See More on Facebook

Analysis, Politics

Malaysia’s most powerful Islamic body faces scrutiny

Malaysia’s new government intends to rein in the country’s most powerful Islamic agency and its huge financial budget.


Written by

Updated: June 18, 2018

The move to review and reform the work of the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) is part of sweeping moves taken by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s government, with top changes at several government agencies and companies, and with their budgets under scrutiny.

But the government needs to tackle Jakim with tact, observers say, as many Malaysian Muslims see it as a key agency that looks after their interests, even as there is some suspicion in the community that the month-old Pakatan Harapan (PH) government might water down Malay-Muslim rights.

Jakim trains teachers who work in mosques and Islamic institutions prepares the weekly Friday sermons in Malaysia, ensures that food outlets serve halal dishes with its certification, and streamlines Islamic family laws among the 13 states and three federal territories, among other things.

Jakim and its unit, the Federal Territory Islamic Department (Jawi), were allocated RM1.03 billion (S$348 million) in funds by the Najib Razak administration in the 2018 Budget, with RM810.9 million alone for Jakim, an increase of 8.8 per cent from last year.

In November 2015, in response to public questions over its large budget, then Deputy Minister in charge of Islamic Affairs Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki highlighted another role played by Jakim – to protect the religion from “radical ideologies”. He said: “The Islamic State (in Iraq and Syria), liberalism and pluralism such as the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (lifestyles) are the examples of radical ideologies which belittle the religion.”

To the agency’s critics, Jakim is a hotbed of conservatives who barely tolerate the rights of “liberal” Muslims and non-Muslims.

Tun Dr Mahathir said last month that the review would determine if Islam was being portrayed by Jakim as a “cruel, harsh and unreasonable religion”.

“That is actually not Islam. We seem to be thinking up ways, which are not Islamic, in order to show that Islam is a religion that is harsh in its implementation. We seem to prefer force, as opposed to Quranic teachings, which say there is no compulsion in Islam,” he added.

The idea of a review of the Islamic body has received condemnation from conservative Malay Muslims. Some have warned that any attempt to touch Jakim will anger the Malay majority, spelling trouble for Dr Mahathir’s government. There is even speculation that Jakim might be shut down.

The Umno-owned Utusan Malaysia newspaper wrote: “The question of shutting down Jakim should not exist in PH’s vocabulary even if pressured by others. Instead, religious institutions like Jakim should be upheld to protect the Muslim community’s interests.”

How PH frames the fight to trim Jakim’s powers could determine how many Malay voters who chose Malay opposition parties Umno or Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) at last month’s polls would switch to the new government at the next polls.

Pollster Merdeka Center estimated that the four-party PH attracted 25 per cent to 30 per cent of Malay votes in the May 9 general election, against 35 per cent to 40 per cent who voted for Barisan Nasional, and 30 per cent to 33 per cent who supported PAS.

Jakim has made the news in recent years for the wrong reasons, giving the impression it is run by overzealous officials. Last year, one of its officers angered Johor Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar after he criticised the ruler’s decree to close down a launderette in Muar that would accept only Muslim customers.

In 2016, fast-food chain A&W had to change the name of its “Coney Dog” hot dog to “Chicken Coney” or “Beef Coney” to apply for halal certification, which Jakim controls.

Federal Territories Mufti Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri earlier this month said he backed the government’s move and assured Muslims that Jakim would not be shut down. “The issue is actually not abolishing the department, but scrutinising how its roles can be enhanced and empowered,” he said.



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


About the Author: The Straits Times is Singapore's top-selling newspaper.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Analysis, Politics

South Korea outpaces China with 505 new virus cases

The death toll now stands at 13, while 26 patients have been discharged after recovering fully. South Korea has reported its largest daily spike of 505 new coronavirus infections, outnumbering China for the first time as the government restricted exports of face masks amid a supply shortage. China, where the central city of Wuhan is the epicentre of the country’s outbreak, recorded 450 new cases yesterday. This brings South Korea’s total tally to 1,766, as officials warn that the number will continue to grow until around March 20 – two months after its first case. Experts say South Korea’s numbers are spiking because the authorities are testing people by the thousands each day, with the aim of testing all 210,000 members o


By The Straits Times
February 28, 2020

Analysis, Politics

China’s coronavirus fight remains challenging

 Key Party meeting calls for full vigilance in control, prevention tasks to avoid risks. The novel coronavirus epidemic in Hubei province is still complicated and challenging, a key Party meeting concluded on Wednesday as it drew attention to the risks of the epidemic rebounding in other areas. Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, presided over the meeting of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee in which members listened to a report by the leading group of the CPC Central Committee on coping with the epidemic outbreak and discussed key related tasks. At the meeting, Xi and other members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee donate


By China Daily
February 27, 2020

Analysis, Politics

UN chief hails China’s efforts to contain outbreak

Official urges all countries to ‘do everything to be prepared’ to contain the epidemic. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday praised China’s contribution to the global fight against the novel coronavirus pneumonia outbreak, noting that the Chinese people are making efforts for all of humanity. The UN chief expressed his gratitude to all of the people in China who are sacrificing many aspects of their normal lives to prevent the virus from further spreading, after discussing the outbreak with World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Geneva. Guterres said the decline in the number of new cases in China since the beginning of February is a very good sign, and he expressed the hope that this trend


By China Daily
February 26, 2020

Analysis, Politics

WHO calls China’s anti-virus effort ‘aggressive, agile’

Control measures taken by the country offered experience in improving the global response to the disease. While the substantial recent slowdown in the spread of novel coronavirus in China is real, and it is now reasonable to restore work activities step by step, health experts warned that risks abound of the virus flaring up again and they cautioned against complacency, the WHO-China Joint Mission on COVID-19 said at a news conference after its one-week field investigations in China. “Ambitious, agile and aggressive” control measures taken by China to control the novel coronavirus pneumonia epidemic, bolstered by nationwide solidarity and advanced scientific research, have altered the curve of the outbreak for the better, averted a large number of potentia


By China Daily
February 25, 2020

Analysis, Politics

Map shows latest tally of Covid-19 cases in Taiwan, Taipei tops list

 After Taiwan reported its first confirmed cases, health authorities finally released on Monday the latest tally of Covid-19 cases in each administrative region, with Taipei being the highest.  More than one month after Taiwan reported its first confirmed cases, health authorities finally released on Monday the latest tally of COVID-19 cases in each administrative region, with Taipei being the highest. An interactive map on the website of Taiwan Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows the cities and counties where the country’s 28 coronavirus patients currently reside. Marked in red, the capital city has listed sev


By Asia News Network
February 24, 2020

Analysis, Politics

Asean, China enhance cooperation in response to Covid-19

The Asean Coordinating Council (ACC) and the Asean-China Foreign Ministers met on Thursday in Laos to discuss to how to respond to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19). The ACC’s special meeting, initiated by Vietnam as Chair of ASEAN, was attended by the Foreign Ministers of ASEAN member countries and the ASEAN Secretary-General. Chairing the meeting, Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh said the event aimed to implement the ASEAN Chair’s Statement released on February 14 on the bloc’s collective response to COVID-19. Minh said that in the face of the epidemic, ASEAN needed to promote its cohesive and responsive spirit, and intensify co-operation within the bloc and between the bloc and its partners to respond to ch


By Viet Nam News
February 21, 2020