The line is not clearly drawn between Malays/Muslim against non Muslims. There will be the usual voices of fringe Muslims of Malik Imtiaz, Harris Ibrahim, Sister in Islam and their likes fighting for their secularism cause and anarchic liberal Islam view. Anwar Ibrahim, the 70s voice for “rising tide of Islam”, takes a personal potshot at Najib to call him “jahil” but adds nothing to voice any dissension.
All these noises are much ado over nothing!
In a press conference last Tuesday July 17th, 2007 after delivering the Prime Minister’s speech on his behalf at the International Conference on the Role of Islamic States in a Globalised World, Dato Seri Najib corrected an allegation by one member of the press that Malaysia is going the secular nation way. This is the source of much uproar.
What did Najib actually said?
Bernama July 17th, 2007 reported Najib’s claim that Malaysia is an Islamic State. However, Utusan Malaysia July 18th, 2007 issue described in their header as “Malaysia bukan negara sekular tetapi merupakan sebuah negara Islam dengan takrifnya yang tersendiri.”
IS DAP interpreting “Negara Islam” as “Islamic State”? Could it also mean “Islamic Nation”? What is “takrifnya tersendiri” or its own interpretations?
Najib point of view as reported by both sources is that Malaysia has never held to secularism but guided by Islamic fundamentals for Islam is the official religion of the federation. Correctly, he pointed out that Malaysia respect the rights of the non Muslims. He added that “Malaysia does not want to be stereotyped with the Western definitions of a secular and a non-secular state.”
Understanding Secular State
As Najib highlighted, let’s understand Western definition of secular state.
Using the convenient reference of Wikipedia here, a secular state is described as “a state or country that is officially neutral in matters of religion, neither supporting nor opposing any particular religious beliefs or practices, and most often has no state religion or equivalent. A secular state also treats all its citizens equally regardless of religion, and does not give preferential treatment for a citizen from a particular religion over other religions.”
By that simple definition, let’s now refer to the Constitution of Malaysia, the “holy book” for those secularists but claim as Muslim. Often heard, these Muslims are not interested in historical evidences, political (partisan or not) considerations, and societal resolutions (see how my posting "Key To The Highway: Interfaith Issue ... Gimme A Break!" for society resolution got skewed, heated and diverted away by combative commentators).
They and their conspirators only say, only the law matters and the Constitution as supreme words in this land!
Islam in the Constitution
The Masjid Agung Demak in Central Java, believed to be built by the Wali Songo brotherhood in 16th Century Demak Sultanate
Fine, lets see what their “holy book” or Malaysian Constitution has to say.
It is clearly stated without any exception that Islam is the official religion of the Federation of Malaya, later adopted for Federation of Malaysia. The Reid Commission acknowledged this also.
Secondly, although article 11(1) states that every citizen has a right to profess and practise the religion of their choice, but it comes with the exception of Article 11(4). That article forbids the preaching of other religion to Muslims.
Thirdly, Islam is the only religion with the legal and administrative system in this country, acknowledged by the constitutions. The recent Lina Joy case demonstrate the power of the syariah court on matters of Islam, which include entering and leaving Islam and the legality in the relevant documents issued by the various Majlis Agama Islam and Jabatan Agama Islam. Sadly, Siti Fatimah @ Revathi may lose and suffer on legal and documentation grounds. Her only option is to resort to the “kurang ajar” route to challenge the Constitution.
In summary, Malaysia has a parallel legal system of the civil and syariah courts with its own set of jurisdiction as stated in the "holy" Constitution. Article 11(3) provides for all religion to administer their own affair and so does Islam.
Fourth, article 12(2) of the Constitution allows for government to allocate spending or provide subsidy for expenses on Islamic administration, Islamic institutions, and teaching of Islam. With this respect, the Government is not obliged to allocate any budget to other religion as it is not provided in the Constitution.
With all these provisions, are we then a secular state with the separation of state and religion in accordance with the philosophy of secularism? If they still insist so, then explain why the existense of such clauses? These clauses has been around since independence. The treaties between Raja-Raja Melayu and British has provide these provisions and acknowledge in Reid's Commission. Their forefathers accept it with their eyes wide open.
Islamic Nation or Islamic State? Or Politics?
For the more twist and turn of the interpretaions, lets leave it to qualified and practising lawyers, possibly those from respectable academic credentials, to argue it. Respect the judges' decisions for they have the final say. Thats the legal adverserial route that I do not advocate, for I am for dialogue within society and amongst "men" of cloth.
Whether Malaysia is an Islamic State or Nation, it will be subject to lengthy constitutional and theological debate.
Tun Dr Mahathir, in 2001, already claimed Malaysia is a Negara Islam and he was leaning to Islamic State. Mahaguru58 here takes a puritanical stand that Malaysia is yet to truly qualify as an Islamic Nation. ABIM President Yusri Mohammed, as reported on Malaysiakini July 21st, 2007, takes the position that “Notwithstanding the constitutional and theoretical debates, Malaysia has been an Islamic state in practice ever since Independence.” Jeff Ooi has regenerated some old newspaper cutting of Tunku ABdul Rahman and Hussein Onn here.
On MCA’s claim that there is historical evidence that Malaysia is a secular state, let’s ask them where do they want to start?
British first intrusion into Malaya via 1874 Pangkor Treaty? The days of the Melaka Empire? Period of Terengganu's Batu Bersurat in the 14th Century? Why not stretch it to 1136 Kingdom of Merong Mahawangsa , the descendent of today's Kedah Sultanate? Do not forget the Reid and Cobbold Commissions. Why not throw in the wrongly applied used of term of Jean-Jacque Rousseau’s Social Contract in the debate?
Was there Syariah court and Hukum Syarak practised in Malaysia or Malaya or Melaka Empire or any preceding Malay Kingdoms? Where is the position of Islam legally?
Off course, MCA's stand has political dimension, just like the reaction of DAP, PKR, Gerakan and MCA. Perhaps, Najib too. And, general election is around the corner. That could explain for the damage control here and here. Let’s leave it at that. But why is UMNO not defending Najib with facts and reasons?
Is Najib not right to say that we are not a secular state? Is he not right to say that Malaysia is a Negara Islam”? Is he not right that Malaysia has its own interpretation and definition?
So, what’s the beef?