Viewpoint: Way out of line! – by Wong Chun Wai

The statements of Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, the Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, border on the absurd with his bizarre interpretations of the laws and court decisions of this country.

IS this Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, for real, because he seems to have chalked up a record for contradicting what the Cabinet has decided and practised?

Like many Malaysians, we want to know whether he has been making these statements in his personal capacity, or on behalf of the Malaysian Government.

If he is speaking on behalf of the Government, then we would like to know what the other ministers have to say. And as for the component parties of the ruling coalition, while some have spoken out strongly against his views, others have kept strangely quiet.

The statements of the retired major general, who served in the military religious corps before being appointed to the Cabinet, are bordering on the absurd with his bizarre interpretations of the laws and court decisions of this country.

He has quoted Article 3 of the Federal Constitution, which states that Islam is the religion of the Federation as the basis for his claim that Malaysia is not a secular state.

He went on to justify his claim by stating that “Malaysia is not a secular state as, historically, the country was established based on an Islamic Malay Sultanate government, with the Sultans being the head of Islam in their respective states”.

To him, that is enough to mean that Malaysia is not a secular state. To many of us, his line of reasoning is simply unbelievable.

And even as the debate is raging on, he came out with another statement in Parliament that the unilateral conversion of a child is allowed under the Constitution.

This is not only incorrect but is a direct contradiction of the Cabinet’s decision in April 2009 on the conversion issue.

I would like to refer Jamil Khir to a news report in The Star on Feb 9, 1983, when our first Prime Minister and founding father, Tunku Abdul Rahman, said clearly that Malaysia was set up as a secular state with Islam as the official religion and that this is enshrined in the Constitution.

“The Constitution must be respected and adhered to. There have been attempts by some people who tried to introduce religious laws and morality laws, this cannot be allowed.

“This country has a multi-racial population with various beliefs. Malaysia must continue as a secular state with Islam as the official religion,” the Tunku, known as our Bapa Merdeka, was quoted as saying.

He reiterated that Malaysia should never be turned into an Islamic state, reminding all that “no single race could have obtained independence for this country and no single race by itself can rule this country”.

A few days later, Tun Hussein Onn expressed support for Tunku’s statement that Malaysia should never be turned into an Islamic state.

“Any move of this kind is neither wise nor practical. The nation can still be functional as a secular state with Islam as the official religion,” he was quoted as saying in The Star on Feb 13, 1983.

Our third Prime Minister said Malaysia was set up as a secular state, but there were groups who had made use of this issue for their own interest and if this was not checked, the survival of the whole country would be threatened.

“We must think of the other communities with whom we have to live and if we do not have unity, there would be chaos and disorder,” he said.

On moral laws, Hussein Onn said the legal system adopted in this country did not go into the right and wrong as it was all a matter of concept.

“What is immoral to one may be perfectly all right with another and this is what complicates matters,” he said, adding that whenever Islamic laws were discussed, “it was the punishment that was emphasised and not the other aspects which pertain to good living”.

Another more famous Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, however, did create a lot of controversy at the opening of the Gerakan annual delegates conference in September 2001 when he declared that Malaysia is already an Islamic state.

In responding to the current debate, Mahathir has said that “Malaysia is neither an Islamic state nor a secular state, it’s just an ordinary state that recognises Islam as the official religion of the country”.

Many Malaysians are pretty sure by now that Jamil Khir, or at least the officers who drafted the reply for him in Parliament, has a poor understanding of the law and Constitution or possibly chose to read it according to their wishes.

But we hope that he will at least read up what these two Prime Ministers have to say about Malaysia being a secular state instead of trying to give us the flimsy answer of this country’s history being premised on an Islamic Malay Sultanate government.

If Jamil Khir takes the trouble to read up the historical documents, including the Reid Reports 1957 and the minutes of the meetings between the Tunku and leaders of the Alliance, he would be aware of the repeated emphasis that the constitution was framed on the basis that the Federation would be a secular state.

We also want to refer Jamil Khir to the Supreme Court decision in Che Omar bin Che Soh v Public Prosecutor (1988) when the five-man bench comprising Tun Salleh Abas LP, Wan Suleiman SCJ, George Seah SCJ, Hashim Yeop A. Sani SCJ and Syed Agil Barakbah unanimously declared that Malaysia is a secular state and not Islamic.

We salute our two former Prime Ministers and the judges for stating in clear terms that Malaysia is a secular state.

Over the past few years, it is clear that religious figures and PAS theologian-politicians have been pushing hard for their Islamist agenda. They have been chipping in slowly but seemingly effectively into our political and judicial structures.

The result today is that the authority of our leaders, the police and the judges has been compromised. Many Malaysians have the perception that these people dare not stand up against the powerful religious bodies.

What is of concern is that their fear may be due to the fact that they share the same faith and ethnicity, and anything they say can be easily labelled as speaking out against their own community.

This is not how it should be. The people in all our branches of government, from the executive, the legislative and the judiciary, all take their oath of office to uphold the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the nation. Their personal faith issues cannot interfere with how they carry out their duties.

The non-Muslims, meanwhile, are beginning to feel apprehensive over the direction that this country is taking, which they have known to be moderate and secular. Suddenly, the religious tide seems to be stronger in all spheres of life.

Not too long ago, Jamil Khir reportedly said the Govern­ment is prepared to support any bill on the implementation of hudud.

Until now, he has not clarified if that was his personal opinion because, as we know, there has been no such official move by the ruling government, despite the occasional bravado by some Umno politicians trying to show they are more Islamic than PAS.

Malaysians would like to know whether any of our politicians will be brave enough to say our Bapa Merdeka, who was instrumental in drawing up our Federal Constitution and other vital documents to seek our independence, had been wrong all this while.


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