An unprecedented challenge to Royal prerogative and the Malaysian Constitution
Under Malaysian state constitutions, the sultans are the head of Islam within their respective states. The Yang di-Pertuan Agong, or king selected by the Council of Rulers every five years is the head of Islam with the Federal Territories and states where there is no sultan.
Challenging the will of sultans is considered strictly taboo within Malay culture. Historically Royal households enjoy the highest stature within Malay society, where their rulings are respected and accepted without public questioning. Malaysia’s sedition laws strongly support this concept, which act as de facto Lese Majeste laws.
Last year activist Fahmi Reza was arrested by police for allegedly insulting the queen for posting a satirical playlist online, over a controversy concerning Royalty and Covid-19 vaccines.
Online influencers Bryan Wee and Deacon Chai found themselves in hot water over a series of pictures they took outside the Johor Istana (Palace). Those criticizing Malaysia’s Royalty are usually dealt with harshly by the authorities.
Last week, the Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, stated that the Bon Odori festival organized by the Japanese community in Malaysia, doesn’t have any religious elements and Muslims have no problem if they attend.
This was met with the PAS Ulama Council issuing a statement urging Muslims not to attend the event out of religious elements within the festival. This view was supported by the PAS Religious Affairs minister Idris Ahmad.
Idris Ahmad had sparked the controversy when he advised Muslims not to attend the Bon Odori festival, as he claimed it had elements of Buddhism within it. Idris claimed that JAKIM examined the festival and found that it does have religious elements involved, consequently according to JAKIM’s findings, Muslims should not attend.
This escalated when the Sultan of Selangor told Idris not to use JAKIM to make ‘confusing and inaccurate statements about the festival. The Sultan went on to challenge the minister to attend the festival to see for himself.
Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah had decreed to the Selangor Islamic Department (JAIS) and the Shah Alam City Council allow the Bon Odori festive to go ahead next month, and attend. Meanwhile, Minister Idris Ahmad continued to insist the festival had religious elements.
This has led to the PAS Women’s Youth wing to declare the Bon Odori dance haram, and was met with support from both the Perlis Mufti Dr Asri Zainul Abidin, and Penang Mufti Wan Salim Mohd Noor, who later backtracked on his comments. Dr Asri later suggested that the Bon Odori Festival change its name to avoid confusion.
The PAS insistence that the Sultan of Selangor is wrong, is a direct challenge to Royal prerogative, and blatantly disrespects the Sultan’s position as head of Islam in Selangor. Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah was also appointed by the Conference of Rulers as chairman of the National Council for Islamic Religious Affairs Malaysia (MKI), and placed JAKIM under his direct jurisdiction.
This deems the PAS denouncement of Sultan Sharafuddin’s Royal Decree as a direct challenge to Malaysia’s nine rulers, including the Agong or King. This is not just a challenge to the Malay rulers, but also a direct challenge to the Malaysian and Selangor State Constitutions.
This is an act of treason that members of the Malay ruling elite have all been totally silent upon, as has the leader of the opposition. The Muslim Brotherhood sympathetic PAS Ulama have now shown how potentially dangerous political Islam is in Malaysia. This is a direct threat to both the rulers and the Constitution, where the Royal Malaysian Police have stood idly by, almost to the point of encouragement.
The Malay rulers are the last line of defence against Islamic radicalism, and none of Malaysia’s leaders are supporting them. If PAS gets away with this unprecedented challenge, there is immense risk that Malaysia may head down a much more radical path over the coming years.