THE five principles of the Rukun Negara declare that: We, the people of Malaysia, pledge our united efforts to attain these ends, guided by these principles:
BELIEF in God;
LOYALTY to King and Country;
SUPREMACY of the Constitution;
RULE of Law; and
GOOD behaviour and morality.
But, it is the declaration that sets out what is intended to be achieved through these principles. The Declaration of Rukun Negara states:
Now therefore, our nation Malaysia, being dedicated:
TO achieving a greater unity for all her peoples;
TO maintaining a democratic way of life;
TO creating a just society in which the wealth of the nation shall be equitably shared;
TO ensuring a liberal approach to her rich and diverse and cultural traditions; and
TO building a progressive society which shall be oriented to modern science and technology.
In relation to the third aim to be achieved, it is emphasised that it refers to the “equitable” sharing of wealth and not the “equal” sharing of wealth, and the difference in meaning should be clear to all.
Challenges from religious and racial intolerance, misunderstanding and baiting.
Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail says the Federal Court decision in disallowing ‘The Herald’ to use the word ‘Allah’ in its Bahasa Melayu articles was based on national security, public order and safety.
Marcus Aurelius said that, “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” Yet in recent memory, we have been horrified by incidents involving cow’s heads, pig’s heads, desecration of places of worship by, at best, misguided youth and, at worst, people with more insidious agendas, threats to burn holy books, seizures of Bibles and many other untoward incidents. This is greatly augmented and exacerbated through the barbs and hurtful words traded on social media, even among those who consider themselves friends.
We joke that the mild mannered polite Malaysian turns into a monster once placed behind the wheel of a car. But there is nothing humorous about rampaging Malaysians on the Internet or in the real world spouting hateful and seditious words.
With every incident, we get closer to the precipice. What is worse is when Articles of the Federal Constitution are selectively and disingenuously cited to justify actions, warranted or otherwise.
The “Standard Operating Procedure” is now to call for the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators.
Given that nothing in the mass media or cyberspace is ever erased unless by deliberate action, postings of a year or a decade ago can resurface to cause harm and discontent, when, at the actual time, no one cared to take notice. In fact, at that particular point in time, no one even batted an eye. But, years later when it comes up, everyone reacts.
Assuming perpetrators can be identified, and this is a veritable challenge when it involves the anonymity of the Internet, this then creates a neverending cycle of retaliation and one-upmanship. In this regard, it must be emphasised that law enforcement agencies cannot alone resolve this matter. Use of force alone cannot solve the problem. If law enforcement agencies, including the Attorney-General’s Chambers, are expected to go it alone, their integrity will eventually be questioned because they will be caught in the middle and can never satisfy all interested sides.
Therefore, the appeal from law enforcement is that there must be individual responsibility and accountability of the service providers. This should also be supplemented by firm and rational responses from political, religious and community leaders.
In fact, if everybody demands “equality”, then should there not also be equality in the groups to be charged? If one side is charged, then shouldn’t someone from the other side also be charged? But, if this approach is taken, would it not become an endless series of retaliation?
Respect for all religions.
Article 3 of the Federal Constitution provides that Islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation. Clause (4) of Article 3 further provides that nothing in Article 3 derogates from any other provision of the Federal Constitution. This Article must be respected.
Article 11 of the Federal Constitution provides that every person has the right to profess and practise his religion and to propagate it.
However, this is subject to state law and in respect of the Federal Territories, federal law, which may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam.
Let us briefly review the implications of freedom of religion when it is not exercised responsibly.
Child custody cases
Interracial marriages have given rise to a new conflict between civil law and Syariah law in relation to the unilateral conversion as well as custody issues of minor children where only one spouse converts to Islam. The increasing number of cases has also raised allegations of racial discrimination by the courts and authorities.
The anguish to the families cannot be overstated, and that is a fact. In this regard, the failure of the converting spouses to resolve the family arrangements prior to conversion, and in fact, attempting to use the different jurisdictions of the civil and Syariah courts to their advantage, jeopardises not only family harmony but potentially national harmony. Consequentially, the integrity of the Royal Malaysia Police and the Attorney-General’s Chambers is also called into question due to the issue of enforcement of conflicting court orders.
As stated earlier, if the integrity of law enforcement agencies is compromised, it will be detrimental to their ability to garner the respect of the public, which is fundamental to their ability to carry out their duties.
In 2009, amendments were proposed to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976, the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories) Act 1984 and the Administration of Islamic Law (Federal Territories) Act 1993 to ensure that issues like child support and child custody would be determined by the court in which the marriage was registered. These amendments, however, remain pending.
Bible seizure cases.
In the wake of the controversy of the seizure of Bahasa Malaysia/Indonesia Bibles and other publications containing the term “Allah” in 2010, and various threats to burn those Bibles, the government announced the “10-point solution”.
As restated in the letter from Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to Bishop Ng Moon Hing, chairman, Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), dated April 11, 2011, the 10-point solution is as follows:
“It was intended to de-escalate concerns and tensions within the country and it took into account the polarity of views of the different religious groups, including Christians and Muslims:
BIBLES in all languages can be imported into the country, including Bahasa Malaysia/Indonesia.
THESE Bibles can also be printed locally in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak. This is a new development which should be welcomed by the Christian groups.
BIBLES in the indigenous languages of Sabah and Sarawak, such as Iban, Kadazan-Dusun and Lun Bawang, can also be printed locally and imported.
FOR Sabah and Sarawak, in recognition of the large Christian community in these states, there are no conditions attached to the importation and local printing of the Bibles in all languages, including Bahasa Malaysia/ Indonesia and indigenous languages. There is no requirement for any stamp or serial number.
TAKING into account the interest of the larger Muslim community, for Peninsular Malaysia, Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia/ Indonesia, imported or printed, must have the words “Christian Publication” and the cross sign printed on the front covers.
IN the spirit of 1Malaysia and recognising that many people travel between Sabah and Sarawak, and Peninsular Malaysia, there should be no prohibitions and restrictions for people who bring their bibles and Christian materials on such travel.
A DIRECTIVE on the Bible has been issued by the secretary-general of the Home Ministry to ensure proper implementation of this cabinet decision. Failure to comply will be subject the officers to disciplinary action under the General Orders. A comprehensive briefing by top officials, including the Attorney-General (A-G), will be given to all relevant civil servants to ensure good understanding and proper implementation of the directive.
FOR the impounded Bibles in Kuching, Gideon, the importer, can collect all the 30,000 Bibles free of charge. We undertake to ensure the parties involved are reimbursed. The same offer remains available for the importer of the 5,100 Bibles in Port Klang, which have already been collected by the Bible Society Malaysia (BSM) last week.
BEYOND the Bible issue, the government wishes to reiterate its commitment to work with the Christian groups and all the different religious groups to address interreligious issues and work towards the fulfilment of all religious aspirations in accordance with the constitution, taking into account the other relevant laws of the country. In order to bring urgency to this work, in my capacity as the prime minister, I will meet the representatives of the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) soon to discuss the way forward.
THE Christian ministers in the cabinet will meet on a regular basis with representatives of Christian groups to discuss their issues and work with the relevant ministries and myself in order to resolve them.”
Despite that, the issue remained simmering for various reasons and regained prominence when the Home Ministry banned The Herald — The Catholic Weekly. More controversy arose with the seizure of Bibles from the premises of the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) this year. However, the prime minister made it clear on Oct 21, 2013, when he stressed that the Court of Appeal decision upholding the Home Ministry ban on the issue of the word “Allah” did not affect the Christians of Sabah and Sarawak.
Allow me to highlight the salient points of the Federal Court decision in The Herald case. The home minister’s prohibition of the publication using the word “Allah” in the Bahasa Melayu text of The Herald was premised on national security, public order and public safety as the subject matter raised issues of religious sensitivities in this country. This prohibition was done in accordance with Sections 6 and 12 of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 and Condition 6, Form B, First Schedule of the Printing Presses and Publications (Licences and Permits) Rules 1984.
“National security” — that was the issue the government was concerned with. It had nothing to do with freedom of religion. It was only concerned with national security.
Thus, the Court of Appeal decision is confined to the publication of the Bahasa Melayu text of The Herald and not the Al-Kitab, which are two publications of entirely different characters. The Al-Kitab is the Malay version of the Bible, and meant for Christians and for use in churches, whereas The Herald is a newspaper, which is accessible online and can be read by Muslims as well as non-Muslims.
So, actually the crux of the issue in the whole kalimah “Allah” debate is whether it could be used to propagate Christianity to Muslims. It is not an issue of freedom of religion for Christians themselves.
The court also re-emphasised that the Executive was also the best party to decide on matters relating to national security and public order. Nor is the minister obliged to wait for threat or violence to occur before making his decision. It suffices if there exists a potential for such threat to national security and public order. The court further noted that the said prohibition in that case did not prevent the Christian community from practising their religion and there was, therefore, no breach of the freedom of religion under Article 11 of the Federal Constitution.
The issue of the seizure of the Bibles from the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) in January 2014 also appears to be finally resolved by the Selangor menteri besar’s recent announcement that they will be returned. But this was not before the Attorney-General’s Chambers, or rather the Attorney-General, was subjected to pressure and criticism on the Attorney-General’s decision not to prosecute the case and its directive for the Bibles to be released by the agency that had seized them. It is welcomed that sooner or later everybody will come to see the light.
In that case, the Chambers on June 11, in a media statement, explained that the Bibles concerned were not publications within the meaning of Section 9(1)(a) of the said enactment. This was based on the facts and evidence submitted, and taking into account the relevant provisions of the Enakmen Ugama Bukan Islam (Kawalan Pengembangan Di Kalangan Orang Islam) 1988.
In any case, as the Chambers also pointed out in its statement, BSM was neither the author, publisher nor printer of the books concerned to come within the scope of Section 9 of the enactment.
BSM had merely imported the books, which were published and printed in Indonesia, with the intention to distribute them to Christians in Sabah and Sarawak only.
It is also noted that the Bibles which were seized at KLIA recently, which arose out of a misunderstanding, have already been released to the importer concerned. TOMORROW: Part 5 — Seditious and injurious comments.