| Khal Baharulalam & Siti Hajar |
WITH the first phase of the Syariah Penal Code of 2013 implemented and international concerns trailing as to how it impacts communities other than that of Islam, Shaarik Zafar, in his capacity as the Special Representative for the Muslim Communities at the United States (US) Department of State, at a media interview yesterday shared that the US government “completely agrees” with the statement that “Islam and the Syariah Law is fully consistent with human rights law”.
Shaarik Zafar is in the Sultanate as part of his responsibility to drive Senator Kerry’s policy to engage with the Muslim community on issues of mutual interests and goals. Part of his itinerary in promoting this particular cause yesterday included meetings with His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, the Minister of Home Affairs as well as the Minister of Religious Affairs.
At the media interview, Shaarik Zafar clarified that while the US government had expressed its concerns to the government with regards to the Syariah Penal Code of 2013, he said, “The US government is a secular government and is therefore in no position to say what the Syariah Law is or isn’t”.
Noting that the legislation of the Syariah Penal Code is still in its first phase and is therefore still in process, he added that the US Department of State is “closely monitoring” the law’s progress.
Speaking on the role of Brunei in enhancing broader levels of engagement, particularly amongst the Muslim community, he said “Brunei is a country where you have a diverse community living in harmony”, essentially boding the nation extremely well to have focussed conversations about non-Muslim minorities.
Having assumed his role in the US Department of State July this year, Shaarik Zafar elaborated that in aspects of terrorism, the Muslim community “reflects the context in which they live, just like any other community”, therefore denouncing that extremism is immediately associated with the Muslim community.
“The reality is that we’re dealing with social science and not hard science,” he said on terrorism. With extremists concurring that acts of terrorism are justified, Shaarik Zafar said an overwhelming number of Muslims rejects this belief.
“The statement that the US government is making through the foreign policy is that religion matters,” he said. “So on matters ranging from fighting Ebola, dealing with violent conflict, promoting economic growth; religious communities, including the Muslim community have their own roles.”
“Religious leaders have a role inside the theological unit, for example, leading congregations or prayers, but they also assume a very important role on issues outside the theological unit.”
Having gone to Singapore prior to Brunei, he shared, “I’ve been very impressed with Southeast Asia, with a high level of tolerance and religious co-existence. This is essentially a model, not just for a region, but for other parts of the world as well.”
Shaarik Zafar also shared that Brunei and the US has a very strong relationship, and “as good as it is now, the US is very excited to further strengthen that relationship through a number of opportunities and shared goals”.