Federation and in the same article, all faiths are free to practise. 

I do not think myself as being isolated in that big frame or that I do not relate to other faiths. 

We practise freedom and being a Muslim, you have to also protect other people’s freedoms. I am committed to protecting the freedom of other faiths.

During the Barisan Nasional era, your portfolio was seen as a moral guardian. Do you intend to keep to that role?

You would have two categories of your moral issues. One is the personal sphere, which is individual, and the other is your public sphere.

I believe that in every religion, there is a moral principle. Where governance is concerned, we clearly define the line between the personal sphere and the public sphere.

Let’s say you commit something within your personal, individual sphere, I do not interfere, although it could be to my standard that is wrong.

My concern is when those personal spheres encroach into the public spheres, where there is then a concern of sensitivity, legality or criminality. Then the government comes in, not because we want to be a moral police but because we want to secure the public sphere. 

If you are talking about moral policing, you are talking about interfering with the private sphere, which we do not intend to do. 

Let’s say someone commits adultery behind closed doors, which is khalwat. Now your officers can break down the door and arrest them. Will this change?

I would advise all agencies under me, especially the enforcement officers, to not interfere with the personal sphere. This issue of enforcement of what you call khalwat has been misused – not all of it, but there have been times where it has been exploited and misused.

The enforcement of khalwat falls within the state judiciary and is not exactly under my jurisdiction, but we can have a platform where we meet all state directors of departments of Islamic affairs and share the concerns of the federal government on these issues.

You have inherited a ministry of people who have always seen themselves as moral guardians of Muslims. How are you going to change the mindsets of these officers?

I have taken serious measures in reforming the so-called “moral policing” of the Big Brother who watches everything – what you do in your room and whether you are being a good Muslim in your house.

We have already made inroads to implementing a policy in all the federal and state Islamic administration agencies under my jurisdiction, where all agencies, especially the Department of Islamic Development of Malaysia (Jakim), will adopt compassionate Islam, discussing how it can be implemented and “culturalised”.

It will not be easy. There will be people who resent these ideas, even among the administrators. I tell them, “You might have your own interpretations, but you should respect the policy we are embarking on today.” 

How are you going to do away with 60 years’ cultural ideas that the Muslim man has the last say over Muslim women who make the majority?

For example, when you talk about child marriage, you will have different views. The views that affect the public is of the muftis’ - they have their own views and could be more powerful than even the minister and even the Prime Minister. They have influence. Then again, you also have different parties who can help you to get your ideas across, for example, the royals or the King. I would have to talk to them because the muftis are under them, using all the interest parties to reduce the tension between opposing ideas and opinions about Islam from influential figures. I resort to discussion and consultation, but at the end of the day, I am the government, I am not a mufti. I don’t just issue edicts - this is haram or this is halal or this is sinful. I have to bring it to the parliament for discussion. In the end, I might even take a stand which is against the fatwa but within the light of the bigger interest which is being provided by the syariah.

Being bound by state laws, the royalties, the muftis, the religious and cultural beliefs, are you a toothless tiger with an advisory role?

Negotiating with people does not mean we are weak. Before I make a decision, I have to respect the process. I can resort to something more drastic – okay, child marriage at 18, finish! – I may have strong opinions but being a minister, I have to take an exit clause.

What is the exit clause?

If someone marries before they turn 18, is that a crime? If it is, how would you separate the couple and protect the welfare of the child? 

Some would say, “You are too slow, you don’t want to do it because of the backlash.” It is not about that. If they are married without the proper permission, how would you face this?

While these consultations are ongoing, child marriages continue to happen. What do you do then?

I had only been in office for one month when the child marriage case in Jeli came up. I told them we needed an impromptu SOP now because if you want to enact the law or amend a law, it would take months. 

I ordered the Department of Syariah Judi­ciary of Malaysia to come up with it (SOP) as soon as possible since I have the authority. We told all judges that in cases of underage marriage, they should follow the SOP. 

While we were doing the firefighting, another case happened in Tumpat. We found that the judge did not follow the SOP. So, that was not our fault as we had taken measures. 

What about the issue of tahfiz (religious schools) where they have to be registered under you and many sexual offences have taken place?

Like the one in Kepong (where the teacher sexually abused the students), I had to go down and look at it. I said the school should be closed. While I do not have the power to close any tahfiz, we do have another alternative. 

We have Kuala Lumpur City Hall and the fire department, where they can close down premises that are not properly registered. I then called all the interested parties and law officers – do something. We will amend the Administration of Islamic Laws (Federal Territories) Act 1993 involving the administration of religious schools, not only to control them but also to shut them down.

Are you going to look at all tahfiz in the country or wait for cases to happen?

There are many tahfiz which are not registered with us but we can’t stop them because I don’t have the power. Then, there is the issue of ignorance of the law.

Second, is the issue of state authority. They say I am already registered with the state authority and they are not obliged to follow the Federal curriculum. In the longer term, we are not just looking at the law, we are also looking at the curriculum to produce integrated tahfiz graduates. Under Jakim’s Darul Quran, we tie up with universities to enable them to get their degrees.

What is your stand on the caning of women and the syariah courts’ tendency to punish sexual offenders and disadvantaged people?

In the case of musahaqah (sexual relations between women) in Terengganu – the Cabinet discussed it seriously and the Prime Minister had a strong opinion on it. I have been asked to deliberate. We cannot be seen to be interfering with the state. 

But as the federal government, we do have a strong opinion on this. The caning should 

be in a more compassionate manner with mitigation factors: is he or she a first-time offender? Do you have to take extreme measures?

You have another looming case of the possible caning of the single mother caught for prostitution. How are you going to influence these syariah judges?

It is not really totally up to the judges – they have to follow the procedures of the court. We might need more intensive training for the judges, to see that their judgments will reflect the perception of Islam. I also feel bad that the states were are competing with one another. In Terengganu, hundreds turned up to watch the two women. Then, Kelantan said we want to do it in the stadium and then Pahang said we also want to do it publicly. The whole thing is hijacked into something where punishment in Islam is about competing and who gets more witnesses in caning the offender. Where is the rahmah? Where is the compassion? Where is the justice?

How are you going to reform the hardened judges in the syariah courts – who may argue this is written in the Quran and books of Islam? 

There is only one way to do it – confront it, debate it with these people. This is Islam, there is nothing that is not Islam here. So, debate, talk and discuss.

We have to get them on a platform with their ideas and opinions. At the end of the day, you have to put your foot down where you want the new policy, set an agenda and have a timeline. We have the bigger society supporting us. By concurrently doing this, we will have a reformed Islamic administration. 

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