State religion status leaves many ‘outside the box’

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PETALING JAYA: Islam’s status as a state religion in Malaysia could complicate the separation of religion from the administration, said Marina Mahathir, who said it could give in to an official definition of the religion that alienates many groups.

She said the constitutional position for Islam has led to different interpretations on its role in governance, including one that argues that Islam must pervade everything.

“When there is a state religion, it becomes a source of power, which people say cannot be questioned,” the vocal activist and eldest daughter of Dr Mahathir Mohamad told news portal Asia Times in an interview.

She said the implication would also be felt within the Muslim community, especially when a particular school of jurisprudence is promoted officially.

“In Malaysia, they’re trying to promote Ahl Sunnah al Jemaah, a very Sunni box, for Muslims. You can easily fall outside the box. So if you’re Shia, you definitely don’t fit in. If you’re a liberal Muslim, you also don’t fit in. It’s an ever-shrinking box,” she said.

Marina who helped to set up Islamic advocacy group Sisters in Islam (SIS) said in such a context, Muslim women too faced challenges in countering interpretations of Islam.

“About polygamy, about the hijab, about whether women can be judges, and so forth. The approach is to look back at the text and see whether it is absolutely given, or is this an interpretation and an interpretation by whom,” she added.