Renowned constitutional law expert Abdul Aziz Bari sheds some light on the motivation behind the sudden resurgence in the role of Malay rulers’ as the head of Islam, long left unpractised, yet suddenly re-appearing under questionable circumstances.
He stressed that while constitutionally, rulers are the head of the religion, this special position and vested powers must be exercised in accordance with Islamic tenets and independent from the government of the day.
“This is how the [royalty's role] left unregulated by the constitution needs to be understood. Not at the rulers’ own whims and fancies,” he explained.
Speaking to Malaysiakini in an exclusive interview, the UIA law professor contends that contrary to their role as head of the religion, the rulers’ personal character and knowledge about Islam leave a lot to be desired.
“This is too evident and has become a matter of public knowledge,” Abdul Aziz (right) said.
What is more puzzling though, “why are the rulers suddenly become so assertive?”
Questions over sultans’ nuetrality
“Where was the Sultan of Selangor when Khir Toyo issued a directive to prevent tazkirah in the mosques during the Ramadan? What did the sultan do when Toyo demolished a mosque in Bangi and locked one in Batu Tiga some years ago?” he asked.
Abdul Aziz also pointed out the incident in where the Agong suddenly said no to the proposal to put a Penang DCM as the chairman of the zakat fund there.
“As the head of Islam in Malacca, Sabah and Sarawak, why is it that the Agong did not do the same over there. Does this indicate that the other three states are better than Penang?” he asked.
He said that other incidents involving the rulers and religion also took place in Pahang and Perak.
The law professor added that “these are some the things that Perak Regent Raja Nazrin (right) – who two weeks ago reminded that the rulers have complete control over religion – ought to bear in mind.”
Abdul Aziz then opined that the ‘selective’ occurrences of the royalty stepping forward to be the defender of the faith seems to coincide with matters to do with states ran by the Pakatan Rakyat.
“These royal pronouncements seem to have been moved by circles close to Umno, in particular the cases in Selangor and Penang,” suggested Abdul Aziz.
But be it in Perak, Selangor, Penang or Perlis, the constitutional law expert is of the opinion that things are moving in Umno’s favour, adding, “the rulers seem to be throwing their lot with Umno.”
“Where is Raja Nazrin and his father’s assertion that rulers stay above party politics?” he asked.
Nothing made this more obvious than in Pahang, he added, “where the sultan already made it clear: support BN!”
The Pahang sultan, as quoted in a Bernama report last year, have exhorted the public to continue supporting the BN to ensure that development continues in the state.
“What they are doing is against the spirit of constitutional monarchy and constitutionalism. Without doubt the rulers are pressing their own self-destruct button.”
“Just like in 1992 when the Sultan of Johor’s fatal indiscretion eventually saw the rulers’ immunity taken away by parliament,” said Abdul Aziz.
While he understand that the Malay party might deny this and question any attempt to look at the matter, he said, “the principle remains that under the constitution public functionaries and public powers are subject to close public scrutiny.”
“Their exercise must be transparent,” said Abdul Aziz, adding that as of now, the rulers and their pronouncements as head of the faith, has been anything but.
As such, he believe that this issue must be looked at and understood by the public at large.
“There is nothing seditious about this, the matter affect the Muslims who are in the majority in the country.
“They have the right to know. It is our duty to explain these issues to them as pertaining to the rules and roles depicted in the constitution.”
“After all, we are a constitutional monarchy,” he concluded.