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The constitutional right to unbelief


THE Rukunegara‘s first principle emphasises belief in God, in case anyone has forgotten.

In our Federal Constitution, Article 11 upholds freedom of religion.

Personally, I view both items to be out of touch with the rakyat of today.

During a recent roundtable on the future of this country, I said that as a democracy, Malaysia is not moving fast enough to bring its laws, concepts, and constitution into the 21st century.

For example, we amended our Federal Constitution to include the concept of gender equality only in 2001.

Going back to what the Rukunegara and constitution say about God and religion — do we have a problem with people who don’t believe in God altogether?

Is there an absence of morality among these citizens?

If not, then shouldn’t Article 11 be reviewed and amended to uphold freedom of “belief”?

Accordingly, shouldn’t Article 8 then also state that there shall be no discrimination against citizens on the ground only of belief (instead of religion), race, descent, place of birth or gender?

The God Delusion
Book cover for The God Delusion

In this day and age, when a book like The God Delusion is widely available to the masses, the matter of religion should be a private one. Therefore, it should not be used in the scrutiny of laws, concepts, or even the Federal Constitution for that matter.

Personally, I don’t see a problem with people not believing in God. I mean, God has been used as an excuse for bigotry, bias, irrational behaviour, misguided education, and even suicide.

Religion is also being used as a tool for idiocy.

For instance, how can you use religion as an excuse to ban a healthy activity like yoga?

Or to tell women how to dress, so they don’t look or act too much like men?

Hostility towards dialogue

Frankly, I’ll just focus on my religion, Islam, in this rant of mine. Because apparently, if you criticise someone else’s religion you can be detained without trial and fed food fit for dogs.

In Islam, there is a concept called amar ma’ruf, nahi munkar which basically means “practising good, rejecting evil”. And this is of course congruent with the teachings of other religions.

So how could Muslims say that ours is the only correct religion in the world and the hereafter, and yet won’t even hold inter-faith dialogues to argue why we believe this?

In fact, some of us were so scared that we held protests in Penang when the umbrella group of non-governmental organisations called Article 11 held a forum there in 2006.

So you can forgive me for getting the shock of my life when I read the article Overcoming religious sensitivity by Md Asham Ahmad of the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (Ikim). The shock, of course, comes from the fact that Ikim is finally asking for people to be less sensitive towards the issue of religion. Asham says:

“It is senseless to restrain people from the urge to know and understand the environment in which they live. It is akin to reinforcing ignorance, which is actually at the root of fanaticism and racism. Instead, why don’t we make discussion concerning religion something interesting, enjoyable, and beneficial to all?”

And then he continues:

“To understand and to be understood we need to talk. If we do not talk about religion how are we going to understand it, and make others understand it? How are we going to eliminate misunderstandings about it, and differentiate truth from falsehood?”

I honestly think the same also applies for discussions on laws pertaining to religion.

Zulkifli Nordin

When the Bar Council recently held a talk to discuss the laws involved in religious conversions, again it was certain Muslim groups who somehow saw this as a threat to Islam.

One of the protesters was Parti Keadilan Rakyat Member of Parliament for Kulim-Bandar Baru, Zulkifli Nordin, who was recently interviewed by The Nut Graph. Zulkifli’s positions on Islam have been contradictory, at best, and downright hostile, at worst.

Out of touch

I find the views of religious conservatives truly out of touch with the times.

For example, instead of having events and concerts banned for every single person, why not just advise Muslims not to attend these events, and let them come to their own conclusions?

Why instead disrespect the non-Muslims who want to enjoy such entertainment?

Are we, as an entire nation, not supposed to cater for the entire community, and not just to Muslims?

Even then, by disallowing Muslims to attend such events, are we actually stopping immorality?

Sure, you ban an Inul concert, but will that actually stop people from viewing her gyrations on a VCD, or even on YouTube?

Are the numbers of mat rempits, drug addicts, rapists, and robbers somehow decreasing with this new-found zeal in moral policing?

Religion is, without a doubt, one way of enforcing a person to live a moral life. However, most religions forget or totally disregard that biologically, human beings come with a brain capable enough of helping them make moral decisions of their own.

Religion needs to be discussed to foster understanding
(© Sachin Ghodke /
Didn’t the prophet Abraham wander the earth, looking for a God to worship before he came to the conclusion that God wasn’t there, but all-encompassing?

Even the so-called guardians of religion are not without fault. I mean, since the Mufti of Perak forwarded an SMS alleging the apostasy of mariner Datuk Azhar Mansor, isn’t the mufti himself guilty of fitnah (slander)?

With this in mind, I think people should seriously consider first following religious edicts themselves, even before going about using religious injunctions against any other human being.

Thus, I also think the Rukunegara and constitution should be amended to include those who may not believe in God, but are moral enough to be courteous compared with some “defenders of the religion”. TNG

See also: Malaysia isn’t Medina

Ahmad Hafidz Baharom is a paradox. He’s an anti-smoking chain smoker, an environmentalist who leaves his office lights on, a centrist who’s a lalang, and a twentysomething yuppie who dreams of being a slacker. Basically, he’s a lovable moron.

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9 Responses to “The constitutional right to unbelief”

  1. ron says:

    Right before the March general elections, I remember reading a letter in Malaysiakini where the writer listed the qualities he looked for in an MP.
    It was a good list, except for the last point which was belief in God. I wondered how that made anyone more qualified to be a good leader or better citizen. In my opinion it really shouldn’t.
    Not believing in God is an equally valid conviction as any. So thanks for this article; it’s about time someone pointed it out.

  2. Rewarp says:

    Excellent article. Very much what one should be expecting from our undergraduates in university, most of whom are unfortunately zombies unwilling to question, find answers, and think.

    My fellow classmates are rather more willing to condemn the secular as outright wrong, something that disturbs me more than their belief in religion.

  3. Melissa says:

    All valid points, though I am a Christian. I totally respect your right not to subscribe to any religion, though, despite the part of the Bible that asks me to “go and make disciples of all the nations”. I am not willing to do that, and I think God understands why, even though my church and Christian society may think less of me.

    Religion (or the lack thereof) is such an immensely personal thing. No one, absolutely NO one else should intervene unless invited to. None of us truly, truly knows which version is the truth. Maybe we’re all somehow right, or maybe we just fade into dust and then petroleum. Until we know for sure, why is tolerance such a scary concept?

  4. Wow, and here I thought the whole “cast stones and burn in hellfire group” would be on me. :)

  5. robin banks says:

    Very true, some people know how to read verses from Quran by heart but don’t even know the slightest meaning…

  6. Jon says:

    I agree with your views on religion and how it has shaped certain views of politicians and their policies on running their country. However, being a non-Muslim, I would be putting myself in the firing line if I were to write exactly what you wrote here. However, I wrote a similar article but sure enough, I got all kinds of responses from all sorts of people.

    Anyhow, what you were trying to convey in your article was exactly what I had on my mind. Keep up the good work!

  7. Lainie says:

    The “kepercayaan kepada tuhan” part always struck me as rather presumptuous. Brings me back to my school days, when I had to defend my non-religious status, while classmates pointed to the back of our buku kerja, where the Rukunegara is printed.

  8. non-conformist says:

    Readers should read the book “God is not great”. The author’s conclusion is that God does not exist, and that he is an atheist. Because of this book, thousands of readers were encouraged and openly declared their “atheism” – much like gays who openly declare their likings. Atheism is not synonymous with amorality. Look at the world today. See who is killing whom. Readers should also read “War of the World” where the author summarises the killings of man by fellow man over the last 200 years, all of which was helped along by “religion”. My own take is that religion has become a club. Period.

  9. Justitia says:

    Last month, I ran a human rights awareness-raising session with a group of women who were nearly all Malay. Formally, they were not highly educated and most were housewives.

    When I touched on the issue of freedom of religion, they were all accepting and respectful of people with different religions. Then I asked, “What about people who do not believe in a religion?” One woman immediately replied, “They are animals!” There was laughter, and when that died down, we chatted a bit about being and doing good, and morality. When I finally asked them whether those were dependent on a belief in God, they agreed with me that people could have good moral values, be good and do good even if they did not.

    The next day, when we re-visited the issue of freedom of religion in a different context, they presented clearly and accepted that freedom of religion also included the right to not have a religion.

    Women like them cheer me up when I despair that we will ever be right thinking again. Then I remember: it’s the politicians and religious leaders who are scary.

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