Mohd Sheriff Kassim says trend among religious departments taking action against 'personal sins', is a direct result of growing politicisation of Islam.
PETALING JAYA: The faith of Muslims in Malaysia should not be the responsibility of the federal or state governments, says a former senior civil servant and adviser to the G25 group of prominent Malays.
Mohd Sheriff Kassim, who is chairman of toll highway operator PLUS, said Muslims should be left to decide for themselves how they want to live their lives, TODAY reported.
“The main problem is religious officers don’t see it this way, they see it as their right to introduce laws to criminalise certain kinds of behaviour.
“But lawyers have argued that states that pass laws to treat moral offences as crimes are acting unconstitutionally because crimes are under the federal law and not state law,” he told the Singapore daily, after speaking at a seminar on Malaysia in a Constitutional Democracy, organised by the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore yesterday.
In his speech at the seminar, Sheriff also spoke about the trend by states to be more bold in policing the behaviour of Muslims, saying it was a direct result of the growing politicisation of Islam in Malaysia.
“The shariah system of justice is not new, but with growing politicisation of Islam in the country, the religious establishment has become bolder in demanding changes to raise the status of Islamic law,” he said, according to TODAY.
He was referring to the enactment of laws by state religious departments to criminalise “personal sins” of Muslims under the precepts of Islam.
Malaysia has always had religious department officers nabbing Muslims for khalwat, which translates to “close proximity” between an unmarried couple.
However, in recent years, such “personal sins turned law” have been expanded to include drinking alcohol in public, not fasting during Ramadan, not attending Friday prayers and even the failure to obey fatwas.
“Although fatwas should be advisory, some states make them mandatory after they have been officially gazetted.
“As such, these laws empower religious affairs departments to prosecute offenders in the Shariah courts,” Sheriff was quoted as saying by TODAY.
He added that though such a trend has yet to endanger Malaysians’ way of life, the people must speak up “before it becomes too late”.
“I am concerned that this could create the perception that Malaysia is on the road to becoming an Islamic state based on theocracy,” said Sheriff, who was the finance ministry secretary-general when he retired in 1994.
According to the daily, Sheriff wants religious authorities to take into account current developments affecting Muslims.
“Unfortunately, instead of having an open mind about the social transformation taking place, religious authorities are reacting negatively by alleging that the younger generation is losing its Islamic roots and is adopting the permissive lifestyles of the West.
“Claiming themselves to be guardians of Islamic morals, the religious officials are enforcing the laws on morality more strictly than in the past,” he was quoted as saying by TODAY.