Malaysia: Prime Minister declares, "Yes, we ARE an Islamic state"

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has for the first time said that Malaysia was an Islamic state and not a secular state.
Abdullah, in a parliamentary written reply, said that Malaysia was an Islamic state ruled by Islamic principles, and at the same time, was also a country that believed in Federal Constitution.
"Malaysia is an Islamic state which is administered based on the principles of Islam and at the same time adheres to the principles of parliamentary democracy guided by the highest law of the land - the Federal Constitution," said Abdullah.

This is a clear departure from his stand made earlier this month that Malaysia was neither 'a secular nor a theocratic state' without saying the country was an Islamic state.

Abdullah said this in response to Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang who asked if the cabinet would reaffirm the Merdeka social contract and Malaysia Agreement that Malaysia was a secular state with Islam as the official religion.

However, there is a possibility that Abdullah had meant that Malaysia was an "Islamic country" as his statement is written in Bahasa Malaysia and "negara Islam" could mean either 'Islamic state' or 'Islamic country'. The difference between the two terms is significant - 'Islamic country' merely states the fact that the majority of the people living in Malaysia are Muslims, while 'Islamic state' means that, among others, that all laws in the nation are based on Islamic principles.

In his written statement, Abdullah elaborated on his assertion. "Islamic principles that I mean can be seen from Islam Hadhari that I have introduced. Under Islam Hadhari, the government stresses development based on knowledge and physical building, as well as the building of human capital," said the prime minister." "Islam Hadhari is a guideline for the government to be fair and equitable to all communities in the country," he said, adding that however Islam Hadhari does not imply that Malaysia was a theocratic state.

Abdullah, who explained that the uniqueness of Islam Hadhari formula has been proven in its success, said: "I would like to refute allegations that my way of ruling the country is against the social contract signed before the Independence." The prime minister also stressed that the government allowed voices of all communities to be heard. However, he said the government would not hesitate to take action against those who abuse the freedom. "We have to take into account the country s stability and ethnic diversity. Any statement that could threaten the stability will be punished."

Abdullah also said that the debate on whether or not Malaysia was an Islamic state has been dragged for a long period by opposition parties for their own political interest. "As the country s 50th Independence celebration is just around the corner, we can see the opposition party questioning the status of our country and Merdeka social contract."

This latest remark by the premier is clearly contradictory to his previous stand that Malaysia was neither a secular nor a theocratic state. His response then had come just after his deputy Najib Abdul Razak had upset minorities here by describing the country as Islamic. Abdullah had said then that the country can be best described as a multiracial nation that practices parliamentary democracy with freedom of religion for all. "We are not a secular state. We are also not a theocratic state like Iran and Pakistan ... but we are a government that is based on parliamentary democracy," he was quoted as saying in Penang on Aug 5. At that time, he did not specifically said that Malaysia was an Islamic state.

By: Yoges Palaniappan

27 August 2007