Academic calls for open discussions on Jakim’s functions

Academic and FMT columnist Sharifah Munirah Alatas says Malaysians need to get used to open dialogue and debate.

KUALA LUMPUR: An academic has suggested more open discussions on the functions of religious authorities such as Jakim, arguing that they have not been following true Islamic teachings and allowing freedom of religious practices.

Sharifah Munirah Alatas , a lecturer at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, spoke specifically about the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim).

She questioned how much the organisation had contributed towards encouraging progressiveness of Islam in the country.

She pointed to raids by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department in which 23 people, including women and children, were arrested at a Shia centre in Gombak last September.

“That is a violation of human rights and of Muslim rights. It’s not just an issue of whether the Sunni or the Shia have the better belief or not.

“Jakim is not following the true teachings of Islam because they are not allowing the practice of different religions the way the prophet did.

“To me, Jakim is damaging to our society because of the treatment of minority religions and sects in Islam,” she told FMT after speaking at a panel discussion on race and religion during a forum called “Malaysia: What is New?” organised by Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM).

She believed that Malaysian society would become extremist in 20 or 30 years, if citizens continued looking inward.

Sharifah attributed this issue to a history of unethical leadership and unresolved socio-economic problems.

“Our leadership, to begin with, has become insecure. Despite the community being the majority population, they have become insecure.”

She said the current leadership had continued using the colonial narrative of the “myth of the lazy native” to suppress the Malay people while unethical leaders enriched themselves.

Sharifah, who is also an FMT columnist, suggested that a general decline of the quality of dialogue and debate had contributed to the problem.

“Society needs to get used to dialogue. We need to encourage debate.”

Academics and educators need to teach people how to talk about sensitive and controversial subjects “in a less aggressive and less provocative manner…but nevertheless we have to consistently have a dialogue.”

During her discussion, she also recommended a change in the education system, including getting rid of “underperforming” ministers.

“The reality is (Education Minister Maszlee Malik) has not realised what the fundamental problem with our education system is.

“He has got to also discuss with the public and experts in the academic circles. Get our advice, don’t just keep telling us you are setting up this or that committee to discuss this and discuss that.”

However, Malaysians also needed a change in attitude, arguing that Malaysian society lacked “the knack of having a worldview”, and had a “myopic view of what progress is”.

“We are still talking about kicking out ‘guests’ or ‘orang asing’. Yet, on the other hand, we are talking about Artificial Intelligence,” she said.