Mujahid: We want to build this country togetherWritten by Arfa Yunus
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs) Datuk Seri Dr Mujahid Yusof Rawa tells NST about the progress of reforms, the political situation and his aspirations for the country.
Question: How is Tabung Haji (TH) doing financially after the restructuring?
Answer: TH is now in its second phase. The first phase was to balance the account and we managed to do that in 2018. Now, there is no more hiding or trying to cover up or manipulating the numbers in TH. The liabilities are now balanced compared with the assets.
The second phase is to sustain, which means we must give utmost priority to the nine million depositors. Second is to ensure that TH pays a good dividend based on the performance of our businesses and investments. Third is to maintain and improve our services to the pilgrims. So I think these three come under the sustainability of TH, and of course, that comes together with trying to renegotiate (and) look into all the contracts and financial needs so that we can save on TH’s operating cost.
Q: There have been contradictions when it comes to replacing punitive syariah law with an educative approach. Does this sit well with the mufti or Muslim hardliners?
A: If you look into the concept of justice, it doesn’t only entail punishment. The other side of justice is the rehabilitative or the educative approach. Judges should have space where they are not only thinking of punishment, but also how they can pass a rehabilitative sort of judgment.
It fits well with the ideas we aspire to — the compassionate Islam policy. Some feel that a rehabilitative approach would dilute the punishments upheld in Islam. But I think we should also look into Prophet Muhammad’s way of meting out judgment. Some people went to the Prophet and confessed to the wrong things they did, but the Prophet did not punish them. Instead, he provided them with ways to correct themselves.
I think these are the things we have in the philosophy of correction and rehabilitation. We are trying to move from punitive to rehabilitative, but that doesn’t mean the punitive aspect will be gone as there are cases of repeat offenders. This is where the punitive approach is important.
Q: Do you agree with increasing the minimum age of marriage to 18, like our neighbour Indonesia?
A: We had a roundtable discussion with scholars and mufti on making 18 the minimum marriageable age and received lots of responses.
We do have some restrictions in terms of (laws in) states because they have their own jurisdiction. We can’t say “now you have to implement a minimum of 18 years old”. We can’t do that.
But in terms of policy, we believe that (imposing) the minimum age of 18 will end child marriage and we support that very much.
There is an exit clause that we have to think about. For example, if a marriage goes ahead despite the person being underage, what should the punishment be? Do we split the couple? What about the welfare of the underage person?
This is a very technical issue. But on the whole, as far as the policy is concerned, we support the minimum marriageable age of 18 years old.
Q: What is Malaysia doing to address Islamophobia?
A: Plenty. There are two (types of) extreme (actions) that we face today in terms of putting out the right narrative about Islam. The first extreme is those who radicalise the faith, thinking that by doing so, they are serving their faith. Secondly, you have those who fear Islam. They have this unnecessary fear of something named Islam so they fear that they are going to be Islamised or Arabised, and this fear is called Islamophobia.
So these two extremes pressure the government today to look at the middle ground. Where can the two meet and tell what Islam is actually about? To do so, you need a policy. That policy is now being implemented. We call it compassionate Islam, which is the middle point where we want to bring the two extremes to join us and understand Islam in a very compassionate way.
Q: On the exchange between Lim Kit Siang and Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang over the latter’s involvement in the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), do you agree with Lim’s suggestion that IUMS should be included in the White Paper on terrorism?
A: The IUMS, based in Doha, Qatar, was previously headed by Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. It’s recognised as a respected body of scholars internationally, with branches worldwide. It has many publications and it states its stand on Islam-related issues. I was told that in the United States, IUMS is on a list of terror groups. I do not see any reason for such a respected organisation of Islamic scholars who have great influence via their thoughts on the Muslim world to be banned or considered a terrorist group. I will leave it to the Home Ministry to decide. But any member of parliament, like Lim Kit Siang, can give his opinion.
Q: What is your opinion on the arrests over links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), especially since it involves DAP members?
A: I’m very clear on this. Whoever is involved in any terrorist organisation, whether you join them, fund them or support their ideas, it is considered as supporting the group. This is about national security and not about whether they are from DAP or are Muslims or non-Muslims. Terrorism cuts across all races and religions. I think it’s very clear that we should combat any form of terrorism. I do not see this is as a party issue.
Q: What do you think of Pakatan Harapan leaders, such as Penang Deputy Chief Minister II P. Ramasamy, who rebuked the prime minister on certain issues? Does it not affect the ruling party’s image of solidarity or affect its solidarity?
A: In PH, there is a philosophy that we practice — equality. Unlike the previous Barisan Nasional (government). No party is dominant over another and that is a very important philosophy. They may have a small number (of seats in the Dewan Rakyat), but they are equal in terms of their opinions and views.
We practise freedom of expression, but the fact is that whatever Ramasamy, (Defence Minister) Mohamad Sabu or (PKR president) Anwar Ibrahim said, they don’t represent the united stand of PH because we have two platforms where all these are discussed. One is in the cabinet. The second is the (PH) Presidential Council.
Q: There are allegations that some DAP leaders are giving Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad a hard time. How true is this?
A: The narrative to all these stories is the same, and it is that we (PH) have been pressured by one party that is Chinese-dominated and at the end of the day, they are going to take over the country.
I think this narrative aims to sow doubts about our capabilities and it goes back to (using) racial lines to create a perception that the government is not strong and that we are being dictated by DAP, which is not true.
There is no such thing about pressuring the prime minister to decide on something. I think this is just an imaginary perception that warps the narrative, that Tun is incapable, that the Malays’ position is at stake and that DAP is controlling everything. That’s what they (the opposition) want the people to believe, which I totally deny because that is not what’s happening.
Q: Do you think Parti Amanah Negara being friendly with DAP damages its image?
A: I don’t think so because if you look at history, every pact and agreement we made was not based on any party dictating to the other. It’s based on our common ground, common platform, what we aspire to, what we want to do after we win the election and what is the best way to rebuild this nation. So Amanah, DAP and PKR came together within this framework. We came together with a clear way forward that Dr Mahathir will be the prime minister and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim will succeed him.
So, when people say our togetherness with DAP is damaging, I say, no it’s not. It’s the perception out there that (some people) want the people to believe. They (the opposition) are creating the perception that DAP is the sole troublemaker in PH and that Amanah is being dictated by DAP. This perception, I would say, was played up to create disharmony within PH.
Q: Some believe the Malays are not properly represented in the cabinet. During the recent Malay Dignity Congress, some speakers suggested that some ministerial posts should be held only by Malays. Do you agree?
A: I don’t, and I disagree with the whole idea of the Malay Dignity Congress in the first place. Yes, the prime minister attended it, but did you hear what he said? He didn’t agree with all these ideas. He said Malays should stand up and compete using their own capabilities. They should strive to be the best and not blame others. I do not understand why we still view things along racial lines.
If you look back at our forefathers who founded this great nation, they were already aware that this country was built on a multiracial society. Why is it that Malays are still in shock and still debating about rights and dignity? For us (PH), the New Malaysia narrative is that we do not identify our fellow Malaysians based on race. We identify each other as Malaysians who have our own rights and we want to build this country together.
I refuse to debate based on this racial line. Why should we be dictated by this congress that is not moving forward?
Published in: The New Straits Times, Monday 21 October 2019