Don't politicise hudud: Former assembly man

Don't politicise hudud: Former assembly man
TAN Sri Khalid Ahmad Sulaiman.

TAN Sri Khalid Ahmad Sulaiman, 79, the first and only member of the Malaysian Bar to chair the Advocates and Solicitors Disciplinary Board, handled more than 10,000 complaints during his tenure from 2005 to 2013.

Over this eight-year period, lawyers were struck off the rolls "ever so often". And it was no surprise - Khalid was not one to tolerate a breach of trust involving even RM10 (S$3.70)!

Back when he was active as a lawyer, being struck off the rolls was a very rare occurence.

The former assemblyman, ex-Penang executive councillor and Penang Barisan Nasional secretary also served as acting Chief Minister during the absence of the late Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu.

The former Penang Planning Appeal Board chairman is still active in the corporate world.

Despite hailing from the food capital of Malaysia, the avid reader insists that nothing comes close to his wife's cooking.

The Penang Free School alumni gets personal with Sunday Star about his mentor in politics, the late former Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak; Umno, which remains close to his heart; and on racism which he strongly believes is the biggest threat to a united Malaysia.

Your grandfather, the late Hafiz Ghulam Sarwar was Penang Mufti and a well-respected judge. He translated the Quran to English and wrote books on the Prophet Muhammad and the philosophy of the Quran.

Did he have a big influence on you?

Yes, I looked up to him. He was a good Muslim and strict disciplinarian. I grew up with him in a small house facing the Waterfall Road Hindu temple. I used to sit inside the temple with my friend and we revised our schoolwork together. My grandfather never objected. Going to the temple didn't make me a Hindu. To me, friends are friends...I don't look at race.

Today, the Chinese, Malays and Indians don't mix with each other like before. When I share my experiences, they cannot relate because the situation is different now. Maybe the education system or the political system has segregated them. I really don't know.

Do you identify yourself as a moderate Muslim?

Moderation has always been at the core of Islam. I don't call myself a moderate Muslim, neither am I an ultra Muslim. I just try to be a good Muslim by following the Quran. I don't look down on other religions.

What are your views on enforcing hudud here?

I am practising Syariah law, which is Muslim law. Inheritance, marriage and divorce come under the Muslim law. Hudud is one of the sub-classes of Muslim law. Let's not politicise it. PAS is making a lot of noise about hudud because it is losing support among the Malays. That's not the way. If you really want to implement hudud, don't get politicians involved. Get scholars and those well-versed in hudud to sit together and work out whether it can be implemented in the Malaysian context and how.

Umno has been perceived by some as a racist party. Why is this?

Umno was founded on the principles of moderation and liberalism; that's why (Umno founder) Datuk Onn Jaafar went on to set up Parti Negara which he opened to all races. It is a great pity that Tun Razak and (former Deputy Prime Minister) Tun Dr Ismail died early. They were leaders we all looked up to and tried to emulate. They had larger-than-life personalities, were firm, scrupulous, incorruptible and unblemished.

Tun Razak didn't want us to become like the politicians of other countries. He did not want us to argue in public. He wanted us all to come together and concentrate on the country's education, development and progress.

The aim of the Alliance was to strengthen society and make it cohesive so that we can focus on the people. At the time, we even wanted to bring in PAS! The leaders today are not doing enough to keep members on the middle path. They are more interested in maintaining their position in the party, so they play politics to keep their supporters happy. When I joined Umno in 1969, it wasn't like that. We worked very well with the other races.

Those days, members could criticise the leaders without fear. There were no repercussions to their political careers for speaking out. Members were encouraged to speak their minds. Some leaders even cried after being criticised during the Umno AGM.

Umno looked after the Malay interest but we also co-operated with the other races. When Chinese candidates contested in Malay areas, we supported them. As a coalition, we were together as one. I was an assemblyman for eight years and the Chinese constituents looked up to me because I helped them.

There are extremists in all religions and all races but leaders must guide them to the middle path. The culture then was very different.

Things changed in the 1990s. The semangat perjuangan (fighting spirit) is gone. My mother and the women of her generation sold off their gold jewellery to raise money for the party. Now materialism and self-interest have crept in. We need to study why this has happened.

The New Economic Policy (NEP), some claim, sowed the seeds of dissatisfaction among the races. Your thoughts?

The Malays were really down at that time. We were prejudiced against. There were very few Malay doctors, lawyers and bankers. In Umno Youth, (former Umno deputy president) Tun Musa Hitam, (the late) Datuk Seri Harun Idris and I prepared a paper on how to get Malay youths into the corporate world.

Believe me, the NEP was really needed. Tun Razak wanted to bring up the Malays so they wouldn't feel that they were of a lower class. His emphasis was to educate the Malays. Today, you have Malays in all sectors. Tun Razak did not foresee that the NEP would be abused. He expected those who enjoyed the privileges to share it with the community. Instead, some have used it to benefit themselves and their families.

Is legislation the way to keep extremists at bay?

Tun Razak strongly subscribed to the doctrine of separation of powers between the judiciary, executive and legislative arms of the state to check-and-balance each other. These are the main pillars of a nation. He was a great disciplinarian too.

I once heard him telling the then Inspector-General of Police: "Be professional. Don't try to curry favour with me or the Government." He later explained (to me) that if civil servants were to start currying favour, it would be the end (for the Government) because then the rakyat will be angry.

Let me share something with you. A small group of us had called on Tunku once, urging him to use the Internal Security Act (ISA) against a very aggressive politician.

This lawyer from Ipoh was making all sorts of disparaging statements against Umno and the Malays. We were naive, young and hotheaded then. Tunku said he would 'kill the man off politically' but would never use the ISA against him.

The National Harmony Act is good but it must be implemented properly and not abused like the Sedition Act. That's not right. It causes uneasiness among us all. You can't say anything. Social media today is like "coffeeshop talk" in the old days.

Those days, people would gather at coffeeshops and condemn the Government or a minister. Today, social media has become the coffeeshop. Let them say what they want but keep an eye on them. If it really jeopardises the country's security and harmony, then you act.

What do you consider extremist behaviour?

Don't demean and look down on others. Don't condemn or call someone a stooge because you disagree with him or her. You can argue but if he or she still does not agree, leave it at that. Have a gentlemanly debate. Accept the views of others.

The world does not belong to you alone. People have every right to express their views and anger. If (that expression) infringes on your rights, take action. Look at what happened to (BFM presenter) Aisyah Tajuddin (who was in a satirical video on the tabling of hudud laws in Kelantan that went viral last month).

There is no need to be so harsh on her. Why punish or threaten when you can educate? Teach her about hudud and how to behave as a Muslim. Threatening doesn't work. The video was silly but sometimes we do silly things. We all make mistakes.

If my son did the same, I would educate rather than threaten or cane him. If we start threatening each other freely, the whole country will go haywire. People will become violent and emotional when others disagree with them.

(Note: Aisyah was investigated under Section 298 of the Penal Code for uttering words to hurt the religious feelings of others. She apologised after receiving death and rape threats following the video's release.)

What's your advice to young Malaysians?

Stories of my hardship during the Second World War, fighting the communists, struggling for Independence and establishing ourselves as one, happy cohesive nation, won't resonate with them. (So), I always tell my eight grandchildren to think big, which to me means being moderate, honest, caring, humble, sincere and not frivolous in our deeds and thoughts. The younger generation must tell the leaders what they want. If you want a peaceful, moderate society - tell them. Use the ballot box.

And your message to our leaders?

Carry out your duties professionally. Be honest. Be frugal. If our leaders did that, we would be in much better shape today. I remember how Tun Razak would only stay at the government quarters whenever he was in Penang to attend the New Year party at the Esplanade. No expensive hotels. Not ostentatious. Not pretentious. Chong Eu too was a simple man. He once asked me what shoe I was wearing and when I showed him my (Swiss-made) Bally, he proudly pointed to his Bata. I have been wearing Bata ever since.

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