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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Jakim’s Zamihan and the ugly head of extremism

When Zamihan Mat Zin, an officer at the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim), spewed his racial filth on Malaysians of Chinese origin and criticised the sultan as seen on YouTube, people were shocked by his crudeness and the absurdity of his speech.

What was more disturbing was that he was employed by Jakim, the controversial department under the Prime Minister’s Department with a yearly budget of RM1 billion. There are not much details about how this RM1 billion is spent annually.

Jakim was established in 1997 to take over Islamic affairs, focussing on policy, human resources and management. Its core business is religious development and the development of the halal market.

In 2015, a G25 member and former Umno MP, Tawfik Ismail, criticised Jakim’s overlapping role and was subsequently investigated for sedition. Tawfik stood his ground and said he was firm in his conviction that matters of religion were solely the purview of the rulers, as enshrined in the Federal Constitution.

He added that Jakim under the Prime Minister’s Department was usurping the role of the sultans and state religious authorities.

Soon after, the Sultan of Johor joined in the fray and queried Jakim on its RM1 billion budget and how the money was spent. In an interview, the ruler reminded Jakim that the Conference of Rulers was the highest authority on Islamic matters and that the agency’s function was only advisory.

“We are the heads of religion in our own states. Jakim can give advice or propose guidelines but it is up to us whether we want to accept it or not,” he said.

The scrutiny over its accounts followed claims by critics that the agency was promoting hardline Islamism through its programmes, which in turn was slowly steering Malaysia towards Islamic conservatism.

The Zamihan tirade on YouTube without doubt proves what critics long suspected.

People would not believe that Jakim was unaware of what was going on under its very nose especially since it was confirmed that Zamihan was assigned to the home ministry, a ministry entrusted with the internal security of the nation.

Even lecturer Ridhuan Tee Abdullah, a Muslim convert of Chinese origin felt hot under the collar and disagreed with Zamihan’s statements. He argued that the Chinese community are known for keeping themselves and their environment clean, and urged readers to examine the restaurants, homes and workplaces owned by Chinese. He said it was rare for him to encounter Chinese homes that were dirty.

What is interesting about this issue is that Raja Petra Kamarudin, the so-called “No Holds Barred” blogger has come out to condemn Jakim over this incident. I don’t normally read his blogs as I consider him a turncoat many times over and now a pro-Umno blogger. It’s hard to trust a man who jumps ship frequently.

He related his case when he was put under ISA in 2008 when Jakim alleged he had insulted Islam. Raja Petra stated that he had never forgiven Jakim for the mental torture they subjected him to.

“If they had opened my cell door instead of shouting at me through the peep hole, I would have killed them with my bare hands. Today, Zamihan Mat Zin of Jakim has been arrested. I am so happy that it has finally happened after nine years of what they did to me. I will be even happier if he can be kept in jail until the day he dies.”

To cap off his very emotional and personal story, Raja Petra said, “Oh, and one more thing, I told the SB officers that Muslims are Islam’s worst enemies. We do not need Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, etc, to destroy Islam. They should all just sit back and watch Muslims destroy Islam all by themselves”.

For Raja Petra, this is karma. Those who have been detained under the ISA like Dr Jeffrey Kitingan will tell you similar stories of mental torture and inhumane treatment at the hands of interrogators.

I don’t support Raja Petra, but as a Muslim I feel his pain and anguish and I don’t wish for anyone to experience the same.

Big budget, more problems

There are many social ills facing Malay Muslim youths today. More are joining the Islamic State and terrorist groups according to police statistics. Mat Rempits, drug addiction, bored youth riding bicycles in the middle of the night on highways, death at unregulated religious schools, etc. The recent fire at a religious school in KL which claimed the lives of 21 innocent students was the work of seven school leavers and dropouts.

Why is this all happening when we spend so much money on religious education? Is it our brand of Islam that is driving our youths to do the opposite?

I think Jakim needs to do some soul searching very quickly and provide solutions and talk in the same language as our youth.

Jakim is now seen as becoming irrelevant, with the sultans now exerting their mandated authority on religious matters, and rightly so.

Many critics have pointed out that with Jakim’s RM1 billion budget, they should at least be able to stem the tide of moral decadence. Has Jakim failed in their mandate? Has extremist Muslims like Zamihan penetrated their ranks?

It’s not surprising really when you allow a toxic preacher and international fugitive like Dr Zakir Naik to enter Malaysia when countries with huge Muslim populations like the United Kingdom and Canada have banned him.

We are just courting more trouble by letting people like Naik in our midst.

Jakim should also be concerned with the mushrooming of tahfiz schools. These schools were in the limelight recently after receiving bad press due to a large number of pupil deaths, abuses and a spate of fires.

Most of these schools are unregulated and do not fall within the purview of the education policies of the country.

Education at tahfiz schools is different from that of other private institutions. Each school sets its own syllabus, with an emphasis on memorising the Quran.

Most students end up becoming “ustad” after they graduate, contributing to a rising number of religious teachers.

Jakim should monitor these schools closely and ensure that they do not produce “ustads” like Zamihan.

With their big budgets contributed by taxpayers, this should not be a problem.


What is most concerning is that the leadership has chosen to remain silent when they could have easily calmed the situation by issuing strong condemnation of Zamihan’s preaching. If not for the sultans, many Malaysians would have felt lost and despondent with the latest incident caused by a Jakim officer.

Our elected leaders have lost the opportunity to correct society’s wrongs and become the moral compass of the nation. Zamihan’s statement was clearly racist and will only contribute to the rising racial tension in an already frail and fractured country.

To criticise another race of hygiene standards from the perspective of Islam is preposterous. People like Zamihan, who are obsessed with cleanliness and purity, are ignoring big issues like social ills affecting Muslim youths, and preferring to bury it under the prayer mat.

Bashing another race seems to be the flavour of the week

In Sabah, Ibrahim Ali of Perkasa dropped in to stir more tension among those in the Chinese community. Ibrahim was reported to have said that minorities in Sabah should stop making “nonsensical” demands and be thankful they are recognised as Malaysians.

They should not cross the line to the point of denying the rights of the indigenous people in the state.

Why is the state allowing toxic people like Ibrahim to come to Sabah and cause communal tension?

Sarawak has banned him, but not Sabah. Why ban entry to opposition leaders like Tony Pua and let in people who have no interest in Sabah but to sow racial discord? Is it because we are an Umno-led government and therefore have to kow-tow to KL?

If that is the case, there is nothing to be proud of in the 20-point safeguards or MA63 where we retain immigration control. Letting in Ibrahim and barring entry to opposition leaders like Pua shows we have lost complete control over immigration and have handed the powers back to KL.

We should not rest on our laurels and think that what is happening in KL will not happen here.

It’s wishful thinking. It’s a fact that extremism has penetrated our society, and that sooner or later it will raise its ugly head.

By Johan Arriffin, a former deputy director of Sabah Foundation, and a member of G25.

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