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

Beijing slams unrest and backs HK govt’s use of lawful means to tackle it

Protests have shut down Hong Kong for the past several days before a government crackdown. Beijing yesterday condemned the unrest that broke out in Hong Kong over the city’s extradition Bill as an organised riot, and said it supported the local government’s use of lawful means to resolve the situation. Asked if the central government supported the use of rubber bullets and tear gas on protesters on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that mainstream public opinion in Hong Kong was against any act that undermines the city’s prosperity and stability. “Any civilised and lawful society will not tolerate the destruction of peace and tranquillity,” he said. “The Chinese central government strongly condemns all types of violence and supports the Hong Kong government to handle the matter according to the law.” Chinese state media


By The Straits Times
June 14, 2019

Analysis, Politics

Taiwan expresses support, solidarity with Hong Kong

Taiwan advocacy groups call for retaliation against Hong Kong extradition bill. Dozens of civic groups in Taiwan called on the government on June 11 to adopt concrete regulations in response to Hong Kong’s controversial extradition bill, suggesting tighter controls on investments from Hong Kong and visits by its civil servants, for example. In a statement issued ahead of the expected second reading of the bill Wednesday, the groups urged the Taiwan government to submit a countermeasure proposal to the Legislative Yuan during its extraordinary session on June 17. The Taiwan government should also issue a statement, asking the Hong Kong government to halt its review of the bill, which could put the personal freedom of Taiwanese nationals at risk, as it would allow the Hong Kong government to send suspects to China for trial, the groups said. Despite fierce opposition by an est


By ANN Members
June 13, 2019

Analysis, Politics

China blames ‘lawlessness’ for Hong Kong

Lawlessness undermining rule of law in Hong Kong, says China Daily editorial. The government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region has explained many times the proposed amendments to Hong Kong’s fugitive law are meant to better protect Hong Kong society by plugging the loopholes in the existing laws in order to enhance the rule of law. Rather than pushing through a bill against the wishes of Hong Kong society as some have tried to portray, the government has made changes to the proposed bill more than once in response to concerns expressed in the community. As a result, most of the members of Legislative Council of the special administrative region, who are accountable to their voters, now support the amendments. Nor is it a hasty or unnecessary move. Indeed the need for an extradition agreement with the mainland was acknowledged by government officials and legal experts ahead of H


By China Daily
June 13, 2019

Analysis, Politics

Hong Kong protests turn violent

At least 72 people taken to hospital during clashes with police. At least 72 people were injured and taken to hospital during clashes between police and protesters on Wednesday (June 12) over a contentious extradition Bill, said Hong Kong authorities. By night time, police officers were still in a stand-off with protesters on Queensway, not far from Admiralty Station, even though most of the protestors had dispersed following the use of tear gas and rubber bullets. Earlier, police fired rubber bullets at protesters after they declared a “riot” as – for the second time in days – clashes broke out between police and protesters demonstrating against the controversial extradition Bill.


By The Straits Times
June 13, 2019

Analysis, Politics

Nepal Prime Minister’s speech in UK is filled with irony

Nepal’s prime minister celebrated democratic freedoms in his UK speech but it contradicts what he’s doing at home. While Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s Monday speech at the Oxford Union in the United Kingdom valorised the importance of freedoms, rights and democracy, back home, his government has been criticised for what many see as an authoritarian turn, stifling freedom of speech and steadily encroaching on human rights. In his speech at the Oxford Union, Oli said that as someone who had spent over five decades fighting for democratic rights, and as a result, been imprisoned for 14 years, including four years in solitary confinement, he knew “how important access to education and freedom of speech are for people and society to grow, deve


By The Kathmandu Post
June 12, 2019

Analysis, Politics

Abe to visit Iran to mediate with U.S.

The Japanese Prime Minister is due in Tehran today. The government is making arrangements for Abe to meet with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani. Abe will encourage the United States and Iran to hold direct dialogue, aiming to mediate the increasing tensions between two countries over their nuclear agreement. It will be the first visit to Iran by an incumbent prime minister in 41 years, since former Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda visited the country in 1978, and the first since the Islamic revolution of 1979. According to government sources, the government is considering having Abe meet with Rouhani on Wendesday and with Khamenei on Thursday. Foreign Minister Taro Kono will visit Teheran on Wednesday before Abe’s arrival and meet with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif.


By The Japan News
June 12, 2019