The Constitutionally Illiterate Tawfik Tun Dr Ismail

7 06 2017

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[2000]  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 [1994] 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[2000]  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.

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Act 355: Another Baseless and Illogical Arguement from G25

22 03 2017

Named as a “group of prominent Muslims” by DAP, G25 is a group of people who are so clueless about the teaching of Islam that their arguments and ideas regarding Islam are so mind-blowing and out of context, making them good friends of DAP’s Penang Institute. Sharing DAP’s stance regarding the amendment of Act 355, G25’s arguments on this matter are as baseless and illogical as those given by DAP. Below are my answers (in blue) to G25’s article in red:


To all honourable Members of Parliament,
We, G25, anxiously appeal for a promise from each Honourable Member of Parliament to not support/cancel the debate on PAS’ private motion to amend Act 355, or Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, which will now be debated in Parliament.
We hope the honourable MPs would ponder upon and note that any amendment to Islamic laws should be done within the framework of the Federal Constitution.
There is no law saying that Act 355 or any other Acts related to the Islamic Laws cannot be amended. The Hadi Private Bill to amend the Act 355 is being done within the framework of the Federal Constitution and  I’m sure that the members of G25 are aware that this is not the first time the Act 355 is amended. 

Specifically, Article 4 provides for the superiority of the federal law and civil courts over state Islamic enactments and shariah courts. This ensures the existence of only one system of justice governing all Malaysians.
A misleading fabricated statement. Syariah Courts is part of Malaysian legal systems as confers by Article 121(1A). There is no such thing as,“This ensures the existence of only one system of justice governing all Malaysians”.
1)
  Article 4 states that the Federal Constitution is the Supreme law and Article 121(1A) of the Federal Constitution says:

The courts referred to in Clause (1) shall have no  jurisdiction in respect of any matter within the jurisdiction of the Syariah courts. 

2) In the judgement of the case, ZI Publications Sdn Bhd and Anor v Kerajaan Negeri Selangor, the Federal court ruled in a unanimous decision that the section 16 of the Syariah Criminal Offences (Selangor) is valid and not ultra vires the Federal Constitution, Tan Sri Md Raus Sharif said:

Federal Constitution allows the Legislature of a State to legislate and enact offences against the precepts of Islam. 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.

Limitations on the powers of the shariah courts:
Item 1 in the Ninth Schedule of the State List of the Federal Constitution states that the shariah courts “shall not have jurisdiction in respect of offences except in so far as conferred by federal law”. The purpose of this provision is for Parliament to have oversight and control over offences, including the nature of punishments created by state enactments, so that the state legislatures do not have a free hand to create offences or to prescribe sentences.
1) Act 355 is a Federal Law and not a State Law. The Act confers jurisdiction upon Courts constituted under any State law for the purpose of dealing with offences under Islamic law.
2) “Item 1 in the Ninth Schedule of the State List of the Federal Constitution” does not exist. What we have is, Item 1 of the State List in the Ninth Schedule of the Federal Constitution and it proves that the Syariah Court system is legal and constitutional.

Increasing status of the syariah courts complicates enforcement:
The desire to raise the status of the shariah courts to be on a par with the civil courts is worrying and very likely will shock our multiracial community as it will raise questions on the direction of the country’s legal system.
Is G25 unaware of the existence of Article 121(1A)?  In 1988, the then Prime Minister, Dato’ Sri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed tabled the Constitution (Amendment) 1988 Bill in Parliament to add Clause (1A) to the Article 121 which raised the status of the Syariah Courts. That happened 29 years ago and it had not “shock our multiracial community”. G25 must stop debasing the Syariah Courts.

A secular system of justice existing side by side with the Islamic system is not only unconstitutional but will cause considerable confusion and uncertainty in the enforcement of law and order.
Is G25 saying that Articles 74(2) and 121(1A) is unconstitutional and Item 1 of the State List in the Ninth Schedule of the Federal Constitution does not excise?

A big risk with investors:
Economists and international experts who have studied Malaysia’s remarkable economic development over a relatively short period to become one of the most advanced economies in the developing world, have always cited its system of law and administration as a key factor in attracting foreign and local investors to do business here. It is a system which foreigners are familiar with because it is similar to what they find in their own countries. Their presence is most important for the transfer of knowledge and technology so that Malaysians can benefit by developing our own skills to compete in the world market. Our country will be taking a big risk with foreign and local investors if we have a system of law which is moving away from its original character to become more religiously oriented and less tolerant of modern lifestyles and values.
Act 355 is not a new law  and it will not change our current “system of law”. I wonder if:
1) To G25, is “modern lifestyles and values” means lifestyles and values which are against the teaching of Islam?
2) In what way does the amendment of Act 355 can be bad for our economy in regarding to “attracting foreign and local investors to do business here”?
3) G25 really thinks that a “religiously oriented” Muslim society is bad for the economy?

A step towards hudud:
Supporters of the PAS bill to amend Act 355 insist that there is no intention to introduce hudud. Malaysians find this hard to believe as Kelantan, which is ruled by PAS, has already passed the Syariah Criminal Code II (1993) Enactment 2015, prescribing hudud punishment for zina (illicit sex), murder, theft, robbery, sodomy, consumption of liquor and apostasy.
The amendment of Act 355 cannot enable the implementation of the current Syariah Criminal Code II (1993) Enactment 2015. The amendment is only to enable the Syariah Court to increase its punishments limits, but its jurisdiction will still be limited to the crimes listed under the Item 1 of the Second List in the Ninth Schedule of the Federal Constitution, which does not include murder, robbery and theft as in hudud. 

But State law is currently prevented from being enforced because of Act 355.
Another false fact. Act 355 confers the jurisdiction upon States’ Syariah Courts therefore it does not prevent the enforcement of State laws.

Prioritising good governance in public institutions
A well-governed country with laws and governing institutions that provide social justice for the poor and the needy should be a priority for the country’s social and economic progression. This would be more Islamic than the implementation of hudud. We should be proud that our shariah index is higher than other Muslim countries because our children are better educated; health and medical facilities are available in all corners of the country; unemployment and poverty rates are low; and our youth can look forward to a brighter future. Higher priority should be given towards improving the standards of governance and to strengthen the institutions of law and order so as to promote integrity and clean administration in the country. These governing qualities are far more important to the country than policing the moral behaviour of Muslims and punishing them like criminals. The personal sins of Muslims do not hurt others in the society or the economy but the corruption and financial mismanagement among politicians and civil servants and the perception that the institutions of justice favour those in power — these are the social diseases that can cause economies to collapse and the people to rise up against their rulers. The government and MPs should be careful not to support the PAS bill and instead spend their energy in dealing with the unresolved problems surrounding 1MDB so that the country can turn its attention to deal with the bigger issues facing the economy, in particular the weak ringgit and the rising cost of living.
We do not need the PAS bill to divide the nation at a time when all races should stand together. The time now is for the real 1Malaysia.
Contrary to what was claimed by G25, the amendment of Act 355 will not only lead to good governance but it will help to build a better society and reduce social problems among the Muslims. Talking about economy, the increase of punishments for drinking and gambling can hinder Muslims from wasting their money on those negative activities, hence will improve the economy of their families. And faithful Muslims will not be involved in “corruption and financial mismanagement”, hence will prevent “the social diseases that can cause economies to collapse and the people to rise up against their rulers”. 








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