Academics question ‘strange’ move to name UiTM chair after Brunei sultan

Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah (second left), seen with Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Abdullah Shah Sultan Ahmad Shah at the UiTM convocation ceremony on March 23, 2019, where he received an honorary doctorate on Islamic leadership. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: Two vocal academics have questioned the education ministry’s proposal to have a new chair of Islamic leadership at Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) named after the Brunei monarch, in the face of recent controversies over the implementation of shariah in the oil-rich state.

Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa of the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) described the idea as “strange”, and asked if Education Minister Maszlee Malik is convinced by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah’s Islamic credentials.

Farouk said the monarch’s own rule does not embody true Islamic leadership.

“All the brouhaha about hudud laws was merely a facade to portray Islamic credentials, when in actual fact the laws were meant for the subjects and not the rulers.

“Pray tell, is this an Islamic leadership?” asked IRF chairman, referring to the constitution of Brunei exempting the sultan from prosecution.

Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa

The education ministry reportedly proposed a “Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Chair for Islamic Leadership” at UiTM, with a focus on Islamic leadership, management and shariah law, as well as to encourage more studies on the Malay sultanate.

“The proposal on its setting up was submitted for the consent of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah today. With this, the Chair can be used as a centre for study, research, reference and gathering of documentation related to the Malay sultanate and Islamic leadership,” the ministry said as reported by Bernama.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, who was recently conferred an honorary doctorate by UiTM, has in recent years gradually implemented shariah in Brunei’s Penal Code, in what is seen as a move to strengthen his religious credentials within the small population of about half-a-million people.

But a move to roll out stoning as a punishment for sodomy, adultery and rape recently sparked outrage in the West, with gay activists calling for a boycott of businesses with Brunei interests. Amid the backlash, the sultan announced an extension of a moratorium on punishments for gay sex.

Farouk’s concerns over the proposed Chair were shared by Malay studies expert Faizal Musa of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

Faisal Tehrani

But the award-winning writer, better known as Faisal Tehrani, said he was prepared to carry out studies under the Chair as long as the Brunei government guarantees academic freedom.

“I can offer to conduct a multi-pronged study on aspects of justice in Brunei’s shariah code,” he told FMT.

Faisal, who has also written more than 20 widely read academic papers on the subject of Malay history, also proposed a study on the similarities between Brunei and Malaysia in terms of their Malay literature.

He said laureates in Brunei often “speak in allegories” in their criticism of the authorities.

Faisal said he doubted if a collaboration with Brunei would bring benefit to Malaysian universities, saying the academic experience in the kingdom “has not been promising”.

“Many of them are still stuck in the ‘Malay Islam and Monarchy’ rhetoric and any research should get prior permission from the palace,” he added.