Ahmad Badri Abdullah
The environment is currently in a dire situation. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report published on Feb 28, this year, highlighted that humanity might witness further environmental catastrophes in the coming decades as the world is expected to hit the global warming tipping point of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
In other words, the world is already in a state of planetary emergency.
In the backdrop of these developments, the fasting month once again invites Muslims to not only rejuvenate their spiritual commitment toward God in terms of fasting and praying, but also enjoins them to improve their interaction with others, including the environment.
Renowned Muslim scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi, in his seminal work entitled Riayah al-Biah fi Shariah al-Islam (Preservation of the environment from the Shariah perspective), highlights the cardinal Islamic adage of "al-Din Muamalah" which roughly means "religion is (primarily concerned with) the treatment of others".
Although the phrase has not referred to a specific verse of the Quran or a saying of Prophet Muhammad, its spirit could be identified in many Islamic injunctions.
The hadith clearly conveys the message that merely fulfilling ritualistic obligations would not be sufficient if one is not duly observant of maintaining decent interaction with others.
Interestingly, al-Qaradawi also noted that the same applies to human interactions with nature and its elements.
Preservation of nature in all of its forms, including greening the earth by planting trees, nurturing and developing lands and prudent use of natural resources should be recognised as acts that lead a person closer to God.
Without due observance of these instructions, al-Qaradawi argues, the quality of their ritualistic deeds would remain questionable.
Reflecting on the purpose of these instructions, it should be noted with concern that during Ramadan, 10,000 tonnes of food is wasted on a daily basis.
It is estimated that around 15 to 25 per cent of all food purchased or prepared during Ramadan finds its way to the garbage bin.
This adds to the volume of food wasted every day, which comprises one-third of the overall amount of food produced daily.
Unfortunately, such a phenomenon takes place in spite of the stress on our food supply chains that has led to price hikes of food items such as chicken, vegetables and wheat flour.
While mountains of this food waste might rot away in landfills where they release methane gases and contribute to global warming, single-use plastic waste from food wrappers also exacerbate the environmental problem.
Internationally, some movements have started promoting "Green Iftar" campaigns.
Their primary aim is to educate Muslim communities in opting for sustainable and effectivebreaking-of-fast choices that are in line with Islamic ethics.
This includes using local or seasonal ingredients in food preparation in order to reduce carbon emission, judicious water usage, preparing simple meals with fewer animal products, avoiding unnecessary plastic bags or packaging by bringing one's own bag while buying meals for iftar, and making early arrangement to donate extra iftar food, especially to those in need.
Local governments and religious authorities in Malaysia may need to consider the possibility of adopting some of these instructions into policy guidelines for mosques, hotels and institutions that organise iftar throughout Ramadan.
It is critical to ensure that the spiritual month of Ramadan does not exacerbate the dire environmental crisis the world is currently facing.
The writer is acting deputy CEO, International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Monday 18 April 2022
SINCE 2021, we have been witnessing sharp increases in the prices of vegetables, some almost 100 per cent. The same is happening to poultry products like chicken and eggs.
The continued price hikes will have ripple effects on other items and industries. Food manufacturers and restaurants will pass the burden to the end of the supply chain — the consumers.
Some experts and institutions have urged the authorities to enforce a strict price ceiling on essential products and implement price control throughout the year, but these solutions would be effective only in the short run.
Other experts have argued that a strict price ceiling may have negative effects, such as discouraging farmers from increasing production, creating artificial shortages and diverting supply to those who are able and willing to pay above ceiling prices.
While many factors contributed to the food price hike, it is arguably a symptom of the food crisis that has been predicted to strike worldwide due to climate change. As farmers now can't predict dry or rainy seasons due to climate disruption, crops are more exposed to diseases and ruin.
Fixing the food supply chain is critical for the survival of a country like ours. More importantly, we need to reimagine our food system to build resilient food resources for the nation. Food security is achieved by balancing boosting domestic production and developing smart partnerships with other producer countries.
In fixing our broken food system, we crucially need new approaches. In the long run, it is important to develop climate-resilient agricultural strategies and practices. These include an emphasis on soil health, diversified production systems, opting for ecological design and selling to high-value direct markets.
Diversified production that can preserve soil health can mitigate climate risk throughout the growing season as it can reduce losses from weather catastrophes and phenomena. Ecological farming that allows adaptation to the local landscape and climate may offer some buffer from weather-related disturbances. Finally, selling to high-value direct markets can increase profitability while creating social capital.
It is also crucial to shorten the food supply chain in the community. Other than eliminating middlemen to allow farmers to directly market products to consumers and reduce prices, shortening the food supply chain can also be done by developing a culture of community farming.
To transform our food system, we need to shift from conventional agriculture to agroecological systems that promote sustainable consumption while addressing land and resource degradation.
Policy-level initiatives are also crucial. As climate disruption poses risks to our food system, the authorities should consider enhancing policies on crop insurance (or takaful for Muslims) for food farmers in particular.
Such financial products can stabilise farmers' income, while offering protection against yield and price risks.
In the context of climate change, the authorities, producers and consumers need to be cognisant of its impact on food systems and take measures to adapt to and mitigate them. A resilient food system is undoubtedly a lifeline for the current and future generations.
The writer is a Research Fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Thursday 27 Jan 2022
WHILE we are still grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic, the impacts of planetary catastrophes have begun to rear its ugly head.
Spain, Greece and China are suffering from heat waves, high temperatures, extreme flooding and deadly wildfires.
In an interview in the Veritasium channel, when asked what were among the next problems that will strike humanity post- pandemic, Bill Gates responded that it will be climate change as well as bioterrorism.
This has been made more evident by the alarming code red warning by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group I report, Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis, which clearly estimates the high chance that the world might cross the global warming level of 1.5°C increase in the next decade.
Climate-related risks of health and livelihood problems, food source scarcity, shortage of clean water supply, security and economic threats are predicted to intensify if global warming increases by 2°C.
The IPCC has proposed that the world needs to achieve zero carbon emission by 2050, and Malaysia has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emission intensity of gross domestic product by up to 45 per cent by 2030.
Government intervention in realising green targets, proper execution of policies and active monitoring of green enterprise performances are critical.
More importantly, the country needs to rethink its long-standing approach of natural resources-led development approach over environmental preservation, and move towards ecologically sustainable growth.
A two-pronged strategy needs to be considered. First, accelerate existing efforts and infrastructures that are in place. Second, develop new paradigms and practice-oriented culture of a circular economy.
Therefore, the ministries that manage the environment, water, energy, natural resources, agriculture, plantations and commodities have strategic roles to play to limit carbon emissions.
Moreover, the government and the public need to ensure effective implementation of long-term planning, such as the Green Technology Master Plan 2017-2030 and Malaysia's Roadmap Towards Zero Single-Use Plastics 2018-2030. In 2015, the government made it mandatory for households to separate solid waste at the source, implemented by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government under the Solid Waste and Public Cleansing Management Act 2007 (Act 672).
However, the lack of a consistent solid waste management policy and precedent has led to an estimated waste recovery rate of only less than five per cent. Therefore, devising a clear policy or law pertaining to waste management especially in major cities is indispensable.
Cities like San Francisco and Seoul should become our models. Through effective policies and laws, they managed to divert 80 per cent of their local daily wastes from landfills through recycling and turning their food wastes into compost for plantations.
In addition to circular economic policies and mechanisms in its manufacturing and waste management activities, Malaysian authorities also need to aggressively adopt policies that improve the lifestyle of its population.
This primarily involves redesigning business models whereby all products manufactured are easily recyclable, repurposed or reused, and utilises sustainable sources of raw materials.
This may ensure products continue to circulate as long as they can, and minimise the use of natural resources in creating new ones.
It is more timely than ever for the establishment of a Special Parliamentarian Committee on Environment, Climate Change, Energy and Technology as announced by the Parliament speaker in 2019.
This committee needs to become a coordinator for multidimensional strategies of curbing the impact of climate change.
No time should be wasted to come up with a concerted effort across sectors and agencies if we are serious about preserving the planet for the next generation.
The writer is a Research Fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Wednesday 29 September 2021
As the dawn of Ramadan settled its dust, Muslims should introspect whether they have attained the upmost objective of fasting as stressed in the Holy Quran, which is piety or taqwa. Also important is to question how piety could influence or cater for our social affairs.
A cursory survey of the concept throughout the Quran evinces that piety is significant in managing societies and resolving their ailments. Such social dimension of piety is apparent in a Quranic verse: "Had the people of those societies been faithful and mindful of Allah" (al-A'raf 7:96).
Piety promotes purposefulness. It is suggested that every action, be it individual or collective, needs to serve the divine purpose of obeying God's commands and abstaining from sinful acts. Fasting, for instance, aims to inculcate piety in the hearts of the believers.
Throughout the Quran, piety positively correlates with other core Islamic concepts such as faith, truthfulness and fear of God's disgrace. They are connected in a cumulative way in the sense that the increase of piety in an individual would uplift those qualities as well. On the other hand, lack of piety corresponds accordingly with sinful acts, transgression and practising usury.
Adopting the concept of interrelatedness as an aspect of piety, a person needs to be aware that their commissions and omissions would not only have positive and negative impacts on others, but more importantly, on their own individuality and spirituality.
There are multiple dimensions of piety highlighted in the Quran and the Prophetic traditions, including social relation and conciliation, daily conversation, as well as economic transaction. Such a multidimensional aspect of piety requires Muslims to maintain a correct equilibrium in behavioural values in their lives.
This would mean keeping the seemingly contradictory forces in life in a harmonious state, between spiritual enhancement and material fulfilment, moral sanctity and scientific advancement, as well as economic growth and environmental preservation.
As the Quran stresses, human beings are created as the best of forms (ahsani taqwim) as they are able to maintain such kind of balance (qawwam) in their lives. There are several positives for those committed to a pious life.
Among others are easiness of life affairs, being bestowed with beneficial knowledges and showered with blessings from heaven and earth. A pious person and society, in other words, unfailingly pay heed to the consequences of their actions.
Fulfilling purposefulness, interrelatedness, multi-dimensionality and emphasising consequences would suffice to categorise piety as a systemic concept. Therefore, the systemic characteristic of piety is vital to extend its function from an individual quality to an approach of catering to social affairs.
In the backdrop of pandemic and climate crisis, two major threats to human survival on the planet, realising not only individual, but also social piety through the systemic framework is indispensable.
Choosing sustainable and green lifestyles of properly sorting household wastes to be recycled, for instance, and following strict standard operating procedures during a pandemic would necessitate high individual and collective commitment.
To pursue such a commitment, society members individually and collectively should be mindful of the purpose of their actions in facing climatic and pandemic crises, to preserve life and livelihood, but more importantly, to fulfil God's guidance and command.
As balance is one of the aspects of piety, particularly in facing the multi-dimensionality of climate and pandemic catastrophes, it is thus crucial for individuals and the government to always put trust and priority in a win-win approach.
In sum, to ensure the effective control and sustainability of pandemic and climate crises combating measures and systemic social piety should be seriously considered as the backbone of new pandemic norms, sustainable practices, and relevant policies.
Without a spiritual bend and the right framework, the rules and regulations are just waiting to be breached.
The writer is a Research Fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Friday 21 May 2021
Pada 17 Februari lalu, Menteri Sains, Teknologi dan Inovasi, Khairy Jamaluddin, menguar-uarkan bahawa pengeluar vaksin asing menyatakan minat untuk melabur di Malaysia.
Beliau menyatakan pihak terbabit berhasrat membina kilang pembuatan bagi memenuhi permintaan pasaran serantau khususnya berkaitan produk vaksin halal.
Khairy turut memaklumkan banyak pengeluar vaksin menyatakan hasrat meletakkan Malaysia sebagai hab penghasilan vaksin bagi rantau Asia Tenggara dan negara Islam di seluruh dunia.
Puncanya, kelebihan sistem pensijilan halal kita yang sistematik dan diiktiraf antarabangsa.
Perbincangan untuk Menteri itu juga menyatakan pihaknya sudah membincangkan hal berkenaan dengan beberapa pihak di Russia dan India, dengan pengeluar vaksin di luar negara menyatakan minat untuk melabur di Malaysia dalam sektor terbabit.
Menyoroti perkembangan sama, pada 7 Oktober 2020, Ketua Pegawai Eksekutif (CEO) Halal Development Corporation (HDC), Hairol Ariffein Sahari, menunjukkan piawaian bagi mengesahkan vaksin halal termasuk untuk COVID-19, akan tersedia pada awal 2021.
Turut dilaporkan HDC sudah menjalin kerjasama dengan Jabatan Standard Malaysia (DSM) dan Jabatan Kemajuan Islam Malaysia (JAKIM) untuk mengembangkan piawaian terbabit.
Pada masa sama, langkah penyelidikan dan pembangunan (R&D) turut digerakkan dengan kerjasama beberapa syarikat yang menghasilkan vaksin terbabit.
Agenda menjayakan projek vaksin halal di Malaysia bukan baharu, sebaliknya projek itu mula diuar-uarkan kepada awam sejak 2014 lagi.
Ketika itu, Datuk Seri Mustafa Mohamad yang juga Menteri Perdagangan Antarabangsa dan Industri, mengumumkan pada 2017 Malaysia akan menjadi pengeluar utama vaksin halal untuk meningitis, hepatitis dan meningokokus dengan pelaburan bakal disalurkan kerajaan Arab Saudi bernilai AS$100 juta.
Pada Disember 2017 juga, Pharmaniaga, sebuah syarikat farmaseutikal berpusat di Malaysia, mengumumkan pihaknya bekerjasama dengan pengilang vaksin berpusat di Delhi untuk menghasilkan vaksin halal pada 2022.
Masyarakat secara amnya berhak mendapat maklumat lengkap mengenai hal ini. Paling penting, diperjelaskan apa sebenarnya maksud vaksin halal.
Dalam laporan HDC berjudul Global Market Potential for Halal Vaccines vaksin halal dinyatakan sebagai tidak mengandungi bahagian atau produk haiwan yang tidak halal atau tidak disembelih mengikut kehendak syariah.
Oleh itu, ada mencadangkan pengeluaran vaksin halal dapat menggabungkan medium tumbuhan dan enzim berasaskan tumbuhan.
Di seluruh aliran pengeluaran juga, fasiliti pembuatan, pembungkusan, penyimpanan dan mekanisme pengangkutan, mestilah digunakan secara eksklusif untuk produk biologik halal.
Pada masa sama, langkah mencukupi untuk mencegah pencemaran vaksin sepanjang peringkat pengeluarannya mestilah dipatuhi pengilang.
Dalam kertas dasar isu bertajuk Challenges Facing the Halal Vaccine: Issues & Proposed Solutions terbitan Institut Kajian Tinggi Islam (IAIS) Malaysia, satu daripada cabaran utama mewujudkan industri vaksin halal di negara ini ialah proses penghasilan produk terbabit yang rumit dan memakan masa panjang.
Secara amnya, fasa pembangunan klinikal sesebuah vaksin memakan masa antara sembilan hingga 10 tahun dan memerlukan kos sangat tinggi.
Namun, melihatkan perkembangan semasa penghasilan vaksin COVID-19 di mana ia mampu dihasilkan dalam kerangka masa lebih pendek melalui teknologi baharu seperti mRNA serta memanfaatkan kecerdasan buatan (AI) dan data raya, cabaran itu dijangka dapat diatasi dengan berkesan.
Dalam sesi wawancara IAIS Malaysia bertajuk COVID-19 Vaccine: Halal Status and Ethical Issues in Distribution pada 22 Disember 2020, Prof Zhari Ismail, seorang pakar farmaseutikal Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) menyatakan pihak universiti terbabit pernah mengadakan lawatan ke Cuba dan mendapat taklimat mengenai kaedah penghasilan vaksin menggunakan elemen tumbuh-tumbuhan.
Menurut beliau, ia wajar diberi perhatian jika Malaysia benar-benar mahu menjayakan projek vaksin halal ini.
Terkini, Menteri Sains, Teknologi dan Inovasi berkata, beliau sudah pun meluluskan peruntukan kepada Universiti Malaya (UM) dan Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) untuk melaksanakan kajian bagi menghasilkan vaksin untuk coronavirus.
Diharapkan hasrat Malaysia kali ini untuk menjadi pengeluar utama vaksin halal di rantau Asia Tenggara dan dunia Islam, bakal menjadi kenyataan dan sebarang cabaran serta masalah yang dihadapi, dapat diatasi dengan baik.
Penulis adalah Felo Institut Kajian Tinggi Islam Antarabangsa (IAIS) Malaysia
OTHER than public health concerns about safety, efficacy and distribution mechanisms, vaccination also instigates complex socio-religious controversies. This not only involves different perspectives regarding the legal status of the biological products used in vaccines, but, more importantly, how different races and religious groups view each other when making demands about the specifications of such products.
While some Muslims feel that it is their right to demand halal vaccines, for others, non-Muslims among them, such demand is unnecessary as the main focus of vaccination is safety and efficacy. Issues regarding the halal status of newly developed Covid-19 vaccines arose after an announcement by Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who said such vaccines would be available in the first quarter of next year.
Netizens' concerns regarding the halal status of these vaccines have received myriad responses from the authorities, including Pahang mufti Abdul Rahman Osman, who said the halal status of the vaccine is important to ensure peace of mind among Muslims.
In consequence, on Oct 7, Halal Development Corporation (HDC) chief executive officer Hairol Ariffein Sahari, said standards to certify halal vaccines, including for Covid-19, will be available by early next year. It was reported that HDC was working closely with the Malaysian Standards Department and the Malaysian Islamic Development Department to develop the standards, while initiating research and development measures with several companies produce these vaccines.
A Malaysian halal vaccine project is not new. It has been on the radar since 2014, when then international trade and industry minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed announced that by 2017, Malaysia would be the main producer of halal vaccines for meningitis, hepatitis and meningococcal disease. In December 2017, Pharmaniaga, a Malaysian-based pharma-ceutical company, engaged in a collaboration with a Delhi-based vaccine manufacturer to start producing halal vaccines by 2022.
Society has the right to be well-informed about what constitutes a halal vaccine. In a HDC report, titled Global Market Potential for Halal Vaccines, a halal vaccine was described as something that does not contain any part or product of an animal that is either non-halal or not slaughtered according to syariah requirements.
Therefore, some have proposed that halal vaccine production may incorporate plant-based mediums, as well as plant-based enzymes. Over the entire production line, however, manufacturing facilities, packaging, storage, as well as transportation mechanisms must be exclusively used for halal biological products. Moreover, sufficient measures to prevent vaccine contamination along its production stages must be duly observed by manufacturers.
An issue that might arise with the advent of new halal vaccines is the legal status of existing vaccines not yet certified halal. Generally, by referring to the arguments presented in Islamic legal verdicts (fatwa), locally and globally, it is clear that vaccines that may not be certified as halal will still be permissible (mubahḥ) on the basis of dire necessity (ḍdarurah).
This is because vaccines, like any other medicine, are permissible according to Islam, as long as they do not contain any prohibited elements specified in the Quran or any other form of filthy (najasah) ingredient. Therefore, in the event that no alternative is available, to prevent fatal communicable diseases, existing vaccines are acceptable for Muslims.
From the manufacturing and distribution perspectives, achieving herd immunity in society requires more than one type of vaccine. John Shiver, the senior vice-president of Global Vaccine Research and Development at Sanofi, a leading pharmaceutical company, argues that, in resolving the Covid-19 pandemic, no single company or product will be able to provide the overall solution.
Therefore, Covid-19 halal vaccines should be seen as part and parcel of a global endeavour. The effectiveness of the vaccines is contingent on their distribution among the right people at the right time; coverage is key to developing herd immunity. Concerted efforts across religious, social, geographical, and politico-economic divides are important if we are to return to normality.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Tuesday 01 December 2020
We are living in a highly connected world with a complex socio-economic models and networks that often generate issues for which linear problem solution method do not offer adequate resolutions.
The current pandemic crisis has proven this as we explain.
Normally, when a quick fix is attempted to unravel symptoms of a problem, the solution invariably creates unintended consequences that may exacerbate the problem over time.
Unfortunately, people tend to discount the truism that those dire consequences derive from their quick fixes and even more so when they apply more of them.
The same fix that seems to overcome a problem in the short run often creates unintended consequences that further exacerbate that problem.
Terms such as 'fixes that fail' or the 'cobra effects' have been coined to illustrate an event when a solution unexpectedly worsens the problem. Scenarios such as these were apparent during the initial phase of the movement control order (MCO) in Malaysia.
For instance, the government order to halt mass gatherings and promote social distancing unexpectedly led people to gather in stores for panic buying and bus stations to return to their hometowns.
A long list of unintended consequences of Covid-19 related policies developed one after the next, ranging from mental illness due to isolation, domestic violence, shutting down of small businesses and disruptions of the democratic political processes.
This list is expected to grow even longer with the reopening of public spheres and businesses after the MCO period in the absence of careful systems-oriented thinking and preparation.
It is important for policymakers therefore to thoroughly analyse and mitigate any unintended consequences emanating from their decisions.
"A policy is better when the more of these unintended consequences it takes into account before the policy is administrated" argues Homa Zarghamee, an economics professor at Bernard College, New York.
A systemic approach of thinking, planning, and leadership is thus essential in managing complex crises such as the one unfolded by Covid-19.
This involves cultivating a shared understanding of the nature and risk of the pandemic through mass communication, visualising causal relationships and effects through systems modelling and mapping tools (e.g.: dynamic interacting map published by the World Economic Forum) to spot unforeseen risks, identifying critical leverage points to instigate effective actions and enhance the capacity for coordination, and collaboration across different sectors.
In the context of Islamic jurisprudence, forecasting consequences of actions or decisions is technically known as i' tibar al-ma 'al, which relates to our concerns.
Its legitimacy primarily derives from Qur'anic verses that demand people to carefully look into the outcomes of their action such as the verse in which Muslims are advised not to insult the dieties of pagans and idol-worshippers for fear of reprisals that may then lead to greater social enmity and hatred (al-An'am, 108).
Hence adequate planning and consideration of the consequences of words and actions is highly recommended for all Muslims, especially for their leaders, law makers and governments.
In the current situation, policymakers and the society at large should be keenly aware of the complexity of our highly interconnected globalized world with reference especially to unintended consequences of decisions.
This can be better done by promoting a systemic approach for officials, industry players, and civil society organisations.
For many Muslim societies such as ours that are expected to return to a new normal post the MCO period, mainstreaming systemic thinking and its approaches should become part and parcel of the decision-making process, particularly in the attempt to mitigate dire unintended consequences.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Tuesday 12 May 2020
The 2020 Budget has been receiving a myriad of responses over its effectiveness in solving the country’s economic maladies and its ability to stimulate growth.
The nation’s budget is an important instrument and proof of the government’s earnestness in pursuing the economic and social needs and objectives of society and the people. It is reassuring on the whole to see that this budget is a step closer to the Islamic objectives (maqasid) by adopting the concept of ‘shared prosperity’ and showing in many ways that it will be pursued. Yet, there may be scope for better realisation of maqasid of syariah in certain areas.
Beyond technicalities, it is also important to gauge the budget from the lens of Islamic higher objectives (maqasid syariah) as it does not merely function as a legal mechanism, but more importantly, a guide for holistic socio-economic development.
The allocation of RM1.3 billion to the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs) along with a special grant of about RM100 million for the promotion of Islam as a compassionate and peace-based religion is undeniably a mark of the government’s commitment to protection of religion and development (hifz al-deen).
Although it seems to be allocated for Islamic affairs per se, the Rahmatan lil-Alamin approach adopted by the government would actually enable harmonious interactions between Islam and other religions in Malaysia.
The [email protected] initiative, which aims to put Malaysians back to work, is not only commendable because it secures the Islamic objectives of property protection (hifz al-mal), but also because it supports the pivotal Quranic objective of securing human dignity (karamah insaniyyah). It is a timely policy since, last year alone, half a million Malaysians were jobless. For the same purpose, the government will also incentivise youths and firms to bolster the work market in preparation for a more challenging situation next year.
The government also took various steps to address the widening income gap by increasing the minimum wage to RM1,200 in major cities and providing various assistance for the bottom-40, and more importantly the bottom-20 of the economic strata. However, improvement in the amount and coverage of the minimum wage increase is crucial to better address the endemic income disparities in Malaysia.
Closing income gaps may not only lead to better social integration but also fulfils a salient trait of the economic system targeted by the Quran that envisions an equitable distribution of wealth: “So that it will not be a perpetual distribution among the rich from among you.” (al-Hasyr 59:7)
Despite its relevance, return-to-jobs policies need to be approached holistically to observe the unintended consequences on the family institution, a core emphasis in Islamic objectives, as women who have been focusing on their families are now compelled to enter the job market. Sufficient support systems for women workers, such as flexible working hours and childcare facilities at offices, should be enhanced.
The budget also outlines allocations for environmental initiatives which include the extension of the Green Investment Tax Allowance and Green Income Tax Exemption. There are also specific allocations for the preservation of pristine forests, as well as the peninsula’s tiger species.
While these initiatives are in line with the Islamic objective of environmental protection (hifz al-biah), they are also crucial in mitigating the dire consequences of global climate change. Nonetheless, emphasis should also be given to facilitating social-based initiatives, in contrast to a market-based approach, such as local and urban farming as well as environmental activism.
It is also important to highlight the budget’s introduction of a new category of EPF withdrawal for fertility treatment and tax relief of up to RM6,000 for fertility treatment. This is critical in addressing the threatening fall of the country’s fertility rate recorded in 2017 by the Department of Statistics. As Islam emphasises protection of progeny (hifz al-nasl), this initiative is also most welcome as Malaysia is due to become an ageing nation by 2030.
Experts have said that small and medium enterprise (SME) digitalisation is a pleasant surprise in the 2020 Budget. It is an initiative to enhance business efficiency and expand their export markets amid a challenging economic atmosphere considering the ongoing US-China trade war.
Digital transformation is indeed among the main highlights of the budget which includes the setting up of a 5G ecosystem, e-wallet promotions as well as various incentives for fintech firms and technological startups.
While both laudable and necessary, the focus on automation and technological skills among workers and students need to be supplemented by humanities education as this is likely to serve as a cultural and moral compass, helping us to be the best stewards of technology.
Nonetheless, it would be not enough to conclude that the budget fulfils basic aspects of the five essentials, namely religion, life, progeny, intellect and property. Through a more substantial approach of the maqasid, the budget needs to be analysed in light of four underpinning aspects; purposefulness, multidimensionality, interrelatedness and due observance of future consequences.
With the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 as its core purpose, it is hoped the 2020 Budget will chart a new narrative of sustainable and inclusive socio-economic development that caters to all segments of society.
The writer is a research fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Saturday 02 October 2019
On the eve of our 62nd National Day, Malaysia, as a nation is facing developments that may disrupt its social fabric.
Sporadic yet worrying incidents involving ethnic relations have revealed the fragile state of social unity in the nation despite gaining independence 62 years ago.
Ironically, these events took place after the country’s change of government in last year’s general election, which purportedly paved the way for more a open and free society.
The recent incidents could be an unintended consequence of a complex set of socio-political change.
The reluctance to endorse jawi and khat as part of the syllabus by vernacular schools and the controversies surrounding Islamic preacher Dr Zakir Naik may be the tip of the iceberg of a more complex majority-minority dynamics in the country.
Since 1957, the country’s quest to achieve national consensus in regard to inter-ethnic relations remains a crucial challenge.
This situation, if left un-checked, may lead to further social and political disintegration, which contributes to egocentric behaviour, norm violation and distrust of public authority.
According to a 2017 survey conducted by Oxford Balvitnik’s School of Government, demographic division continues to be a major obstacle in developing healthy inter-ethnic relations in Malaysia.
Malaysians, in this sense, do not have much opportunity to foster inter-ethnic interaction and friendship due to lack of diversity in their neighbourhoods, schools and workplace.
Additionally, the study found that religion can pose a barrier to national integration if not approached from a proper angle.
To avoid a decline in social cohesion, there must be a framework of peaceful coexistence.
Islam, from its early inception, has always been committed to promoting the idea of co-existence among different religions and ethnic groups.
The Quran is replete with injunctions that promote good treatment of the non-believers: “Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed Allah loves those who act justly” (Al-Mumtahanah (60): 8).
Prophet Muhammad has also shown an exemplary tolerance and respect towards other religions.
In a hadith, the Prophet proclaimed that: “He who harms a peaceful/contracted non-Muslims, harms me; and he who harms me harms Allah.”
This principle is also enshrined in the Madinan Charter, a treaty between the Prophet and Madinan people that guaranteed their religious and civil liberty, regardless of faith.
In the modern context, Abdullah Bin Bayyah, an Islamic scholar and former minister of Mauritania, has been a leading force in promoting the concept of peaceful coexistence at the international stage.
In 2016, Bin Bayyah was among the key figures to initiate the Marrakesh Declaration, a document that represents Islam’s commitment to coexisting with other religions and protecting the rights of non-Muslim minorities in Muslim-majority countries.
Notwithstanding these principles, the need for systemic approaches in dealing with such complex social phenomena is paramount.
Merely introducing new laws or imposing policies with the hope of improvement is not likely to work in a complex situation of social disintegration.
In this context, causes and effects do not operate in a straightforward fashion due to multiple interlocking factors.
Instead, developing ecosystems of change and confidence- building measures would more likely influence the system and generate good results.
Moreover, these approaches would be better attuned to the perspectives of different social actors, such as the government, philanthropies, religious institutions, non-governmental organisations and the private sector.
Only then can a more holistic picture of reality be discerned and causes of social problems be identified.
With such comprehensive measures, the actors involved could how past solutions would not work or even make things worse.
They may then develop initiatives that will become a fertile ground for system-wide changes.
In sum, in appreciating their independence, it is high time Malaysians revive their commitment to nation-building and coexistence through religious consciousness coupled with systems-based strategies.
The writer is a research fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Thursday 05 September 2019
Vaccination has become a complex and controversial issue among Malaysians, especially Muslims. It has led to hair-splitting disputes involving safety, efficacy and halal matters.
The anti-vaccine movement in the country began as a social campaign that became widespread over social media. Malaysian households were, and are still, being exposed to conflicting messages on immunisation. The spread of information, more often than not misinformation, has dented the government’s public health policies concerning vaccination.
There are at least three main reasons why Muslim parents refuse to vaccinate their children. The first, probably the foremost reason, is that most of them doubt the vaccine’s halal status. Second, they are more convinced that homoeopathic and traditional medicines are safer alternatives. And third, they fear the vaccine’s side effects such as brain damage and autism, which have been widely circulated on social media.
As a consequence, Malaysia, in recent years has been registering a steady increase of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles, pertussis and tetanus. Cases of measles are reported to have increased from 235 in 2014 to 539 in 2015. Pertussis (whooping cough) had increased from 497 in 2014 to 655 cases in 2015 while tetanus cases have doubled in 2015 compared with 12 cases in the previous year.
Conflicting messages on alternative medicine such as homoeopathy and naturopathy have also challenged the public trust. This trust deficit in vaccination needs to be carefully dealt with, otherwise, the growing anti-vaccine trend could dampen the growth of even the nascent halal vaccine market in the country. This is due to the fact that the movement does not merely suspect the halal status of the vaccines but involves a total rejection of vaccination as a valid healthcare option.
To address these challenges, it is proposed that immunisation be viewed beyond the confines of epidemiological and economic analyses, and include other factors such as social and religious dimensions.
The nature of multiple interactions of different actors needs to be considered. In this perspective, the government — especially the public health department — is not the sole actor and proponent of public health. Broader societal forces like the social network and household decisions need to be carefully observed as well.
An anti-vaccine movement in the country can cause a trust deficit on both vaccination and government health policies. Public trust is a critical element in the success of any public health programme. However, in the Malaysian context, it tends to be driven by a top-down approach.
The governance of vaccination, for instance, is often seen as a top-down approach to maintain control. Therefore, there are limited efforts and awareness on the importance to gain public trust among the bodies who run the immunisation campaign. Hence, a bottom-up approach is needed to reinstitute trust among the public.
To prevent further decline of public trust of the Malaysian society, proactive actions should be taken by the government and mass media. The government should aim to develop “affective trust” with households through building emotional bonds by way of repeated interaction with them. Also advisable is a rigorous social media campaign to inform the public on the importance of vaccination — one that should preferably be promoted through friendly programmes that involve family, parents and children.
The government should also engage with practitioners of homoeopathy or naturopathy — through roundtable and dialogues. A consensus on public health priorities and programmes, including vaccination, could also be developed. Any form of confrontation should be avoided and issues must be addressed rationally since confrontation will only exacerbate the problem.
It is alarming how intense and divisive the debate between vaccine proponents and its detractors has become. Therefore, it is proposed that Islamic ethics of reasoned disagreement (fiqh al-ikhtilaf) should be the guiding principle in vaccination debates.
The late Professor Taha Jabir AI-Alwani, who authored the book of ikhtilaf, proposed that Islamic ethics of disagreement should encompass the attitude of preserving the brotherhood, unity and avoidance of division among fellow Muslims. Moreover, those who are involved need to remain committed to the truth — it means they are willing to listen to others and stand to be corrected.
Ultimately, intellectual humility is of critical importance in dealing with this contentious issue.
The writer is a research fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia.
Published in: New Straits Times, Wednesday 20 February 2019