taxWhen I used to go to church, I would regular give the church tithes, or 10 per cent of my monthly income.

The funds would be used to run the church’s programmes and to pay the staff and there would be an annual report explaining where the money went.

The conservative Muslim lobby, Umno and PAS politicians have repeatedly claimed that their attempts to expand the jurisdiction of Shariah law will not affect non-Muslims, despite the confiscations of Christian materials with the word “Allah”, conversions of children to Islam by disgruntled ex-spouses without the consent of the non-Muslim parent, Islamic religious departments confiscating items from a restaurant owned by non-Muslims, and gender segregation orders for a running event, among others.

As if these are not disturbing enough, the home minister himself, whose ministry has authority over the police, and the National Registration Department (NRD) have the audacity to disobey a Court of Appeal ruling that granted fathers the right to give their names to their illegitimate children. They may not like the court verdict, but since no stay of the ruling was obtained, rule of law dictates that the government department is bound by it until and unless the Federal Court overturns it.

It is certainly not overreach to want Shariah law on children’s legitimacy and inheritance since those fall under Muslim family matters. But at the moment, there is only a mere “fatwa” that cannot have priority over a federal law because Malaysia is a democracy, which means laws are made only by elected representatives. It is also worth mentioning that there is an opposing “fatwa” in Perlis

Malaysia being a secular country also means that civil law takes precedence over Shariah legislation.

Since there is disagreement about the way religion is institutionalised here, even among Muslims themselves, perhaps the best way to resolve this conflict is to have the Shariah legal system solely funded by the community.

Muslims who support khalwat raids and enforcement on religious offences like eating in public during Ramadan are free to give a portion of their monthly income to religious departments for such action, which should subsequently issue annual reports detailing how the money was spent.    

If Muslims feel that their zakat contribution should only go towards helping the poor instead of being partially diverted towards maintaining religious departments, then they should fork out another percentage of their income for the latter.

Muslims who prefer to support religious departments’ more charitable work can channel their contributions specifically to those programmes instead.

Separating the funding of religious departments and the Shariah court system from the general tax collection is probably the best way to make the most people happy.

Muslims get to have a say, through their pockets, on how exactly they want Shariah legislation to work in Malaysia for their community. This will also lead to greater accountability by religious departments.

Non-Muslims are also less likely to scrutinise the actions of religious departments and Shariah courts since none of their tax monies are used.

Currently, it is nonsensical to tell non-Muslims to shut up when it comes to the encroachment of Shariah law on their civil rights, since part of their tax monies are diverted towards upholding the Muslim legal system. (Putting aside the fact that any legislation and policymaking is bound to have an impact on other people since we live integrated lives in one society).

The construction of mosques should also be solely funded by the Muslim community. This will help prevent unnecessary waste of taxpayers’ monies on building too many mosques and surau in a residence that only end up half-empty.

The church that I used to attend would organise a “building pledge” when it wanted to expand the building. So I used to dutifully contribute an extra sum of money monthly for the construction of the building, aside from my regular tithes.

Muslims can do the same for their places of worship. This would encourage greater accountability from religious officers and perhaps even spur increased attendance from the congregation at a mosque that they built with their own money.

If people think that all Malaysian taxpayers, regardless of their faith, should pay for the maintenance of the Shariah legal system because Islam is the “religion of the federation” according to Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution, I would like to highlight Article 11(2) that specifically states: “No person shall be compelled to pay any tax the proceeds of which are specially allocated in whole or in part for the purposes of a religion other than his own”.

So, if government officials insist on cherry-picking the laws they want to enforce based on their personal religious beliefs, then I think those of us who do not believe in the institutionalisation of religion should stop funding these injustices that are being perpetrated on both Muslims and non-Muslims.