AS we celebrate the 57th anniversary of Ma-laysia’s independence, we should also cerebrate about the foundation of our country. For that, one must reflect and ponder the annals of our history.
Within the civilisational age-span, Malaysia is still a nascent entity relative to matured nation-states like the United States and France, which went through numerous challenges to become what they are today.
But a nation-state like Malaysia does not exist ex nihilo (out of nothing). It has its own genesis and that genesis was laid by the kingdoms of Malay Sultanate that have been existing for hundreds of years as political rulers in the Malay Archipelago, far older than most advanced nation-states of modern times.
Such a legacy makes Malaysia’s political system a hybrid of modern-democracy based on Westminster parliamentary system that is subsumed under the classical-Malay monarchy. This is best captured by our Federal Constitution, which lends legitimacy to the concept of constitutional monarchy that characterises Malaysia’s statecraft, which also indicates that Malaysia’s political system is not a republic, neither a country that is governed by an absolute democracy.
Many people tend to jumble up and conflate two different things: Westminster parliamentary democracy and our constitutional monarchy as one and the same concept. In actual fact, democracy is not really the framework of our statecraft but rather a means to facilitate the operationalisation of our statecraft — like a cog in a wheel — that supports the body politics of our monarchs, the true sovereigns — the Malay Sultanates (Raja-raja Melayu).
Our executive branches derive their power and legitimacy as bestowed upon by the monarchs. Case in point is the appointment of menteris besar and high-ranking government servants is made authoritative and legitimate by virtue of their pledge of allegiance to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and other Malay sultans who hold the sovereignty of this country and the states where their kerajaan lies.
The operative word that designates our statecraft — the “constitutional monarchy” — is not constitution, but monarchy. Because monarchy was the default state of this part of the world. Only after independence, perhaps due to the influence of our former colonial master Britain, the idea of constitutional monarchy was introduced into our political system.
This by no means justifies and proves that the original inhabitants — the Malay people — was devoid of constitution or codified laws to govern day-to-day affairs and in matters of dispensing justice. The Malay Sultanates have their own sets of codified laws that govern their sovereign territories, including the “Undang-Undang Laut Melaka” and “Undang-Undang 99 Perak” that predate our Federal Constitution.
Even the idea of constitution is not an alien concept introduced by Western colonialists. The Malay Sultanates had a governing mechanism — an unwritten constitution — in the form of religion of Islam, which covers not only spirituality but also matters on socio-economy and statecraft.
The sultan is traditionally recognised even till today as the leader of religion (amir al-mu’minin — literally “leader of the believers”). By virtue of being a sultan, he has been etched with a sacred covenant between himself and God and His Messenger, Prophet Muhammad.
Sultans in Islamic statecraft are depicted as a shadow that protects the oppressed, the poor and the destitute from the harshness of oppression, poverty and insecurity akin to a big tree that casts its huge shade that blocks the searing heat of the sun for those who seek refuge under it. The sultans gain legitimacy through their proper stature as custodian of religion whose duty and role is to dispense justice as enjoined by God Almighty in the Quran and His Prophet’s traditions (sunnah).
Rulers in a photoshoot after the signing ceremony of the Federation of Malaya Agreement at King’s House in Kuala Lumpur on Aug 5, 1957. (Inset) Rulers prior to the start of the first Conference of Rulers meeting in Kuala Lumpur on Feb 18, 1948.
Such roles and stature of the sultans, in turn, will be very much dependent upon the roles and functions of Muslim scholars who are the custodians of syariah (Islamic law) who commanded massive influence, knowledge, wisdom and good stature in Muslim polity in guiding and bridging the sovereigns of the Muslim kingship with his subjects, the rakyat.
There have been cases in history where oppressive Malay rulers were impeached and dethroned by virtue of the scholars, who made deliberate and calculative moves to reinstall a new ruler who was more just in dispensing both his secular and religious duties.
Muslim scholars intervention in court politics, especially in the cause of legitimising and delegitimising a ruler, is governed by a prophetic tradition that warned about “a day in state of anarchy is worse that a year under the reign of an oppressive ruler”.
But such roles of Muslim scholars have been diminishing since the days of colonialism by the British through their method of indirect rule and control of the Malay Sultanates via the resident system, which had sidelined the competent and accomplished Muslim scholars who traditionally played a huge role as advisers to the sultans.
The remnants of this colonial policy can still be felt today, where these scholars have been systematically disenfranchised under modern nation-state bureaucracy, their roles restricted to matters of family law.
From this explanation, we realise that the role of our monarchs is not just ceremonial. The monarchs, through their institutions, hold massive power and have important roles to play in making our country more stable, successful and meaningful. There is an urgent need to fortify and strengthen our constitutional monarchy. How can we do that?
First and foremost, Malay nobilities and Muslim scholars need to kindly and sincerely remind our Malay rulers of their massive role and power that they have wielded and inherited from their noble forefathers — the sultans of bygone era — as a form of duties and responsibilities as the vicegerent of God in this earth.
Secondly, although we already have the modern Westminster parliamentarian system, which to a certain extent acts as a check-and-balance mechanism in our statecraft, it must be more inclusive and expanded by including the scholars who can advise the rulers without fear and favour. Such Muslim scholars must be independent from and above partisan politics.
Malaysians must realise the utmost importance of our monarchs in our statecraft and their role in maintaining peace, security and order in preserving our nation’s sovereignty and kemerdekaan.
Our monarchs’ roles and functions could not be expressed better than the one described by one of the greatest Muslim scholars who ever lived — Imam Al-Ghazali — who said: “Sultan and religion are twins. Religion is the foundation and sultan acts as its guardian. Anything without foundation will crumble, and things without guardians will be lost.” WAN AHMAD FAYHSAL - NST Columnist 4 SEPTEMBER 2014 @ 8:11 AM