— G25 Malaysia
Malay Mail Online
June 13, 2016
JUNE 13 — It is incredible that we have politicians and Islamic activists suggesting that only Muslims who are experts in religion have a right to discuss and comment on the shariah and hudud.
They should know it is normal in a democracy for citizens to take an interest in public affairs and to express their views freely.
As the recent tabling of the “hudud bill” is about amending an act of parliament and more importantly amending the constitution also, the public concern goes beyond religion and the Muslims.
This is a matter about the very foundation of our federation of 13 states and it is therefore an issue of grave concern to all races, including our citizens in Sabah and Sarawak.
The surprise manner in which the bill was allowed to be tabled has also alarmed the public that such an important matter was handled so frivolously.
The whole episode smells of a plot to take Malaysia on the road to an Islamic state.
A fundamental principle in all constitutional democracies is the separation of religion from the nation state. Thus, in the Malaysian constitution, although Islam is the official religion of the country, it is not the basis of law and government. The constitution, however, recognises the important role that Islam plays in the life of the Muslim population and has therefore made provisions for the application of shariah laws for specific purposes at state government level under the authority of the respective sultans in their traditional role as head of religion.
It’s important to note that in authorising Islamic laws for Muslims, the constitution has also placed limits on the powers of the shariah courts in imposing sentences on offences applicable to Muslims. Criminal offences are excluded from shariah and state governments as they are strictly reserved under Federal jurisdiction. Federal courts and common law judges have authority to overrule any shariah court decisions that are in conflict with the constitution.
All this goes to show that the constitution is very clear that it shall be the supreme law of the country based on the fundamental principle that all Malaysians, including Muslims, shall be governed under one legal system. Based on this principle, therefore, Muslims do not have a right to be governed by a separate legal system except as expressly provided for in the constitution. The recent bill tabled by PAS and its longer term political objective run counter to this basic intent of the constitution. It is therefore unconstitutional and should not have been allowed.
The public concern is that while the bill that was presented is currently limited in scope, it could the first step towards implementing the ultimate objective of making the shariah courts equal or superior in status to the civil courts. If this were to happen, with two parallel systems of law in place, and if the shariah courts were given greater status, the basic character of the constitution will change and Federal judges in the civil courts will be placed in an ambiguous situation regarding their powers to strike down any legislation passed by state legislatures that conflict with the fundamental freedoms guaranteed under the constitution. Malaysians, in particular the minority races, will no longer feel safe that the Federal judges can protect their constitutional rights. The constitution will no longer be the supreme law for the country. There will be uncertainties, confusion and chaos with disastrous implications for the society and the economy, bringing us all down, including the Muslims on the path to a failed state.
There are higher priorities facing the nation than hudud. While corruption, financial mismanagement and abuse of power exist in all countries, Malaysia’s reputation world -wide has taken a big knock as a result of recent trends of poor governance, due to erosion of institutional independence in dealing with the scandals.
It’s the lack of transparency and accountability that has done the most damage to the reputation of the country’s institutions. Urgent reforms are needed in many areas in addressing these problems: making political financing more transparent and acceptable, empowering a strong role for parliament to provide oversight on the functions of government with the objective to reduce the abuse of power among ministers and civil servants, creating an independent office of public prosecutor separate from the Attorney General to facilitate impartial prosecution and establishing an independent elections commission for regulating free and fair elections. Internal reforms in the civil service, in the legal service and judiciary as well as in the police are also important to ensure they carry out their duties professionally, without fear or favour, so as to restore public confidence in our institutions of law and order.
These are the changes that will make the difference for Malaysia. We can become a better country and a role model for the whole Muslim world, in line with maqasid shariah or the higher objectives of shariah. With these reforms, and coupled with sound economic policies and blessed with our rich natural and human resources, and with no religious interference, Malaysia can easily become the most advanced country in this region.
The silent majority among all races are hoping that our representatives in parliament will stop playing around with the divisive religious politics and focus their attention instead on making Malaysia a united, strong nation.
* This statement is released by Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim on behalf of G25 Malaysia.