By Dennis Ignatius

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: It was reported that UMNO’s sole assemblyman in Kelantan, Mohd Syahbuddin Hashim, voted along with the rest of the state legislature to support a motion to re-enact provisions of the Shariah criminal code that the Federal Court recently declared unconstitutional. In explaining the assembly’s puerile act of defiance of the highest court in the land, Syahbuddin said, “We want to go to heaven”. 
What this tells us is that Muslim politicians (as well as academics, bureaucrats and others) are increasingly persuaded that their faith requires them to put their religious obligations ahead of their constitutional responsibilities. Kedah Menteri Besar Sanusi Md Nor said something similar when he banned gambling in his state. Indira Gandhi’s daughter has still not been located (despite a court order) because of similar religious zealotry. 
This paradigm shift in the balance between sacred and secular in the public square will have profound consequences for Malaysia going forward.
One consequence is that it empowers the mullahs, seen as the spiritual gatekeepers to heaven, to an unparalleled degree. Their opinions and statements decisively shape mindsets, influence policy and affect voting outcomes. Social media magnifies their influence and reach many times over.
They decide what’s right and wrong, what it takes to get to heaven, what results in eternal damnation. When it suits them, corruption, for example, can be dismissed as “willing giver-willing taker”. Or it is better to vote for a corrupt Muslim politician than an honest non-Muslim one. Others insist that even attending a non-PAS political event or even wishing someone “Merry Christmas” might bring swift divine retribution. It is absurd, of course, but millions in Malaysia now hang on to every word that the mullahs utter. 
If you control a man’s thinking you can get him to behave exactly as you want him to. Capture the mind and the country follows. Perhaps that might explain why the people of Kelantan – one of the most impoverished states in the country – keep voting for PAS. They all want to get to heaven.
In a sense, this is the real legacy of PAS leader Hadi Awang’s political Islam – convincing a plurality of Muslims to put their religious obligations ahead of everything else and persuading them that only the mullahs are in a position to determine what those obligations ought to be. 
What this means is that the stage is now set for the rule of the mullahs – apparently the sole arbitrators of the will of God in Malaysia. Indeed, the fact that Hadi remains untouchable despite challenging even the Malay rulers (the constitutional defenders of the faith) is testimony to their power and standing in Malaysia today. 
But instead of meeting the challenge that the mullahs pose to our secular democratic identity, our weak-kneed and perfidious politicians are trying to stay ahead of the curve with measures to further Islamise the country. Dr Mahathir Mohamad tried that approach; it just made things worse.
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim – arguably the most committed Islamist prime minister we’ve ever had – seems determined to push ahead with an Islamic agenda of his own to rival that of Hadi Awang. Indeed, he has gone beyond what even Hadi had imagined.
Since taking office, he has strengthened JAKIM’s role in national policy-making, enlarged the Islamic bureaucracy and increased their funding, introduced yet another Islamic module for public schools, personally participated in conversion ceremonies, taken steps to empower the Shariah courts and is now about to re-introduce RUU355 (an amendment to enact harsher punishments for Shariah offences). And just this week, he called for more Islamic programmes in government departments. To further burnish his Islamist credentials, he constantly plays host to a string of foreign Islamists including those from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Apologists for the government – including those from the once fiercely secular DAP – argue that Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has to do whatever he can to shore up support among Malay-Muslim voters in order to ensure political stability and counter PAS. Invariably, they also warn non-Malay voters of the so-called “green wave” and the danger of PAS coming to power. 
That may be so but it also means that whether it’s Anwar or Hadi, the outcome is going to be the same: the transformation of a once secular democratic state into an Islamic one. With our politicians eager to please the mullahs to get to heaven, it’s going to happen one way or another. In the meantime, the heaven we have here in Malaysia is slowly being wrecked.