FORMER prime ministers Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, and current Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, when he was still deputy premier, have all proclaimed Malaysia to be an Islamic state. Despite that, most Umno parliamentarians have avoided answering the question, “Do you think Malaysia should be a secular or an Islamic state? Why?”
MCA Members of Parliament (MPs), however, have unequivocally stated that Malaysia is a secular country.
These were some of the observations by Chinese-language news portal Merdeka Review when it analysed Barisan Nasional (BN) MPs’ responses to the MP Watch: Eye on the Parliament project. The Nut Graph project – likely the first of its kind – asks all 222 MPs what their stand is on six key democratic issues.
Among the BN MPs who did not respond was Abdullah Badawi, who has been an MP since 1978. Others who did not reply include Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek (Kemaman), Deputy Home Minister Datuk Abu Seman Yusop (Masjid Tanah), Domestic Trade, Co-operative and Consumerism Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob (Bera), Transport Minister Datuk Seri Kong Cho Ha (Lumut), and former minister Datuk Seri Ong Ka Chuan (Tanjung Malim).
When this Merdeka Review analysis was conducted, 109 MPs had responded to the six questions posed in MP Watch. Another 92 had not replied, while the remaining 21 had yet to be contacted. As of 1 July 2010, 58 out of 76 Pakatan Rakyat MPs had replied to MP Watch, while only 46 out of 137 BN reps had done so.
Below is The Nut Graph’s translation of Merdeka Review’s analysis, written by journalist Tan Pek Wan, with some modification. The analysis was published on 14 June 2010.
Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin (Rembau), Datuk Bung Moktar Radin (Kinabatangan), Public Accounts Committee chairperson Datuk Seri Azmi Khalid (Padang Besar), and Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal (Semporna) did not reply to the question directly.
Khairy said there were Islamic and secular elements within the country’s institutions. “For instance, we practise parallel judicial systems. For non-Muslims, syariah laws generally have little impact on their actions, and they can live by, if you like, ‘secular’ or civil laws. But the same cannot be said for Muslims,” he said.
He added that Islam was constitutionally recognised as the state’s official religion, and that state funds were channelled towards Islam’s development through, for example, the construction of mosques.
“Now, clearly this would not happen if there was complete separation between state and religion. I don’t believe non-Muslims have a quarrel with this fact. Rather, it is Malaysia’s perceived Islamisation that has reignited the debate about whether our country is Islamic or secular,” Khairy said.
Bung Moktar argued that it was unnecessary to declare whether Malaysia was Islamic or secular as the BN had been administering the country in its own way. “There is no point. Of course Islam is the official religion, but we are not an Islamic state,” he said.
Umno information chief Datuk Ahmad Maslan (Pontian) did not express his personal opinion. Instead, he noted that previous prime ministers had described Malaysia as an Islamic state; hence, he would not contradict them.
Besut MP Datuk Dr Abdullah Md Zin, who is also the religious adviser to the prime minister, said Malaysia was an Islamic country, but there were different approaches in implementing an Islamic state. “Malaysia is an Islamic country according to the understanding of the Federal Constitution, and the practice that Malay rulers and the prime minister are Muslims,” he said.
Abdullah Md Zin added that there were different interpretations of an Islamic state: “Some approaches are too extreme, some a little loose, liberal, some are ‘moderate’.”
He said Malaysia adopted the “middle path”: “[N]ot rigid or strict, not extremist yet not too liberal.”
Perkasa pro-tem president and BN-friendly independent MP Datuk Ibrahim Ali (Pasir Mas) said: “It would be good if Malaysia were to become a full-fledged Islamic state, where all citizens understand the benefits of an Islamic state, including non-Muslims.”
However, he admitted that the time was not ripe yet, and at present, Islam was the federation’s official religion while secular elements were accepted where appropriate.
Former MCA president Tan Sri Ong Ka Ting (Kulai), current MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek’s son Chua Tee Yong (Labis), Datuk Seri Dr Fong Chan Onn (Alor Gajah), MIC treasurer Datuk SK Devamany (Cameron Highlands), and Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah president Tan Sri Joseph Kurup (Pensiangan) all considered Malaysia a secular state.
“It is a secular state as was the understanding among [the] founding [leaders] of our country,” said Ong.
Ong’s brief reply was more straightforward than when he was still in office. In April 2008, Kelantan regent Tengku Muhammad Faris Petra said in a keynote speech in a forum that “Malaysia is an Islamic country, not secular.”
Ong’s response then was: “In the early years of independence, our founding leaders inserted the essence of secular law into the Federal Constitution. Hence, the secular nature of the constitution must continue in order to protect the interests of all people.”
MCA Youth chief Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong (Ayer Hitam) said in MP Watch that “we are a secular state with a Muslim majority.”
Tee Yong said that although Malaysia’s official religion was Islam, Article 11 of the constitution guaranteed the rights of other races to profess and practise their religion. “We have a significant population of non-Muslims — around 40%; thus, Malaysia should be a secular state,” he said.
MCA vice-president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai (Bentong) argued that there was a clear difference between Malaysia and other Islamic states as Malaysia practised a dual court system. The health minister said many people have attempted to label Malaysia as “secular” or “Islamic” for purely political reasons.
“Malaysia’s religious status has never fitted into a concrete definition and there is no reason for us to be forced into one,” he added.
Najib, who is also Pekan MP, did not respond to The Nut Graph. His deadline was on 14 June 2010. However, on 17 July three years ago, when he was still deputy prime minister, he declared Malaysia to be an Islamic state.
Najib was reported as saying then that “we have never been a secular state. Secular by Western definition means separation of the Islamic principles in the way we govern the country. But we have never abdicated from those principles. Malaysia has always been driven by, and adhere to, the fundamentals of Islam.”
Najib’s statement was disputed by the MCA, the Bar Council, and other civil society groups. Subsequently the Internal Security Ministry, on 19 July 2007, banned all traditional media from publishing any news on the “sensitive” topic.
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