In a FMT’s article, “Did Zahid call Malaysia an Islamic state?” Tawfik attacks the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dato’ Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi for calling Malaysia an Islamic state; because according to Tawfik, Malaysia is a secular country with Islam only as its official religion.
That makes me wonder if Tawfik Ismail, who Free Malaysia Today (FMT) referred as “a prominent opponent of theocratic governance”, has ever read the Federal Constitution or understands the definition of the word secular.
A member of a liberal group called G25, Tawfik had made uncalled statements before such as urging JAKIM to be abolished.
Below are my answers (in blue) to Tawfik’s statements (in red) as published by FMT.
PETALING JAYA: A prominent opponent of theocratic governance, Tawfik Ismail, has questioned whether Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was calling the country an Islamic state during a recent breaking of fast gathering in Alor Setar.
He said Zahid would be wrong if it was true that he rejected the notion that Malaysia was a secular state.
Contrary to Tawfik’s accusation, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi is right by calling the country an Islamic state and rejected the notion that Malaysia is or was a secular state. It is Tawfik who is constitutionally illiterate for rejecting the notion that Malaysia is an Islamic state and instead, claiming that our country is a secular state.
He was referring to a Bernama report that quoted the deputy prime minister as saying that those who claimed this country was secular should first have a look at the Federal Constitution. He said the constitution placed Islam as the official religion and referred to the country as a Muslim country.
I wonder if Bernama made a mistake in reporting when it wrote that the Deputy Prime Minister says, “the Constitution placed Islam as the official religion” because Berita Harian quoted Zahid saying that the Constitution states that Islam is the religion of the Federation. The Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia says:
Islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation.
Please note that the Constitutions says “Islam is the religion of the Federation and not ‘the official religion’. Adding the word “official” is a slender to the federal Constitution as it distorts the notion of the Article 3(1).
“It would be more accurate to call the country a Muslim-majority country. That would be factual,” Tawfik told FMT.
It is factual that Malaysia is an Islamic country, and also a Muslim-majority country.
“The constitution and the doctrine of separation of powers, the sultans’ role as heads of religion in their respective states, the notion of equality under the law, the right of everyone to stand for public office regardless of race or religion all guarantee that Malaysia is a secular country.”
Tawfik’s problem is, he does not understand the definition of a secularism which means the separation of religion and state. His above statement does not define a secular country.
Tawfik, who is a former Umno member and one-term MP of Sungai Benut, said Islam’s position as the country’s official religion gave little support to the argument that the country wasn’t secular.
Tawfik must first read the Federal Constitution before making any statement regarding the Federal Constitution. The Federal Constitution, in Article 3(1) enshrines Islam as the religion of the Federation and not as the official religion of our nation.
“I think it means the sovereign or king is Muslim and therefore Islam is considered the official religion, just like the Queen in England is head of the church.
Tawfik must first study the Federal Constitution before talking about constitutional issues.
“You could say ours is a hybrid system because we have many races practising many religions allowed under the constitution. Just because the majority of Malaysians are Malays and Malays are defined under the constitution as Muslims, making Islam the dominant religion, it doesn’t dominate other faiths.”
In the High Court decision of the case, Meor Atiqulrahman bin Ishak & Ors v Fatimah Sihi & Ors 1 MLJ 393, the then Justice Mohd Noor Abdullah had clearly clarified that the Federal Constitution has provided that other religions have no equal standing as Islam:
In my opinion, “Islam is the religion of the Federation but other religions may be practied in peace and harmony” means that Islam is the main religion among other religions that are practied in the country such as Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and others. Islam is not equal to any other religion, not sitting together or stand upright. It sits on top, he walked past, located in the field and his voice heard. Islam is like teak trees – tall, strong and skilled. If not so Islam is not the religion of the Federation but is one among several religions practised in the country and everyone is equally free to practice any religion he professes, no more one than the other. Provisions ‘Islam is the religion of the Federation’ shall be defined and reviewed with the objective to read other provisions of the Constitution, especially Article 89, 152, 153 and 14.
Bebas spokesperson Azrul Khalib also spoke on the matter, agreeing that the constitution did not put Islam in a position to dominate other religions.
Since when does a Bebas or any NGO leader is given the rights to redefine and reinterpret the supreme law of our country? It is a mind-blowing to see FMT using just a mere opinion of an NGO leader who is not even a constitutional expert to define the Federal Constitution.
“It’s important to realise that nowhere does the constitution ever intend for the country to be an Islamic state,” he told FMT.
The Malay rulers as the stakeholders of the Federation have never intent for the country to become a secular state. In fact the word secular or anything related to secularism is not even mentioned in the Federal Constitution of Malaysia.
In the conclusion of the judgement of ZI Publications Sdn Bhd and Another v Kerajaan Negeri Selangor, where The Right Honourable Tan Sri Md Raus Sharif said that:
”Taking the Federal Constitution as a whole, it is clear that it was the intention of the framers of our Constitution to allow Muslims in this country to be also governed by Islamic personal law”.
And to further prove that Malaysia was meant to be an Islamic state and not a secular state, the Federal Constitution has Articles such as Article 11(4), Article 12(2), Article 37, Article 121(1A), and more.
“At the end of the day, it needs to be emphasised that the position of Islam as the official religion of the federation should not be a reference or a tool to bludgeon people of other religions into submitting to Islam.”
Islam is the religion of the Federation. Only constitutionally illiterate people think that Islam is the official religion of the federation; so there is no such thing as “using the position of Islam as the official religion of the federation should not be a reference or a tool to bludgeon people of other religions into submitting to Islam.”
He said that as much as it was important to look at the constitution to see that the country was a secular state, people should also look at court rulings affirming this.
The Federal Constitution has never said that Malaysia is a secular country. In fact, it is the government’s constitutional duty to protect the sanctity of Islam which is in itself denies that Malaysia is a secular country. This is proven by the Court of Appeal judgement of Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur v. Kerajaan Malaysia & Menteri Dalam Negeri, when YA Dato’ Abdul Aziz Rahim said:
I would add however that the position of Islam as the religion of the Federation, to my mind imposes certain obligation on the power that be to promote and defend Islam as well to protect its sanctity. In one article written by Muhammad Imam, entitled Freedom of Religion under Federal Constitution of Malaysia – A Reappraisal  2 CLJ lvii (June) referred to by the learned counsel for the 8th appellant it was said that: “Article 3 is not a mere declaration. But it imposes positive obligation on the Federation to protect, defend, promote Islam and to give effect by appropriate state action, to the injunction of Islam and able to facilitate and encourage people to hold their life according to the Islamic injunction spiritual and daily life.”
In the Federal Court judgement of ZI Publications Sdn Bhd and Another v Kerajaan Negeri Selangor, The Right Honourable Tan Sri Md Raus Sharif said:
“Thus, in the present case, we are of the view that Article 10 of the Federal Constitution must be read in particular with Articles 3(1), 11, 74(2) and 121. Article 3(1) declares Islam as the religion of the Federation. Article 11 guarantees every person’s right to profess and practise his religion and to propagate it. With regard to propagation, there is a limitation imposed by Article 11(4) which reads:-
“(4) State Law and in respect of the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya, federal law may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam.”
In a secular state, the government has no constitutional duty to protect the sanctity of a particular religion.
“The supremacy of secular law in Malaysia was upheld in 1988 in the Supreme Court case of Che Omar bin Che Soh vs Public Prosecutor in which the Supreme Court rejected the argument that the death penalty for drug trafficking was unconstitutional for offending the principles of Islam,” he said.
“The court said Article 3 of the Federal Constitution recognises Islam as the religion of the federation but it does not allude to Malaysia being an Islamic state, confirming that the country is secular.
This is another lame argument used by people who are trying to spin the fact that Malaysia is an Islamic state. In the judgement of the case Che Omar bin Che Soh v. Public Prosecutor, Tun Salleh Abas has never said that Malaysia is a secular state; alas he only said that Malaysia still uses the secular laws.
Today, there are other new judgments of more important cases that clearly state that Malaysia is an Islamic state such as Meor Atiqulrahman bin Ishak & Ors v Fatimah Sihi & Ors 1 MLJ 393, Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur v. Kerajaan Malaysia & Menteri Dalam Negeri, ZI Publications Sdn Bhd and Another v Kerajaan Negeri Selangor and others.
“We need to remember the second part of Article 3, which reads ‘Islam is the religion of the federation, but other religions may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the federation.’ Therefore, Article 3 should not be used to impose dominance on non-Muslims or insist on religious superiority.”
The words “in peace and harmony” have been interpreted by the then Federal Court Judge, Tan Sri Apandi Ali during the judgement of the Court of Appeal case of Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur v. Menteri Dalam Negeri & Kerajaan Malaysia. His words were:
It is my judgment that the purpose and intention of the insertion of the words: “in peace and harmony” in Article 3(1) is to protect the sanctity of Islam as the religion of the country and also to insulate against any threat faced or any possible and probable threat to the religion of Islam.