Article 11 Unrelated to Inter-Faith CommissionMeanwhile lawyer and current president of the National Human Rights Society (Hakam) Malik Imtiaz Sarwar sets the record straight with a letter posted on Malaysiakini (excerpted):
A press statement by Article 11, a coalition of Malaysian NGOs committed to upholding the fundamental rights of all Malaysians regardless of religion, race, descent, place of birth or gender.
Article 11 is very concerned that the Prime Minister's statement reported in today's press, calling for a halt to Article 11's public forums, is based on the widespread but mistaken belief that the coalition's activities are aimed at reviving the initiative to establish an Inter-Faith Commission (IFC).
Article 11 would like to take this opportunity to clarify that the forums, entitled "Federal Constitution: Protection for All", are in no way related with the IFC initiative. Rather, Article 11's forums focus on the rights that the Federal Constitution, as the supreme law of Malaysia, guarantees to each citizen. The forums are also intended to highlight the concerns of civil society resulting from the plight of various individuals who are unable to obtain legal redress and who therefore suffer as a result of the current jurisdictional uncertainty in the courts. There is no discussion about the IFC in Article 11's public forums or other activities.
Article 11 will seek a meeting with the Prime Minister to request further information about his concerns regarding the coalition's activities and to provide clarification on the misconception that links Article 11 with the IFC.
Article 11 takes note of the concerns of the Prime Minister. The coalition members will meet soon, and will carefully consider his advice in its discussions of its future plans.
The Article 11 initiative is, however, aimed at creating awareness of the Federal Constitution, the guarantees provided therein and the concept of rule of law against increasing assertions that Malaysia is - in law - an Islamic State. In presenting the Federal Constitution, the initiative has at no point sought to question the status of Islam as the official religion of Malaysia – it is what the Constitution says, after all. Neither has the initiative sought to challenge or attack the administration of Islamic Law nor the esteemed position of the Malay Rulers.The inexorable slide that Sulaiman Abdullah, Counsel for the Federal Territory Religious Council and respondent in the Lina Joy case referred to, is underway.
The initiative has however shown that the provisions in the constitution relating to Islam have a context and, amongst other things, are to be read in the light of the constitutional declaration that the Constitution is the supreme law of Malaysia. The context being suggested by Article 11 is not that of the members of Article 11, the organisers or even the speakers at their forums. The context being suggested is one which the courts of this country have recognised. The suggestion that Malaysia is a secular country has recently been wrongly attributed to persons who have unfairly been characterised as trouble makers intent on attacking the administration of Islam. That is wholly incorrect. The statement is one of declared law. In 1988, the Supreme Court decision in Che Omar Che Soh, declared:
‘... we have to set aside our personal feelings because the law in this country is still what it is today, secular law, where morality not accepted by the law is not enjoying the status of the law … Until the law and the system is changed, we have no choice but to proceed as we are doing today.’
The law stands as that decision of the Supreme Court has not been reversed or departed from. In fact, during the recent Lina Joy Federal Court appeal, the court asked whether it was being asked to depart from the principle in Che Omar Che Soh. Counsel opposing the appeal answered in the affirmative, indicating an acceptance that declared law in this country is as it stands in Che Omar Che Soh.
We must not confuse the crucial distinction between a country in which the majority are Muslims, and is thus an Islamic country, and a country in which the supreme law is the syariah, an Islamic state. In Che Omar Che Soh, the Supreme Court stated:
‘If it had been otherwise (an Islamic State), there would have been another provision in the Constitution which would have the effect that any law contrary to the injunction of Islam will be void. Far from making such provision, (the Constitution), on the other hand, purposely preserves the continuity of secular law prior to the Constitution …’
Link: Dissenting judgment in Lina's appeal hearing September 2003