KOTA KINABALU: The Federation of Malaysia was never meant to be an Islamic country because if it was, Sabah and Sarawak would never have agreed to it, according to former inspector-general of police Abdul Rahim Mohd Noor.
Speaking at the Malaysia in the Future forum at a hotel in Kota Kinabalu on Tuesday, Rahim said when the idea of Malaysia was mooted, religion was the main issue addressed by the Cobbold Commission.
“The people in the Bornean states, all of them, regardless of race and religion, did not want an official religion for the new federation. The demand was reasonable. After all, there are many Muslim-majority countries in the world that do not have Islam as their official religion, for example Egypt and Indonesia, a country with the highest number of Muslim’s in the world,” he said.
However, he pointed out, the situation was different in West Malaysia at the time and even to this day.
More and more, he said, there was a tendency among the Malays to be more Arabic than the Arabs.
He recalled an incident with a relative who claimed that the Arabic alphabets belonged to Muslims, as opposed to Roman alphabets.
“Of course she has limited education. But it seems that not many people realise, or at best they choose to ignore, that the Middle East is home to not just Muslims, but other people from other religions too,” he said.
He noted a frightening trend among the ruling elites: they are bending over backwards and submitting to the will of those who use religion to garner support from increasingly religious masses.
This inclination, he said, was, so far, restricted to certain areas in Peninsular Malaysia but he believed it could take a turn for the worse if not curbed by the authorities.
Religious conflicts, he said, would become too hot an issue if the Federal Government continued to succumb to pressure and become too Islamic.
“If we continue down this line, it will destabilise the federation and maybe at that time, Sabah and Sarawak will think again whether they want to continue to be in Malaysia or whether they should leave,” he said.
Personally, Rahim said, he preferred the model used by Indonesia’s Pancasila where no one religion was declared official. The Pancasila is part of the preamble to the Indonesian Constitution of 1945.
After 54 years, he said Malaysia was still searching for its own identity as the people remained divided, each identifying themselves according to their race and tribes.
It was worse, he added, when the people in Sabah and Sarawak did not feel they had anything in common with their fellow citizens in West Malaysia.
“We must admit that apart from having the same colonial master, West Malaysians and East Malaysians are totally different, culturally and historically. We are still far away from creating a Malaysian race.
“Throwing religion into the equation will only further complicate this quest,” he concluded.