During the debate about the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MHRA) in parliament on Monday (7 October), Mr Shanmugam was apparently taken aback by something that Worker’s Party MP Mr Faisal Manap said.
Mr Faisal had asserted that he doesn’t quite agree with the principle of separating politics and religion. He said, “As a Muslim, Islam is understood as a way of life. Islam encompasses all aspects of life, including politics and the way to practise politics. And I understand that Christianity also believes that it is unlikely that religion can be separated from politics.”
Mr Shanmugam and Mr Faisal went back and forth on this with the Law Minister repeatedly asking Mr Faisal if he agrees that religion and politics should be kept separate.
Mr Faisal continued to assert his belief that religion encompasses all aspects of life which include politics. He did eventually said, “I do agree that religion needs to be kept aside or apart from politics so that the religion won’t be used to gain personal benefit or the benefit of any political party.”
Following this exchange, WP politician Gerald Giam said on Facebook that Mr Faisal was wise to refuse being trapped into taking a binary position on the matter.
He explained that answering ‘no’ to Mr Shanmugam’s question will paint you as a “religious extremist while saying ‘yes’ would mean you “forever give up the right to mention your faith and your policy position in the same breath”.
Mr Giam pointed out, “His answer was more nuanced, yet not that hard to understand: Religion should never be used for political ends but one’s faith cannot be divorced from all political matters, especially those with a clear moral dimension.”
The WP politician cautioned that politicians and religious readers should never use religion to whip up support for themselves, political parties or religious groups. However, the two cannot be completely separated.
He explained, “But it will be antithetical to the constitutional right to religious freedom to prohibit anyone from allowing her faith to even partially inform her decisions, political or otherwise.”
“Politicians must always act in the best interests of their constituents and citizens. Very often their faith can guide them in doing so.”