PETALING JAYA: A shariah and constitutional lawyer agrees with Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah that the Islamic Development Department (Jakim) is unconstitutional, after the veteran Umno leader said it was a product of Umno and PAS’s race to out-Islamise each other.
“The Federal List mentions the power of ascertainment of Islamic laws for the purposes of federal laws. Even on that count, it appears that Jakim is functioning beyond the ambit of that power,” Nizam Bashir told FMT.
Razaleigh, who served as finance minister under the administrations of Razak Hussein and Dr Mahathir Mohamad, said Jakim was formed as part of Mahathir’s Islamisation policy, seen as the government’s attempt to weaken PAS’s growing influence among Muslims of that time.
“So he went on with his Islamic programmes, setting up Jakim, for instance,” said Ku Li.
“Jakim is unconstitutional,” the Gua Musang MP added.
Jakim’s establishment was formally announced in 1997. It is a unit of the Prime Minister’s Department. Among its responsibilities is to determine the halal validity of products from the consumer food sector, which is worth billions of ringgit.
Nizam said the way Jakim was set up in 1997 through executive action might not be correct, adding that it should have been established through legislation spelling out its jurisdiction.
“It is more difficult when there is no legislation guiding the department as to whether it is acting within its powers or otherwise,” he said.
Nizam said there appeared to be not much deliberation done before Jakim was set up.
He pointed out that Islam is a state matter and there are clear boundaries in place.
“If you look at the administration of Islamic enactments in the states, you can see there has been an attempt to identify who has what responsibility.
“There is the power of the religious enforcement officer, the shariah high court judge, shariah judge, kadi and the mufti, which shows the clear parameters of the extent of their power.
“When you do not have something similar where Jakim is concerned, it can be problematic.”
Nizam said the present arrangement in Malaysia is “strange” because, although Islam is a state matter, a federal coordinating body exists to ensure the respective state Islamic agencies are heading down a particular direction.
At the same time, the extent of the federal Islamic agency’s powers are unknown, he added.
“We have to look at what Jakim is doing and see whether it went beyond the ambit of its powers in relation to the constitution.”
Ku Li is not the first to question Jakim’s status, with the agency frequently being accused of promoting Islamic conservatism.
Critics have frequently accused Jakim of promoting extreme Islamic conservatism, as well as questioned its budgets reaching some RM1 billion annually.
One prominent critic is Sultan Ibrahim of Johor, who in 2015 questioned the huge annual budget allocation for the department.
“We (the state rulers) are the heads of religion in our own states,” the sultan has been quoted as saying in a press interview. “Jakim can give advice or propose guidelines but it is up to us whether we want to accept it or not.”
Late last year, Jakim again came under attack from the Johor ruler after a preacher in its employment, Zamihan Mat Zin, criticised the palace’s order to close down a Muslim-only laundrette in the state.