Perlis, Perlis Indera Kayangan, “Perlis Heavenly Paradise”
Goverment Barisan Nasional
Royal Capital Arau
Raja Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Putra Jamalulail
Menteri Besar Datuk Dr Md Isa Sabu
Statistics (Malaysia Statistics Dept., 2007 est.)
Population 231,900: Malay 84%, Other Bumiputera 0.3%, Chinese 9.5%, Indian 1.3%, Others 2.9%, Non-citizens 2%
Religious Breakdown (2000) Islam 84.5%, Buddhism 11.4%, Taoism/Confucianism 1.4%, Hinduism 1.0%, Christianity 0.0026%, Others 1.1%, No Religion 0.1%
Incidence of Poverty (2004) 6.3% (Hardcore: 1.7%)
The 9th Malaysian Plan brightens the economic future of Perlis, one of the poorest states in Malaysia. Under the recently launched North Corridor Economic Region project, the smallest state in Malaysia is to be developed into a commercial scale agro-based region, producing high quality agricultural products that should rival world-famous produce.
History in Brief
Originally part of the Kedah Sultanate, Perlis became an independent territory in 1842, when the 20-year war between Kedah and Siam (now Thailand) ended. The grandson of the Sultan of Kedah, Syed Hussain Jamalulail of Arab descent, became the first Raja of Perlis. The state continued to be a vassal of Siam until 1909. The Anglo-Siamese Treaty saw Siam relinquishing its imperial claim to the northern Malay states (Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan & Terengganu).
Under British protection, Perlis experienced radical administrative changes and progressed rapidly, despite being a rice-growing state highly dependent on Kedah.
During World War II, the Japanese returned Perlis to Siam for its cooperation and alliance with Japan. When Japan surrendered, Perlis was re-taken and placed under British Administration until it became part of the Malayan Union, then the Federation of Malaya in 1957 and finally the Federation of Malaysia in 1963.
Since 2000, the hereditary monarch has been Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin, who was the Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia from 2001 to 2006. Tuanky Syed Faizuddin Putra was the regent during that period. The Menteri Besar is now Datuk Dr Md Isa Sabu who took the leadership from Dato’ Seri Shahidan Kassim.
Islamization & Religious Freedom
Although Siamese (Thai) influence is evident in many aspects of life, the Islamic movement has been an essential force in the development of this Malay-dominated society. PAS was said to have had a significant stronghold in Perlis until 1995 when UMNO strengthened its grip in its effort to “out-Islam” the former.
The state government's conservative Islamic policies on numerous social issues have created an extent of controversy. For example, smoking is haram [forbidden]; singing becomes haram if the lyrics arouse listeners to “lose themselves” [membawa kepada kelalaian], if the singers do not cover their aurat (certain parts of the body which Islam rules as not fit for public viewing), and if the performance features a mixture of males and females.
The state of Perlis does not make any provision in regards to apostasy. However, it is interesting to note the response of the Menteri Besar who, last November, vowed to thoroughly investigate an allegation of apostasy against a national mariner, a Perlis citizen. He told the press that “apostasy is included in the law of every state” and “we fear that we would be accused of not doing our job and not paying attention to such matters” (The Star, 2006-11-7).
For the record, Perlis did pass the Islamic Aqidah [Faith] Protection Bill in 2000. The bill proposed among other things that Islamic “deviants” and apostates be detained in a faith rehabilitation centre for a year. Although the word “apostasy” was not explicitly mentioned, the bill made references to “any act by a Muslim who is a mukallaf [adult subject to Islamic laws] on his own free will either by word, deed or by any means that may be interpreted as an attempt to change his aqidah [faith] and belief towards the religion of Islam”.
At the same time, there was strong protest against a similar Bill, the Federal Territory Restoration of Faith Bill which was to be tabled in the Parliament. The government eventually announced that the Bill would not be passed and that the Perlis law would not be enforced.
To safeguard the interests of the Muslim community, the state adopted the Control and Restriction Bill in 2002, prohibiting the “propagation of religious doctrine and belief which is contrary to the religion of Islam”. Four years later, the Administration of the Religion of Islam Enactment 2006 allows the Syariah High Court to declare a person is no longer a Muslim or declare a deceased person was a Muslim.
More controversially, the state is said to have a non-gazetted fatwa (i.e. not enforceable yet) that a female Muslim convert who wants to return to her original religion should be killed, but, because this is not permissible under Malaysian law, she should be imprisoned for life.
The new Perlis Muffi, Dr. Mohd. Asri Zainul Abidin, believes in addressing the reasons for apostasy rather than calling for punishment. He, nonetheless, feels that non-Muslims should not be prejudiced against the syariah court because Islam promises justice for all.
The young progressive-thinking Mufti has boldly spoken out against conservatism and called for a modern and compassionate face of Islam. He becomes the first Mufti in Malaysia to recommend Muslim converts retain their original surname. Earlier, he demanded the state government to issue permits for the Chinese Muslims to build mosques and suraus for their own community. “Understanding Islam is not about being Malay. One is still a Muslim without neglecting the mother tongue, culture and tradition which are not against Islam,” he reportedly said. (NST, Feb 07).
Dr. Asri has also openly condemned the overzealousness of the religious authorities prying into people’s privacy, saying that “to invade an individual’s privacy is against Islam”. As a result, the Perlis government plans to amend its religious law to prevent officers from spying on couples, but the law against khalwat remains (NST, Feb 07).
Perlis is in dire financial straits. It has a reputation of ineffective management and weak enforcement, resulting in the loss of millions in revenue and delayed low-cost housing projects among others.
In 2006, the state was reported to have mishandled a special fund for the poor, using it to pay for a nation building course attended by state employees (malaysiakini.com).
Perlis recorded the lowest crime incidences in the year 2006 and the first half of 2007. No murders were recorded this year. There were two cases last year.
In terms of racial harmony, it is said that both Malays and non-Malays in Perlis speak the same colloquial language and display the kind of solidarity and genuine friendship that one does not see in the Klang Valley.
There are only eight churches in Perlis with a Christian population of approximately 600 people. One of the major challenges faced is the crisis of leadership and manpower due to years of “human drain” for education and economic reasons.
The year 2006 saw the churches’ conviction for unity. The first pastors’ fellowship was formed and combined prayer meetings were initiated.
The fairly young Universiti Malaysia Perlis with approximately 3,000 students and a workforce of more than 600 people has brought much excitement to the state, the Christian community in particular. Stirred with a passion for the lost and concerns for the young people, campus outreaches and youth ministries are on the move. With the Celebration of Hope Malaysia initiatives, the local churches roll up their sleeves looking forward with great expectancy to witness to God’s mighty work.
- State government and local councils:
- Capable men and women of integrity, who are trustworthy and respect the rule of law, who uphold religious freedom for all;
- Good stewardship and wise management of state funds for public good;
- Effective measures and efficient implementation to eradicate rural poverty;
- Commitment in expanding the agriculture-based economy, more job opportunities and improvement in people’s standard of living and quality of life;
- Just, transparent and effective implementation of plans in helping poor farmers and budding small business holders.
- Any subversive element or illegal activity intended for public harm and social disorder to be exposed and removed.
- Moderation and respect for one another, against the spirit of religious overzealousness and extremism.
- Church: Christians to be in the forefront in addressing social concerns; sufficient manpower and more labourers in the harvest field; stronger ties among the local churches; greater bonding among church leaders state-wide; strong pastors’ fellowship; fruitful and vibrant youth work; powerful prayer movement.