By Moaz Nair
January 24, 2019
Malaysia is a multicultural and
multi-confessional country whose official religion is Islam. The country’s
constitution allows Muslims and non-Muslims to be represented in Parliament for
harmonious governance. There is no rule as agreed on in the constitution
stipulating that a Muslim cannot vote for a non-Muslim representative or vice-
versa. It is this judicious system that has made democracy work in the country.
Under the constitution, while Islam is the
official religion, followers of other beliefs are allowed to practise their
faiths without hindrance. The elected government, on its part, comprises
leaders from various religious and racial backgrounds, without religion
encroaching into worldly state affairs.
Unfortunately, some local clerics have
fallen into the pit of fixation and fanaticism for the sake of political gain.
They do not hesitate to give speeches based on their own interpretation of
religion, that “Muslims cannot choose a non-Muslim leader”. This is
unacceptable when it comes to state matters in our democracy.
It may be religiously correct when related
solely to matters of faith, but not when it involves state matters. Obviously,
the state cannot appoint a non-Muslim to look into the religious affairs of
Muslims – the appointment of a mufti, for instance.
Quoting verses from the holy book and
interpreting them according to their whims to justify their decree for
political expediency may not always be right. It has been recognised by Islamic
scholars that even though sacred texts contain holy words, their interpretation
and application are human acts that can be debated and transmuted in an
inclusive manner. These give-and-take dynamics were found even in the earliest
days of Islamic civilisation. In choosing a leader to deal with state matters,
it’s espoused in Islam that the person should have the trust and capability to
deal with the tasks given to him or her.
Unfortunately, this discourse on the
“divine and the human” seems embroiled in confusion among some clerics, which
has resulted in religion usurping or rescinding the wisdom of the people. They
seem to promulgate intolerance of others in a multi-religious society, and this
could even lead to supreme authorisation.
In this age of democracy, we should not be
faced with the dilemma of whether a Muslim is allowed to choose a leader who is
not a Muslim. Neither should it be the other way around – whether non-Muslims
are allowed to choose a Muslim as their leader.
People of a single race or religion should
not dictate who should lead the country. In a democracy, we have the right to
choose the candidate whom we believe is best qualified for the post.
For Muslim thinkers, Islam is seen as
compatible with modern secular democracies. Clerics who think otherwise are not
keeping up with modern times and the reality of the world we live in today.
These clerics feel that they are bound by the Al-Maidah verse 5:51 of the Quran
that, according to their interpretation, “forbids Muslims to associate with or
vote for non-Muslims”. And they argue that “there is no precedence of choosing
a non-Muslim leader” during the Caliph era.
However, they stop short at that to confuse
the masses. They fail to convince the people that many Muslims at the time,
especially those originally from Medina, had strong bonds with people from
non-Muslim tribes, dating back even before Islam as well as during the Khilafah
“Allah does not forbid you from showing
kindness and dealing justly with those who have not fought you due to your
faith or driven you out of your homes. Allah loves those who deal justly. Allah
only forbids you from those people that fought you because of your faith, drove
you out of your homes and helped in your expulsion, that you take them as
intimate associates. And whosoever takes them as intimate associates, then it
is they who are the wrongdoers.” (Quran, 60:8-9)
This verse should set the tone for how we
see verse 5:51, which has often been misused to claim that Islam orders Muslims
not to have any sort of good relations with non-Muslims at all, an
interpretation which is refuted by the above verse in the Quran.
Scholars have argued over this
interpretation of the verse, saying the verse was revealed and was only
applicable during the time of wars and enemies, when the non-Muslims tried to
suppress the Muslims. This is never the case in the present context where
Muslims and non-Muslims are not at war with each other.
Don’t Be Reclusive In Thought
In the present democracy, there is a
separation between state and religion in a country like Malaysia, for instance.
The state in general does not have the authority to intervene in religious
matters, unlike the caliphs and Islamic leaders of the past. In fact, the
concept of “state” did not even exist in the seventh century. They were the
least sophisticated as they had only loosely knit tribal forms of
administration until the advent of the Ottoman Empire (c. 1299 –1920).
In Malaysia, religion comes under the
authority of individual state rulers. At the federal level, the government only
provides a governing body on religious affairs under an appointed minister who,
in this case, has to be Muslim. Jakim was thus established in 1997, but even
this measure was an afterthought, implemented when leaders saw the unending controversies
miring the religious teachings in the country. The leaders of all these
religious bodies are appointed from among Muslims.
Muslims should be wise enough not to be in
reclusive in thought when confronted by skewed clerics. Supporting non-Muslim
candidates in a democracy where there is a separation of state and religion
cannot be considered a wrong act for Muslims. Historical precedence based on
isolated events of the past does not hold water in the context of modern
In fact, in Islam there is no absolute
model for political rule. The Islamic form of government depends on the
circumstances. Government, according to Islam, will be decided by the
circumstances. According to Islam, a political form is not a part of belief.
They are separate entities. This is where some obsessive clerics are confused
in their approach to Islam. It is always the prevailing situation that will
determine the type of political form that has to be adopted. This is what
In Islamic history, the modest administrative
form adopted after the Prophet was based on khilafah. It was not an absolute
form, though. Later on, the dynastic model of administration was adopted. The
models set by other Prophets are also an Islamic model. This is because the
Quran accepts all messengers as models as mentioned in the Quran (6:90): “Those
[the previous prophets] were the people whom God guided. Follow their guidance
then and say, I ask no reward for this from you: it is only a reminder for all
The Democratic Model Of Today
Following this principle, the democratic
model of today is also an accepted model in Islam. This is supported by the
following verse of the Quran: “… and their affairs are by counsel among
themselves” (42:38). According to these precedents, if voters elect a
non-Muslim leader it would be considered a right choice according to Islam. In
the Malaysian context, there is no prohibition on elected Muslim and non-Muslim
leaders who are not adversaries in the social and political sense having mutual
consultation and working in tandem for the people and the betterment of the
It would not be regarded as a wrongful
choice or a sin for Muslims to work with or choose leaders from among the
non-Muslims. Hopefully, those clerics in PAS will stop distorting the message
of Islam to confuse the people just to seek political power. In fact, this act
of theirs is debauchery and against Islam.
In Islam, political form is not related to
belief. For instance, the government does not have a set form as does a
religious ritual, such as steps and ways to perform the Haj or prayers.
Governance is related to circumstances or practical insights that are flexible
and can vary with time and according to the wishes of the people. It’s the
quests for real-world intuitions that will decide the form of government to be
adopted in a democracy. The values adopted by leaders and in governance,
however, can indirectly be consonant with the universal values found in Islam
as well as other religions, such as being knowledgeable, competent, honest and