The national interfaith council has weighed in on the debate on whether Malaysia is a secular state and if hudud should be implemented in the country, pointing to historical evidence and provisions in the Constitution which dispel any doubts that the nation’s founding fathers had intended the nation to be a secular, not an Islamic state.
Citing historical documents such as the Alliance Memorandum submitted to the Reid Commission in 1956, and the white paper issued by the British government in June 1957, the council pointed out there was no historical document to contradict the fact that Malaysia was intended to be a secular state.
The Alliance Memorandum was jointly submitted by Umno, MCA and MIC to the Reid Commission and specifically stated that they wanted a secular state, although the religion of the state was to be Islam.
These assertions were made by Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikkhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) president Jagir Singh in response to a recent statement by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom that Malaysia was not a secular state.
Jamil Khir had also said that the formation of Malaysia was based on the Islamic administration of the Malay sultanates and that the Malay sultans were heads of Islam in their respective states.
Jagir said that a secular state did not mean that religion and the state were completely separate.
"For example, countries like Turkey and Indonesia are grounded in Islamic principles but are secular.
"Therefore Malaysia can be described as a secular country with Islam as the religion of the federation but where Islam does not form the basic laws and where the Constitution is the supreme law," he added.
According to Jagir, Article 4(1) also made it clear that the Constitution, not shariah law, was the supreme law of the land.
He added that the words Islamic law and shariah courts were not even found in the 1957 Constitution.
"The Muslim courts were renamed Shariah courts in 1976 by amending Schedule 9, similarly 'Muslim law' was amended to read 'Islamic law'.”
As such, Jagir said the interfaith group was against any plan to implement hudud in the country.
He said the council was concerned that its implementation would undermine the consensus reached between the different communities, as well as the Constitution and fundamental rights, including freedom of religion.
"It will turn this country from a parliamentary democracy into Islamic theocracy and under this, God's law is supreme, which means the Quran and Sunnah become the reference points, not the Constitution."
He added that of the 57 Islamic countries in the world, only a dozen have implemented hudud and they did not include the two most populous Muslim nations – Indonesia and Bangladesh.
"The conditions are not suitable for the implementation of hudud in Malaysia because it would require a pious society that is honest, and because when the punishment is meted out, it is irreversible," he added.
Federation of Taoist Associations of Malaysia president Daozhang Tan Hoe Chieow said the process of Islamisation began in 1980s as a political response to the inability of the Malay Muslim mind to come to terms with the pains and pitfalls of moderation and hyper modernity.
"This created the need for fundamentalist Muslims to retreat to a safer zone of religious comfort by calling for the imposition of cultural laws like shariah and its instrument of control, which is hudud," he said.
Malaysia Hindu Sangam president Datuk R.S. Mohan Shan said that even without hudud, non-Muslims were being oppressed as many institutions were turning a blind eye in cases of conversion of children, child custody cases and the raid by Jais on the Bible Society of Malaysia.
"Jais's raid on the Bible Society only proves that they are trying to regulate other religions.
"So even without hudud, there is so much injustice by non-functioning institutions and matters will only worsen if hudud is introduced."
Mohan said it was not true that hudud would not affect non-Muslims in Malaysia, pointing out that Section 52 of the Kelantan Shariah Criminal Enactment stated that non-Muslims could elect to come under shariah law.
"This is clearly unconstitutional as jurisdiction is by law. It cannot be obtained by submission or acceptance," he said.
Council of Churches of Malaysia general-secretary Rev Dr Hermen Shastri said the hudud issue was an example of intra-Islamic contestation taking place in the political sphere.
"Those speaking about these issues are trying to increase their Islamic credentials, while Umno and PAS are trying to out-Islamicise each other," he said.
Hermen said what was more urgently needed in the country was for a fair, transparent and accountable system of governance.
"We don't even have this in our country," he said.
PAS had previously announced plans to introduce two private members’ bills in Parliament this month to allow it to enforce hudud in Kelantan.
However, it postponed the tabling of the bills, explaining that it was to give sufficient time for a joint Putrajaya and Kelantan government committee to study the implementation of the shariah penal code.
Notwithstanding that, PAS has maintained that it was determined to implement hudud.
The private members' bills would have allowed the Kelantan government to enforce the Kelantan Shariah Penal Code II, which was passed in 1993 by the state assembly. – June 29, 2014.