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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Zahid’s religion stance worse than attack on Mahathir

QUESTION TIME | Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has a tendency to shoot his mouth off which often got him into trouble but also frequently endeared him to the Malay, Muslim masses for his no-holds-barred, appeal-to-the-base approach when it comes to political combat.
But what is more worrisome than the underhanded, lowly, crude, tasteless attack on Dr Mahathir Mohamad, in particular, his Indian ancestry, is the stance that he has taken over the Court of Appeal ruling on the registration of Muslim children born out of wedlock. In effect he has advocated defiance of the court, inviting contempt of court.
We should be more concerned with this than with the tit-for-tat, the back-and-forth between the two sides over Mahathir’s ancestry for it exposes, alongside other things that have happened in the past, the true face of the man that Zahid actually is. Two major ones should suffice.
In 1998, when he was an Umno Youth leader, he spoke up against then prime minister Mahathir, implying clearly that Mahathir should step down in favour of his deputy Anwar Ibrahim. We know the outcome of that gaffe, which earned Zahid time in the prison cell under the infamous Internal Security Act and Anwar time under sodomy convictions in addition.
Zahid’s political longevity, which had to be done with Mahathir’s concurrence, after something like that indicates his qualities to advance his fortunes, buttering up to the powers that be and using race and religion to advance his mass following. This one-time, hard-core supporter of Anwar, rehabilitated under Mahathir, is now taking potshots at Mahathir.
And it seems like he will stop at nothing to move his political career forward - he is not even afraid of associating himself quite publicly with Tiga Line. Tiga Line is an illegal Malay gang but Zahid supports it as I commented in this article, titled “A gangster as home minister?” over three years ago.
He not only defended Tiga Line, outlawed by the police, but included himself and others as part of the gang. He further condoned their actions and asked them to carry on. He openly and strongly defended extra-judicial killing by the police, defending as a right police opening fire on those they felt were criminals. He made extremely racist remarks about who perpetrated crime, who were the masterminds and who were the victims without providing hard evidence, needlessly provoking racial tensions.
These remarks were extremely unbecoming to say the least, not from some young upstart in Umno but the home minister himself, but it would have endeared himself to many Malays because he was championing their “rights”.
One excerpt: “The 6,171 Malays (referring to the number of Malay gangsters he gave), they are not real thugs (samseng), they were Pekida ( a hardline group often associated with Umno) members and were part of the Tiga Line group, Gang 30, Gang 7 - these are festivities (kenduri-kendara) gangsters... I tell our Tiga Line friends, do what should be done,” he said to loud cheers from the room. You can read the full report here.
Now on to Zahid’s religious stance. In a landmark decision, the Court of Appeal recently ruled that a child conceived out of wedlock can take on his or her father's surname, and that the edict on this by the National Fatwa Committee does not have the force of law.
Justice Abdul Rahman Sebli, who wrote the unanimous decision, said the jurisdiction of the National Registration Department (NRD) director-general is a civil one and is confined to determine whether the father had fulfilled the requirements of Section 13A(2) of the Births and Deaths Registration Act. This covers all children conceived out of wedlock, whether Muslim or non-Muslim.
The ruling was made in an appeal involving a seven-year-old child, who was born five months and 24 days (or five months and 27 days according to the Islamic Qamariah calendar) after his parents married. In 2003, the National Fatwa Committee decided that a child conceived out of wedlock (“anak tak sah taraf”) cannot carry the name (“tidak boleh dinasabkan”) of the person who claims to be the father of the child, if the child was born less than six months of the marriage.
But what did Zahid do? Instead of asking the NRD to comply with the court decision, he said that Muslims must stand together in opposing anyone challenging decisions by the National Fatwa Committee.
"In this case, Muslims must unite and agree that Islam must be respected and that we do not want any decisions made by the National Fatwa Committee to be challenged by anyone, whether an individual or a different legal system outside of the fatwa committee," Zahid said.
Does that mean that the fatwa committee can come up with anything they want to rule on and it must be included as law even if it went against the constitution? Certainly not. Fatwas come under shariah law, which must always be compliant with the constitution, the supreme law of the land.
Also, is it just that a child who is born out of wedlock cannot have his or her father named in the document of birth if the father is known and indisputable? What right has any religious authority to stop the registration of a fact? It is the truth after all and no religion suppresses the truth. What can be the motive for that? To punish an innocent child?
Fatwas and all religious declarations come from man and man alone and no one can prove it came from God. Man is infallible and therefore his actions, even those supposedly religious, which have wide application to many people, must always be subject to the review of courts to ensure that the legitimate constitutional rights of people, no matter of what religion, are not taken away by overzealous religious officials.
Zahid even warned non-Muslims to stay out of matters that affected only Muslims. But it is everyone’s right to oppose any unconstitutional move no matter who it involves, for an erosion of such rights will eventually affect everyone and will be the forerunner of more rights being taken away.
Meantime, the government and the NRD have filed for leave to appeal the appellate court's decision to the federal court, a questionable decision. The NRD director-general Mohd Yazid Ramli said that the procedure to name a child born out of wedlock will remain the same despite the decision.
This move may well be against the law, according to legal experts. The NRD and Zahid, who as home minister oversees it, may be looking at serious legal repercussions, including jail time, for their responses, according to former Federal Court judge Gopal Sri Ram.
"The situation is not without remedy. The successful litigant may apply to the court to punish the offending person for contempt of court.
"Where the contempt is serious and wilful, the usual punishment is imprisonment," Sri Ram told Malaysiakini.
One more thing. Now that Mahathir has alleged that Zahid declared RM230 million in assets, he, as a good Muslim, owes a denial or clear explanation of how he came to amass so much wealth. But instead, he ignored reporters’ questions over the allegations.
Zahid is obviously no prime ministerial material but neither were Najib Razak and Mahathir. The way Zahid is acting one wonders if he will eventually make a better prime minister, relatively speaking, than Najib, or whether he will take the country to new depths of low.
P GUNASEGARAM laments the lack of honorable, honest politicians although there are some. At some point it is up to us voters to weed them out. Email Guna @ t.p.guna@gmail.com. - Mkini

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