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“There is no compulsion in religion”

IN part two of this exclusive interview, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) Member of Parliament (MP) for Kulim-Bandar Baru, Zulkifli Nordin, shares his views with The Nut Graph about the position of Islam in Malaysia.

Although he remains staunch about defending Islam’s position, Zulkifli was surprisingly candid in his asides regarding Islamic laws in Malaysia. On moral policing by the various state Islamic religious affairs departments, he said the officers would be better off visiting hospital wards at 3am, rather than spying on couples.

He even talked about the current hype in the Malay-language media about Norman Hakim’s khalwat detention, and marital problems. “Why should we humiliate him like that? And also the wife and the other woman involved?”

Zulkifli recounted a Hadith (recorded saying) of Prophet Muhammad that tells of a pregnant woman who felt guilty about committing adultery and confessed it to Muhammad. Muhammad turned her away repeatedly and told her to take care of her pregnancy, and then her newborn child. But after giving birth and suckling her child, the woman still returned to confess. It was only then that Muhammad sentenced her to stoning.

Zulkifli said he is guided by the Quranic injunction “There is no compulsion in religion” (Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:256). In this interview, he shares his views on the rights of non-Muslims, apostasy of Muslims, the Islamic state, and accusations that his stand is similar to that of Umno’s.

TNG: As an MP, you would have constituents who are non-Muslims. With all these issues coming out in the press recently, what has your relationship been like with your non-Muslim constituents?

Zulkifli: In fact, during the election campaign, I was among the few candidates who continued with the Islamic cause. I gave sermons during Friday prayers, I gave classes after Maghrib prayers, in the surau, mosque and whatnot. So they know. They know my stand. So I said that fighting or defending Islam doesn’t mean we discriminate [against] the non-Muslims. In fact, if we understand Islam better, it is for the betterment of the community. And at the constituency level, the people there can see that I don’t discriminate. I’m among one of the MPs that has visited the temple. I went to one of the functions in one of the Buddhist temples.

The vihara.

I even entered one of the wat Siam during their service. So they see, “[People] call him the Islamic extremist, but….” On the ground, they understand that what I’m fighting [for] is to defend the rights of Muslims as provided under the constitution. It doesn’t touch on their rights. It doesn’t touch on the welfare, or the wellbeing of the other communities, the non-Muslim communities. As far as I’m concerned, at the ground level, I treat everybody as equals.

That’s why, everybody who’s there will know that when I give my speeches I will begin with saying that when I contested, I contested under the PKR banner. But once elected, I am MP for everybody regardless of religion, race, and background. Ya, all my constituents: I have an obligation to service you people. In fact, my service center is [run] by Malays, Chinese and Indian [Malaysians]. You can go to my service center. My hardworking officer is actually an Indian [Malaysian].

Going back to the constitution, what about groups like Article 11, who say they are upholding Article 11 of the Federal Constitution?

Are they? Because if they look at themselves in the mirror, they will see that what they are saying goes against the decision of the Federal Court. If you respect the Federal Court, if you respect the system, you should respect the decision of the Federal Court. Just because the Federal Court decided against your argument doesn’t mean that the Federal Court is wrong and you start attacking the court. Then it never ends.

You have to accept the Federal Court has made a decision. After a lengthy argument. A very lengthy argument.

In fact, we were given a few days, and for the first time the Federal Court even allowed non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to submit, including the Bar Council and 13 other non-Muslim NGOs. And we were given the opportunity also, the Muslim NGOs, three of us. What I’m trying to say is, we were given time, we were given space, we were given the opportunity to present our views. And the Federal Court finally decided. And they decided against their (the Bar Council’s) argument, i.e. Article 11(1) does not allow a Muslim to become an apostate.

You are referring to the Lina Joy decision.

[Yes], Lina Joy’s case.

So your position is that a Muslim should not be allowed to convert out of Islam.

No, that’s where there is the misconception. We have never said a Muslim cannot convert out. We are saying that there is a mechanism and procedure provided under syariah law for a Muslim to become an apostate. So that mechanism, that procedure, should be settled in the proper forum, i.e. the Syariah Court. Assuming for example, even if it goes to the civil court, the civil court has still got to call those experts in Islamic law [to determine] how does a Muslim become an apostate.

We have never said, and I want to make it very clear, we have never said a Muslim cannot become an apostate. But the manner and procedure of doing so must be decided at the proper forum. Especially in Malaysia, the constitution has expressly separated the two jurisdictions: civil and syariah. So why not go to the Syariah Court? [They are] the proper authority, with all the background and expertise that they have. So that’s all, and that’s what the Federal Court says. The Federal Court said: “It’s not that we’re saying you cannot convert out, but you must go to the proper forum.” Let them decide according to their own principles.

Because in Malaysia that is the situation, i.e. there are two jurisdictions, competent, not subordinate to the other. [The parallel legal system] is competent. This has been settled; the syariah court and the civil court are two competent jurisdictions. So you go to the Syariah Court. That is all, that’s about all. So the question [that] you cannot convert out, you know, or you are infringing rights… no, no, no. It doesn’t arise at all.

In 2006, Abim president Yusri Mohamad said the Internal Security Act (ISA) should be used against bad apostates. Are you agreeable to that position?

I don’t recall that they made any statement of that nature. But I don’t think it’s a proper use of ISA. In fact, the ISA should not even be there. In my speech I said so, but it was not even highlighted… I said if we are really applying Islamic principles, the ISA should be abolished.

For that matter, this applies to any law, like Popo (the Emergency [Public Order and Prevention of Crime] Ordinance 1969); Escar (the Essential [Security Cases] Regulations 1975); and a lot of other laws that infringe on the rights of the subject by not giving them the opportunity to defend themselves. This is totally repugnant to the Islamic justice system. It should not be allowed. And I said that in my speech. That was not highlighted, obviously.

The Attorney-General’s (AG) Chambers’ Komuniti Syariah has suggested that perhaps there should be a sort of Akta Murtad. Do you think this would be a positive move?

I don’t think the AG meant Akta Murtad in the sense of an apostasy law. [The law] is to regulate apostasy. To provide the procedure.

What happens? How do you handle it? How do you go about doing it? Do you send him (the apostate) for rehabilitation? Do you punish him? Or do you just allow it (apostasy)? What do we do? But it must be decided under Islamic law, as decided by the Federal Court. And I think it’s right. It’s the right decision.

Because, as I said just now, if you go to the civil court, it’s the same because they’ve still got to call the Islamic experts. So, why waste time calling the Islamic experts when you have the [syariah] court itself?

Would you support any effort to set up an Islamic state in Malaysia?

I don’t think the Islamic state is an issue here. If you look at my cause what we want is actually [an] Islamic way of life, including [Islamic] law to be applied to Muslims. As provided under Article 11(1), every person has the right to profess and practise his religion. A Muslim has every right to profess and practise his religion. So let us Muslims be allowed to practise and profess our own religion the way the religion should be professed and practised. In that sense I agree.

If the religion, for example Islam, has regulations, has laws [based] on a criminal system then let them (the adherents of the religion) have it. We are not saying that the rest, the non-Muslims, are subjected to this law. I’m saying the Muslims should be allowed to profess and practise their religion, Islam, in accordance with Islamic principles. In that sense I would agree.

But if you talk about imposing an Islamic state in the sense that everybody is governed by Islamic law, I don’t agree. Because Islam allows non-Muslims to be regulated by laws other than Islamic law.

So, you support Islamic law just for Muslims.

Just for the Muslims. As provided under Article 11(1).

But some people think that what you have been doing and saying is quite similar to Umno’s Datuk Ahmad Ismail’s pendatang comments.

Ahmad Ismail, he concentrates on Malay issues. The rights of the Malays and whatnot, and denies the rights of others. I talk about Islamic issues and the rights of the Muslims as provided under the constitution. And I narrow down to those actions that are deemed to be subverting Islam. Like the actions of the Bar Council in questioning the syariah courts, in questioning conversions. For me that is against the constitution.

Because the constitution has provided a proper framework where you can settle disputes. And, in fact, it has been decided by the Federal Court, so by raising it again by way of public debate I think it’s actually attacking the institution, the Islamic institution, in this case the Syariah Court. So I don’t see any similarity at all between my stand and Umno’s for this matter.

Is there anything else you would like to clarify, perhaps something that hasn’t been highlighted?

One thing I would like to emphasise is that whenever I speak on the Islamic cause, I’m talking about the rights of Muslims as provided by the constitution. I have never touched on the rights of non-Muslims. We will preserve it, we will fight for it.

That’s why in my speech (in Parliament) recently, I propagated the establishment of a Chinese mosque. Why? The reason is because I want to show the Malaysian people that Islam does not belong to the Malays. It belongs to everybody. And I am surprised by the response. So many Chinese wrote to me, e-mailed me, SMSed me, asking: “Eh, we never knew that you can have Chinese mosque! We thought it must only be for Malays.” I said: “No, no, no, Islam is for all!”

Islam is for all. It’s just that the Malays have created this atmosphere that it is an exclusive religion for them. No, we have to undo that myth. Islam belongs to all. That’s why I propagate the establishment of the Chinese mosque.

Secondly, in my speech, if anybody cared to listen, I said that the rights of non-Muslims must also be protected. That’s why I made a strong statement on the detention of the five Hindraf leaders. They must be released. I may or may not agree with them, that’s a different thing altogether. But their detention, that is not right under [an] Islamic justice system.

So, what I’m trying to show is that I don’t narrow myself down to Umno-type issues. [To them], everything Malay [is] exclusive — nobody can touch. No, I’m talking about Islamic issues. So, in that sense, I hope people do not confuse my approach with Umno’s to the extent of speculating that there’s a strong possibility I may be joining Umno. No, I’m not going to leave PKR unless they kick me out (chuckles). I’m not going to leave PKR, my struggle is with PKR, and I hope we can build a new society in which we understand each other better.

See also Part I: “It’s God’s will”

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7 Responses to ““There is no compulsion in religion””

  1. Liz Lee says:

    If most of the Malays in Malaysia could think and act like this guy, Malaysia would be a peaceful and loving country, and the idea of migrating to other countries would not have arisen again and again, from generation to generation.

  2. Rina Teh says:

    I must give credit to The Nut Graph for making this exclusive interview. It cleared up a lot of unanswered questions and anger about Zulkifli Nordin’s stand in PKR. In fact his view seems fair which comes as a surprise given that he budged into a forum in quite a rowdy manner. I’m sure after reading this article many would agree that his views are not that extreme as portrayed even though I don’t agree in the manner of his disrupting the forum. To Shanon Shah you picked an appropriate subject and ease many troubled minds. Salute to you. Rina, Bratislava

  3. Justin says:

    In my opinion his arguments sound very good if you just read this interview without second thoughts. Upon analyzing what he said you’ll find that he has very poor arguments.

    Take for example his arguments against the group “Article 11”, he equates a proper and serious discussion about uncertainties and problems about our interpretation of the constitution by the courts as not respecting our justice system. Furthermore, he argues that we should blindly accept whatever decision made by the Federal Court should be respected and upheld and cannot be discussed. It would do him a lot of good if he understood what the NGO “Article 11” is pushing for ( They are basically arguing that the court’s decision or indecision, whichever way you look at it, is the problem. They are trying to get the courts, politicians or whoever with ability to do something to resolve the gray areas when it involves issues relating to Muslims and non-Muslims especially when it involves spouses converting to Islam and leaving their partners and children in some legal limbo. Which is exactly what the forum organized the “Article 11” is trying to discuss.

    Another thing, he said that in order for a Muslim to considered an apostate they should go through the proper channels which is through the Syariah courts. However I would argue that firstly the whole idea of needing permission to change one’s religioin is preposterous, it creates barriers towards our freedom to choose and practice our religion. The more serious argument I have is that the depending on which state you’re in there are different barriers to be declared an apostate, some do not even allow apostates and apostates are treated as criminals. ( This is the crux of the problem, the “forum” that Zulkifli mentions so often in the interview does not work and creates unneccesary barriers.

    Lastly, my argument against his justification or excuses as to why tried to stop the discussion is that if he has any good arguments then he should be in that forum putting his points out rather than demanding that the forum be stopped. If his arguments are valid, rational and practical I am sure it would be accepted, however trying to stifle a legitimate discussion by demanding it to be shut down is just nothing more than mob mentality.

  4. Kayuu says:

    Politicians are masters at half-truths, and Zulkifli Nordin is no different. By the way, Mahathir Mohamad is the king of half-truths.

    Zul says that there is no compulsion to remain in Islam if one decides to leave, however the catch is that the person has to abide by the “proper procedures”. What he does not say is that these procedures are hurdles to stop anyone from leaving the religion. They are insurmountable as in Lina Joy’s case. Yet they keep telling us that Muslims can convert out of Islam. Read up on history and open your eyes to what has happened to those who tried to leave the religion.

    Zul wants non-Muslims to seek redress in syariah courts but is it not true that the word of a non-Muslim does not carry the same weight as a Muslim’s?

  5. kjjohn says:

    I beg to differ. Even the Federal Court can be wrong in their final decision. After all, the dissenting judgment was exactly opposite in views and decision.

    The constitution is the supreme law of the nation and we cannot say yet whether the Lina Joy case was correctly decided. I think the honourable judges were wrong in the majority decision, but we may have to wait for the decision for the essence of the administrative law judgment to be challenged in another circumstance before we can make the final conclusion.

    At it stands Lina Joy’s right of citizenship was denied by the decision, and therefore all her rights of citizenship, and the principle of the freedom of human choice, personal conscience, and her God-given dignity. Questioning and challenging this decision is not going against any institution of the nation but rather questioning the credibility of the existing judicial system which has now been proven to be corrupt!

  6. kawaib hadil says:

    re kjjohn’s comment
    Muslims will beg to differ with you John. Islamic law is the supreme law of this land and everything else. How can a Muslim administer or support secular law if he (she) is to uphold the supremacy of his faith?

    It is a pity the reporter did not ask Zul if he would continue to use force/violence to defend Islam as he had done when he forced his way in and disrupted the conference? Many Muslims feel he was justified in doing that.

  7. Johan Z. says:

    Malaysian Member of Parliament (MP) Zulkifli Nordin tries his level best to look reasonable, speak softly and present his religion, Islam, in the best possible light.

    He’s also the same man who led an unruly Muslim mob into a Malaysian Bar Council meeting on religious freedom earlier this year and forcibly broke up the proceedings.

    Well, in a recent media interview, this, ahem, humble public servant tries to clear up the, uh, misunderstanding and perform a little damage control in the process. There is no ‘compulsion’ in Islam, anyone can leave Islam, and golly, it’s just a swell religion that’s tragically misunderstood.

    Don’t be fooled. The interview is clearly a slick and carefully crafted piece of Islamist propaganda, pure and simple. I would trust this guy as far as I could throw him. I am not convinced or comforted at all. Nor should anyone else.

    For starters, if there’s no ‘compulsion’ in Islam, then why the need for Jakim (Islamic lifestyle police), Syariah courts and the like? Why the need for coercion? Aren’t these coercive mechanisms exactly the compulsion that Zulkifli claims to abhor so much? That Islam supposedly abhors as well? If Islam is really supposed to be about free will, then why does virtually every majority Muslim country have a government-supported lifestyle police force with sweeping police powers? Well?

    If Zulkifli really wanted to put his money where his mouth is, then he would back the idea of dissolving Jakim and Islamic courts, and ending the lavish taxpayer support for Islamic religious police, and imams and Syariah judges on government payrolls, tens of thousands of people who take their salaries and produce little to no worthy service in return. But of course, Zulkifli will say no such thing.

    And then Zulkifli talks about how anyone who wants to be an apostate (i.e. free of Islam) just has to subject himself/herself to a ‘procedure’ of going to the Syariah courts and ‘applying’ to be one. What this Muslim apologist neglects to tell you (of course) is how demeaning, lengthy, intrusive and unjust this entire ‘procedure’ is–full of psychological torture, intimidation, arm-twisting, etc…all carried out in so-called ‘religious rehab’ facilities where the unfortunate soul is isolated from family and friends. And then there are other very real hardships these people face, like threats to one’s livelihood, loss of income and property, etc.

    If Islam is against ‘compulsion in religion’, then why should anyone be compelled to endure a humiliating ‘mechanism’ when no crime has been committed? Oh I almost forgot, in Islam, apostasy IS a crime; and in Malaysia, apostasy from Islam is also a crime in at least five states (Perak, Malacca, Sabah, Terengganu, and Pahang). So I won’t hold my breath waiting for Zulkifli and his ilk to disclose these inconvenient facts.

    And Zulkifli also won’t tell you that virtually no one has ever been granted permission to leave Islam in Malaysia. For sake of argument, assume for a moment our wanna-be apostate can endure years of fighting the Islamic courts, years of abuse and torture in ‘religious rehabilitation’ and isn’t bankrupted in the process. The chance of our applicant actually being approved is almost nil. If memory serves me correctly, there have been *just* two Malaysians who were granted this right–one was already dead, and the other had converted (‘reverted’) to Islam in adulthood by marriage. No ‘natural born’ Malaysian Muslim has ever been given official permission to leave Islam while still breathing.

    Lastly, Zulkifli talks about how the rights of non Muslims must be ‘protected’. Protected from who, exactly? If Islam is all sweetness and light, why would the hapless kufr need ‘protection’ in the first place? When non Muslims are persecuted and bullied, when Hindus have the bodies of their deceased loved ones taken away, or Christians have their churches bulldozed, all on the slimmest of pretexts, who’s doing the body snatching and bulldozing? Last time I checked, Mr. Zulkifli, it wasn’t the Buddhists.

    Zulkifli may be a thoughtful-looking, soft-spoken natty dresser who says the right things when the tape recorder is rolling. But never forget that this man is in fact a jihadist who wants precisely the same things that his more violent coreligionists bomb and kill for — i.e. a worldwide Caliphate that is ruled by Syariah law. This is what Zulkifli means when he says over and over “Islam for all”.

    I don’t know what Malaysians want, but no thanks, Mr. Zulkifli. I don’t want the dreck that you’re shoveling.

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