KUALA LUMPUR, June 5 ― With Malaysia's top Islamic federal body set to be reviewed on its role, local Muslim groups have come up with ideas on what the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) should improve on.
The Muslim groups' suggestions for a better Jakim are wide-ranging, including more engagements with non-Muslims, increased political independence and becoming more inclusive.
Conference of Rulers instead of PM’s Department
Shahrin Awaludin, chairman of umbrella Muslim body Allied Coordinating Committee of Islamic NGOs (ACCIN), said Jakim is very relevant in managing Muslims' affairs together with the state religious bodies.
He credited Jakim with playing a crucial role in improving the understanding of Islam and ensuring harmony among Muslims by “avoiding sectarian conflicts”, but suggested ways to ensure the body's political independence.
“One of its weaknesses is its structure which makes it susceptible to political interference as it is directly under the minister,” he told Malay Mail when contacted last week.
Jakim is currently parked under the Prime Minister's Department, and had in the previous administration came under the purview of a minister in the Prime Minister's Department handling Islamic affairs.
Shahrin said suggestions to place Jakim under the purview of the Conference of Rulers is in line with the Federal Constitution and would maintain Jakim's political impartiality.
“This will also help in coordination between Federal and the states,” he added.
At the same time, care must be taken to ensure Jakim is open to public critique and inputs, and to ensure a “checks and balance” mechanism is in place to prevent the federal body from becoming above any checks and balance, he said.
“Jakim also needs to be refreshed with a multi-disciplinary group of professionals instead of mainly religious studies background who may not have skills in management, finance, communications, strategy, media etc,” he said, adding that the inclusion of experienced activists into Jakim could also bring about new ideas and fresh approaches.
While noting that changes to Jakim are needed, Shahrin said it is “not an urgent and pressing issue” and is currently not a topic for debate in coffee shops.
“Enough time and scrutiny in a calm and collected manner should be conducted by experts, practitioners and learned people to review and subsequently implement the recommendations,” he said.
Check Jakim's performance
Azmi Hamid, president of Malaysia Consultative Council of Islamic Organisation (Mapim) which represents several Muslim groups, had a laundry list of improvements that can be carried out on Jakim ― which he said had played an important role in “mainstreaming” Islamic thoughts in Malaysia.
While saying that Jakim has gradually expanded over time to a federal government agency that regulates and provides direction on Islamic affairs, Azmi said Jakim could still do more and that there should be a review of all its programmes.
“The government needs to see how Jakim can be more dynamic and progressive in its approach. An examination of its functions and performance with resources allocated to it should be evaluated to see what impact it has derived from all the work done,” he told Malay Mail when contacted.
“My concern is Jakim has not been effective in its delivery of the many issues that needed clarification. Confronting the misunderstanding of Islam is still problematic within the public sphere,” he said, adding that there are still many socio-cultural problems among Muslims that need to be addressed.
Jakim should also focus more on improving Islamic institutions such as mosques, he said.
“There is still lack of effective programmes to disseminate Islam in its true meaning. Programmes that seem to be more ceremonial should be stopped,” he said, adding that the performance of Jakim's divisions should be evaluated and reviewed.
Muslim unity; dialogues with non-Muslims
Mapim's Azmi also said Jakim should play a role in “bringing unity rather than cultivating differences amongst Muslims”, with an emphasis on unity among different schools of thought and handling difference in a harmonious manner.
He suggested that Jakim introduce a special closed-door forum for anyone to share their views on Islamic matters, saying that this would prevent “public debates that will create confusion” and also lead to “misunderstanding and wrong conceptions of Islam amongst those not fully-trained in Islamic studies”.
Having said that Jakim like all institutions have to undergo changes to keep up with new challenges and to remain relevant, he said Jakim's office-bearers should also be more exposed to current national and global debates and have enhanced intellectual capabilities.
Azmi said Jakim should be more prepared to hold dialogues with various groups on Islamic affairs, as well as relook the need to have “more active interaction” with all races and all religious groups in Malaysia.
Be inclusive and open
Mohamad Raimi Abdul Rahim, president of the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia (Abim), welcomed the government's planned review of Jakim's role and said the federal body should be more forward-thinking and more “inclusive”.
He said Jakim should be “proactive in holding discussion sessions and intellectual dialogues with everyone including non-Muslims including on issues that touch on racial and religious sensitivities”.
“In the future, Jakim has to be proactive in pushing discussions about contemporary Islam to shape Malaysians' understanding towards Islam,” he told Malay Mail.
He said Jakim should tidy up its governance and be “transparent” when faced with public criticism, adding: “Such openness would to a certain extent help restore public confidence and trust in that institution”.
Perak mufti Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria told Malay Mail that he supported the review of Jakim if it was to improve the body currently serving as a coordinator of Islamic policies among states.
“So far, Jakim is good enough, but if its role can be expanded and it can be more professional, I support that,” he said, having said that it should be composed of professionals from all fields and that Jakim should be more active in expanding the understanding and teachings of Islam.
“If it is placed under the Conference of Rulers, that's fine too, but I feel it is more effective as a department under the Prime Minister's Department,” he said, adding that Jakim under the Prime Minister's Department would be easier to monitor.
Last Wednesday, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said a new committee will be formed to evaluate Jakim, to see whether it should remain in its current form or revert to its original purpose.
Jakim was formally established as part of the Prime Minister’s Department in 1997 and was allocated RM810.89 million for its operating budget for 2018.