opinion : Greg Lopez

Thinking of Malaysia as an Islamic state ― Part 1

Greg Lopez

MAY 16 ― The idea that Malaysia is an Islamic state was always present since independence. In recent years it has become more pronounced.  

While there is a debate on what exactly is an “Islamic state”, one simple definition is where the Quran is the basis of state (national) law.

Understanding the views of Muslims and non-Muslims on the role of the Quran in the state is important for several reasons but two are critical: (i) a state governed by laws based on the Quran could upend the concept of a liberal democracy, and (ii) due to the number of Muslims globally and in many countries where they are in majority, their preference become important.  

There were 1.6 billion Muslims in the world in 2010 or 23 per cent of the global population and while Islam is currently the world’s second largest religion, it is the fastest growing one.

There are 50 Muslim majority countries in the world. Although the Middle East and North Africa region are heavily Muslim, this region is home only to about 20 per cent of the world's Muslims.

The majority of Muslims globally (62 per cent) live in the Asia-Pacific region including large populations in Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran and Turkey.

This question ― on how Muslims view the influence of the Quran on national (state) laws ― was the subject of a Pew Research study (Spring 2015 Global Attitudes Survey Q4).

A representative sample of citizens in 10 Muslim majority countries (Palestinian territories [100 per cent of its citizens Muslim], Pakistan [with 97 per cent of its citizens Muslim], Jordan [96 per cent], Turkey [96 per cent], Senegal [94 per cent], Indonesia [91 per cent], Malaysia [64 per cent], Burkina Faso [60 per cent], Lebanon [55 per cent] and Nigeria [50 per cent]) were surveyed.

In the survey (findings published as The Divide over Islam and National Laws in the Muslim World), the following question was asked: “Which of the following three statements comes closer to your view (1) laws in our country should strictly follow the teaching of the Quran, (2) laws in our country should follow the values and principles of Islam but not strictly follow the teachings of the Quran OR (3) laws in our country should not be influenced by the teachings of the Quran?”

In Pakistan, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Malaysia and Senegal, roughly half or more of the total population says that laws in their country should strictly follow the teachings of the Quran. It was less than a quarter in Burkina Faso, Turkey, Lebanon and Indonesia.

In Malaysia, 52 per cent of Malaysians had views that laws in Malaysia should strictly follow the teachings of the Quran; 17 per cent had the view that laws in Malaysia should follow the values and principles of Islam but not strictly follow the teachings of the Quran, and only 17 per cent had the view that Malaysia’s laws should not be influenced by the teachings of the Quran.

It is important to note that this result was based on a representative sample of Malaysian Muslims and non-Muslims.

When broken down, 78 per cent of Muslims surveyed for this study had the view that laws in Malaysia should follow the teachings of the Quran, 16 per cent had the view that it should follow the values and principles of Islam, 4 per cent had the view that Malaysian laws should not be influenced by the Quran, and 2 per cent did not know.

78 per cent of Pakistanis held the view that laws in Pakistan should strictly follow the teachings of the Quran but only 22 per cent of Indonesians held the same view.

In Indonesia, 52 per cent of Indonesians held the view that laws in Indonesia should follow the values and principles of Islam but not strictly follow the teachings of the Quran.

Only in Burkina Faso did 60 per cent of those surveyed (including 50 per cent of Muslims) state that they did not want the teachings of the Quran to influence laws in the country. 

While it is important to note that Islam is not a monolithic religion and interpretations of the Quran are diverse and often even contradictory, two observations in my view are important to Malaysia

i. There is no separation between state and religion for Muslims in the nine Muslim majority countries in this survey [Burkina Faso being the exception]; and

ii. A simple majority of Malaysians in this survey (52 per cent) want national laws to strictly follow the teachings of the Quran; and an overwhelming number of Malaysian Muslims in this survey (78 per cent) want national laws to strictly follow the teachings of the Quran.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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