Conventional wisdom can often be wrong. That’s because it is filled with white noise and complacent rhetoric. The strength of wise and practical customs are often overlooked.
The next thing one knows, the past, present and future —- all of which are critical to creating a strong and sustainable society, indeed, state —- begins to collapse into a void.
One should look no further than the prayer of Khalifah Umar Al Khatab (peace be on him).
Although Khalifah Umar Al Khatab was known as a stern and JUST (Adil) leader, among the four early caliphates, that formed the early Ummah after the demise of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), it is openly known, through centuries of careful scholarship, that one of Khalifah Umar Al Khatab’s most intimate prayers to God was surprisingly unique. How ?
Among others, the second Caliph affirmed in his prayer that he be “placed among the minority”; rather than the majority.
This is because those who would be placed in Heaven, especially the rulers and leaders, would find themselves heavily questioned over each and every thing in this world with which the leaders, not excluding those who claim to represent the best interest of Islam, only to do this for their own benefits, are bound to come under extreme scrutiny come the Day of Judgement.
Within the context of Khalifah Umar Al Khatab (peace be upon him)’s solicitation from the Divine, it is clear that the likes of him were well aware of the consequences of blindly following some conventions —- especially those that emanate from the “maddening crowd” to borrow a Shakespearean expression —- purely because of the numbers.
In the current flow of history, it is vital to remember three “key” points, in trying to appreciate the centrality of the royal customs of ascension in the history of Malaysia. First and foremost, any attempts to agree with the ascension based on the majoritarian view of the subjects or the Conference of Malay rulers should be reflected upon carefully. Why ?
While it is true that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has famously declared that his “Ummah will never agree in error,” Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was not referring to the majoritarian rule. If anything else, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was referring to the wisdom of the learned ones: the scholars and the knowledgeable pious.
Once again, anything verging on allowing the majority to rule and cast their weight around “is” not necessarily the true compass to decide on any future order of things.
In democracy, this is why one of the golden rules that makes the system operational is based on the rule of law. Especially the tenet in which the “majority shall not exercise any tyranny over the minority.”
In trying to discern and decide who should be the next monarch of Malaysia for a term of five years upon the completion of the tenure of current King Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah Ibni Almarhum Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah Al-Musta’in Billah on January 30 2024, the cardinal rule should be one based on the prevailing custom. On this token, rotation should be the key principle to allow the Malay Conference of Rulers to function.
Secondly, when a system is not broken, it is best not to tinker with it. This is due to the very delicate and divisive nature of having to create any new convention ex nihilo (from nothing). If the Conference of Malay Rulers does not work on the basis of rotation, to which seniority is then brought in, for example, that lone precedent once made, cannot be unmade.
Willingly or otherwise, this would create a pandora box of one group of supporters of any one of the nine monarchs in Malaysia, covertly or overtly, hustling for change in the order of succession that is rich with institutional custom and wisdom.
Thirdly, it has been proven by multiple research that any attempts to dislodge the prevailing systems, be they monarchical or otherwise, are replete with tremendous amount of risks.
Just as Ibn Tamiyyah was against any revolutionary attempts to change the establishment, one might recall the works of the renowned British Conservative ie Edmund Burke. The latter having personally witnessed the travails and turbulence of the French Revolution in 1789, was adamantly against any ruptures with any traditions. The chaos that ensured can trascend centuries.
Precisely due to the ardent celebration of the “spirit” of Revolution, for example, almost all the ex-colonies of France, for better or for worse, are constantly thinking of making all the changes at the top. How ?
These ex colonies are not averse to changes that happen either through the coup or counter coups, such as what has happened in Niger, Bukina Faso, Mali and Gabon, just to name a few in West Africa. Given such a milieu, it is therefore vital —- if not an obligation not least —- to support a Malay Conference of Rulers that is based on rotation that has served well for decades.
To the degree that the Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Ibni AlMarhum Sultan Iskandar has affirmed on September 22nd 2023 that His Majesty is willing to assume the national obligation of being the next King of Malaysia in February 2024, it augurs well for the country and the global community too.
Only when circumstances do not allow normal rotation to take place matter-a-factly, should a new possibility be considered; if at all. For now, Malaysia should welcome the reinforcement of the Constitutional Monarchy side by side with the parliamentary democracy that form two of the most important planks in the formation of the Federation of Malaysia since September 16th 1963.
Dr Rais Hussin is the President and Chief Executive Officer of EMIR Research, a think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.