Five months ago on Dec. 8, 2014, a group of 25 prominent Malays penned an open letter asking for a rational dialogue on the position of Islam in a constitutional democracy.
The 19-paragraph statement was signed by prominent people, including former secretaries-general, directors-general, ambassadors and prominent individuals, as they felt that it was high time moderate Malays and Muslims speak out as extremist, immoderate and intolerant voices do not speak in their name.
They called on the Prime Minister to exercise his leadership and political will to establish an inclusive consultative committee to find solutions to issues which have become more “difficult to address” because of the extreme politicisation of race and religion in this country by bringing together experts in various fields, including Islamic and constitutional laws, and those affected by the application of Islamic laws in adverse ways.
They also urged more moderate Malaysians to speak up and contribute to a better informed and rational public discussion on the place of Islamic laws within a constitutional democracy and the urgency to address the breakdown of federal-state division of powers and finding solutions to the heart-wrenching stories of lives and relationships damaged and put in limbo because of battles over turf and identity.
Although the open letter of G25 which has expanded to G44, drew widespread support from many quarters, including petitions online as well on twitter and FaceBook, it is most regrettable that after close to five months, the Prime Minister, who had travelled the world with his initiative of a Global Movement of Moderates calling for a “coalition of moderates” to reclaim their religion from extremists appears to be either indifferent or impotent about rising extremism at home.
Last week, the initiative of G25/G44 has been followed by another group of 40 prominent Malaysians, including former leading civil servants, judges, ambassadors, activists, educationists and notable individuals, in an open letter urging Putrajaya to recommit to 10 universal values which make Malaysia a moderate country.
They said that the values – trust, responsibility, honesty, dedication, moderation, diligence, discipline, cooperation, honourable behaviour and thanksgiving – were introduced in 1982 by the government to inculcate universal Islamic values.
In the letter by the 40, titled “Strengthen the foundational structure of our nation”, the group wrote that moderation as a value was being “ignored by certain quarters, including political leaders who espouse sectarian views to suit their audiences”.
The Group said: “Never before in this country’s history have such stresses and strains been made to bear upon the foundational principles of nationhood which now threaten to subvert the bonds that have held all Malaysians together and kept the nation comprising the territorial components of Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak intact.”
The Group said: “Malaysia’s constitutional history records the fact that this country is a secular nation with Islam as the religion of the federation.
“As a rainbow nation of many peoples with diverse religions, we charted our destiny upon a civil and non-religious national legal order resting firmly on the twin principles of the supremacy of the constitution and rule of law.
“We are not a theocratic state with religious law being prescribed as the supreme law of the land. Neither should we be forced to live by the rule of religious diktats where decrees of religious bureaucrats have legal and punitive effect.”
The Group stressed: “We reiterate that we have a civil national legal order which is religion neutral. We are not a theocratic state with religious law being prescribed as the supreme law of the land. Neither should we be forced to live by the rule of religious diktats where decrees of religious bureaucrats have legal and punitive effect.”
The Group said the government’s call for moderation is being challenged by loud voices of intolerance and immoderation which if unchecked will tear apart the unity of citizens bound together by a common nationality.
The Open Letters of these eminent Malaysians, the G25/G44 and G40, as well as the Open Letter by a group of 47 Sabahans early this month to Putrajaya urging an end to extremism in the country raising their concerns about Islamisation, attempts to convert natives of the state, polarisation, growing intolerance and federal government bodies asserting authority beyond their powers as well as the Open Letter by 58 former students of the Prime Minister’s alma mater, St. John’s Institution in Kuala Lumpur from the class of 1975, urging on Najib to take a strong position against racism, religious bigotry and extremism are more than ample signs that moderation in Malaysia had never been under graver threat in over half a century and that Malaysia is facing the first crisis of survival intact as a nation in our history.
If Karpal is alive with us, he would be in the very forefront straining every ounce of his sinews and energies to “Save Malaysia” to defend constitutionalism, the rule of law and moderation as Malaysia’s way of life and to be an example to the world.
The most meaningful form of tribute to Karpal Singh, whom we are remembering and honouring on the first anniversary of his tragic passing, is for all Malaysian patriots regardless of race, religion or political affiliation to unite and dedicate themselves to the cause of “Save Malaysia” to defend constitutionalism, the rule of law and moderation as Malaysia’s way of life and model to the world.
(Speech at the wreath-laying ceremony in honour of Karpal Singh in memory of 1st anniversary of his passing held at Pesiaran Karpal Singh, Penang on Sunday, 26th April 2015 at 8.30 am)