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MCA: Malaysia is a secular state

AS MCA Political Education Bureau head, I have reservations over the written reply given by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to Member of Parliament for Bukit Gelugor Karpal Singh in the Dewan Rakyat on 12 March 2009 that “Malaysia is a ‘negara Islam’.”

I welcome the prime minister’s statement that Malaysia is not a theocratic state and shall adhere to a parliamentary democratic system as enshrined in the Federal Constitution. But the reference of Malaysia as a “negara Islam” by the prime minister is wholly unnecessary, as the phrase “negara Islam” will only serve to confuse the rakyat and cause unwanted fear.

Historical documents

The MCA is of the position that Malaysia is nothing but a secular state. This is evidenced from the following historical accounts and the subsequent debates when the Federal Constitution was drafted:

The Alliance Memorandum submitted to the Reid Constitution Commission on 27 Sept 1956 clearly stated that “the religion of Malaya shall be Islam … and shall not imply that the state is not a secular state.”

  When the Working Party, comprising the Alliance and the rulers’ representatives and the High Commissioner, met on 22 Feb 1957 to review the Reid Commission draft on the possibility of the provision on religion being misinterpreted, the Alliance and Umno chief Tunku Abdul Rahman assured the Working Party that “the whole Constitution was framed on the basis that the Federation would be a secular state.”

  At the London Constitutional talks in May 1957, the Colonial Office did not object to the inclusion of an official religion after being assured by the Alliance leaders that they “had no intention of creating a Muslim theocracy and that Malaya would be a secular state.”

  On behalf of the Alliance, (later Tun) Tan Siew Sin told the federal legislature that the inclusion of the official religion “… does not in any way derogate from the principle, which has always been accepted, that Malaya will be a secular state and that there would be complete freedom to practise any other religion.”

  A year after Independence, on 1 May 1958, then Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman clarified in the Legislative Council that “I would like to make it clear that this country is not an Islamic state as it is generally understood. We merely provide that Islam shall be the official religion of the state.”

Judicial recognition

The above position has received judicial recognition. Former Lord President Tun Mohamed Salleh Abas, in Che Omar bin Che Soh v Public Prosecutor (1988), stated that the term “Islam” in Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution meant “only such acts as relate to rituals and ceremonies… the law in this country is … secular law.”

The former Lord President Tun Mohamed Suffian Hashim also wrote that Islam was made the official religion primarily for ceremonial purposes, to enable prayers to be offered in the Islamic way on official public occasions, such as the installation or birthday of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Independence Day and similar occasions.

Constitution law expert Prof Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi and prominent legal scholar, the late Tan Sri Professor Ahmad Ibrahim, also shared the above observations.

The MCA is of the position that the guiding principles for public administration in our beloved multiracial country shall always adhere to universal values of equality, justice, fairness, transparency, mutual respect, the rule of law, etc., which transcends all religions.

Gan Ping Sieu
MCA Spokesperson and Head of MCA Political Education Bureau

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7 Responses to “MCA: Malaysia is a secular state”

  1. PH Chin says:

    A well-researched piece.

    What is MCA’s plan to enlighten the rakyat that Malaysia is a secular state and not “negara Islam”? And that Islam as the official religion does not mean Malaysia is a “negara Islam”?

  2. tengku mohd faizal says:

    Don’t really think that the mainstream Malays will worry so much about this. Probably Umno’s brand of Malays will make a big fuss about all this.

    After all that’s said, based on Malaysia’s birth rate, probably in 50 to 100 years, Malays will constitute about 80 to 90 per cent of the population. By that time, I believe this issue will no longer be an issue.

  3. Chinese Malaysian says:

    Strange…why come up with this statement only at this stage and not earlier? MCA should not “go with the flow” and make statements that suit the sentiment of the times.The damage has already been done.

  4. vp says:

    What has MCA done all these years to uphold the statement? Nothing! Umno top leaders have been saying “Malaysia is an Islamic country” numerous times but nothing has been done by MCA, except to remain silent.

    How can MCA leaders today face up to Tun Tan’s vision and mission statement? Again, nothing but silence. This is the way MCA upholds its principle.

    After losing 25 seats from the 40 seats they contested in March 08, MCA still remains silent, waiting for their last stronghold of Johor to collapse, and for dooms day together with Umno.

  5. kml says:

    The constitution means: “Malaysia follows rituals and ceremonies based on Islamic ways” but definitely does not mention “Negara Islam”. With all these arguments, Malaysia is a SECULAR STATE.

  6. Karcy says:

    Actually, Malaysia is a Negara Islam. It is a Muslim country. It is not, however, an Islamic country. Politicians, of course, enjoy the muddy waters language offers with the phrase.

    Reading this is certainly enlightening of the nature of our Bapa Merdeka. Clearly, Tunku Abdul Rahman was an Anglophile. He envied and loved the British, and he held a great amount of love — and not a bit of sadness — for his people, the Malays (this I gather from reading his writings). As such, he sought to create the same system for the Malays of this country with the British combination of Church and State. Alas for our Bapa Merdeka, he was wrong about an important issue: Islam practices no separation between Church and State.

    I wonder about the basis for an Islamic theocracy. I’ve often heard that the theological argument for it is that Muhammad led a country, so as such the methods of running a country were already set forth by the Prophet. But (and I speak as a non-believer interested in Islamic theology) with almost all Islamic theocratic states around the world being magnificent moral failures, one wonders if it is possible to establish a proper theocracy in the first place. The Caliphs who inherited Muhammad’s legacy were caught in bitter division that led to war, and the violence from that split is still felt today.

    Perhaps only Muhammad was the man to rule in perfect manner? What is the theological basis for using the Medina Charter or syariah law as the basis of the formation of a country, anyway? I mean this as an earnest question.

  7. zoun says:

    What is MCA’s plan to enlighten the rakyat that Malaysia is a secular state and not “negara Islam”? And that Islam as the official religion does not mean Malaysia is a “negara Islam”?

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