Friday, August 14

Treading on dangerous ground

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A mosque near a church in Miri co-existing for the common good.

THIS week I read that a seminar on religion would be held in Kuching and resolutions would be passed for submission to the government for the latter’s consideration and action.

My congratulations to the Dayak National Congress (DNC) for their initiative.

I am being invited and I will be there – to listen and provide my input to discussions, time permitting. I hope that the organisers will be kind enough to consider some of the following points, wherever appropriate, for inclusion in those resolutions.

I’m treading on unfamiliar territory here; a subject of a religious nature is not my forte, I must admit. So, please show me the correct path wherever or whenever there are slight signs that I may be going astray.

However, the advice I’ve got from friends is that I should be on soundfooting in terms of this topic, if I stick to the Inter-Governmental Committee Report (IGC), 1962, and the Federal Constitution.

The IGC

On 26th September, 1962, the legislature (Council Negri) of Sarawak passed the following resolution:

“That this Council –

(a) welcomes the decision in principle of the British and Malayan Governments to establish Malaysia by the 31st August, 1963, on the understanding that the special interests of Sarawak will be safeguarded;

(b) notes that an Inter-Governmental Committee has been established to work out the detailed constitutional arrangements and the form of these safeguards, which will be laid before this Council;

(c)authorises the Chief Secretary, the Attorney General, the Financial Secretary, the Datu Bandar Abang Haji Mustapha, Temenggong Jugah anak Barieng, Pengarah Montegrai anak Tugang, Mr Ling Beng Siew, and Mr Chia Chin Shin to represent Sarawak on this Committee; and

(d) authorises the Governor in Council to nominate as additional members or as members of Sub-Committees thereof such unofficial members of this Council and such public officers as may be desirable.”

For this article, we skip (c) and (d) and go on to our topic:religion within the Malaysian context.

At the time of Sarawak adopting the establishment of Malaysia in principle in 1962, religion was one of those special interests referred to in the second arm of the resolution which the Council Negri had passed without dissent.

Of the various committees to prepare for detailed arrangements for the formal creation of Malaysia, I wish I knew which one committee that had discussed religion. However, a hint from Tan Sri Ghazali Shafie sometime 1989 was that it was the Constitutional Sub-Committee which proposed that “No amendment is required to Article 3(1) – of the Reid Commission-drafted Malayan Constitution, my addition – which provides “Islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation.” …“As in the case of Penang and Malacca (Article 3(2) the Heads of State in the Borneo States should not be Head of the Muslim religion in the State; but Article 3(3) should be left un-amended so as not to confer on the Yang di-Pertuan Agong the position of Head of the Muslim religion in the Borneo States”.

Constitution 

The current Federal Constitution (valid as of 1st March 2017) also provides that every citizen of Malaysia has free choice of a religion or by implication the freedom not to belong to any religion at all.

When the federal constitution says there is to be religious freedom in Malaysia, it means that no one can force his religious belief on another without the latter’s consent.

However, there is one notable exception: no one is allowed in Malaysia to convert a Malaysian Muslim to another religion. In that sense, there is no freedom of choice of a religion for certain groups of people in this country.

Generally, I’ve not been so concerned about religious affiliations in the country’s affairs, until recently. That’s when I heard from the YouTube speeches delivered during a recent meeting in KL of who’s and who’s in the Malay Community in West Malaysia. An old acquaintance, Dr Zainal Kling of the Malay Dignity Congress, was having a field day with his theme on Malay ‘exclusivity’ and social contract; and another speaker, with the theme of Malay (Muslim) supremacy.

At first, I did not connect the dots, but as I went back in time in the history of proselytisation in Sarawak, I began to recall the active conversion to Islam in Sarawak by BINA in the 1970s. And recently, the directive from the Federal Minister of Education, that the school teachers from Semenanjung should remain in their posts and regard the state as their dewan dakwah (centre for proselytisation), added credence to the education policy line which the non- Muslims in Sarawak may find it hard to appreciate.

That reminds me also of the remark by the former attorney general of Sabah, in the ‘The Constitution of Malaysia – Further Perspectives and Developments – Essays in Honour of Tun Suffian’.

Datuk Nicholas Fung Ngit Chung wrote: the amendment of Article 161A and the subsequent repeal of 161C (an Article dealing with Muslim education in the Borneo States) and Article 161D (an Article dealing with freedom of religion in the Borneo States) by the Constitution (Amendment) Act 1976 marked the beginning of a process whereby it is conceivable and seemingly possible that the tribal peoples of Borneo will ultimately be destined to become ‘Malays.’

The participants at the DNC’s seminar may like to propose to the government to be transparent in its policy in religion having regard to the interests of and safeguards for the Borneo states at the time of forming Malaysia.

There are so many religious groups in this country and any hint of forcing one’s religion on another unwilling to change faith would be counterproductive.

Why can’t the members of Malaysian Intelligentsia tell the religious fanatics and political politicians to adopt the Brooke’s policy on religion? The Brooke’s ‘hands off the Malays’ policy – Christian missionaries were not allowed to convert the Malays and the Malays were not allowed to convert the other natives – worked  for more than one hundred years. The racial harmony that you see all over Sarawak is a result of the policy of ‘your religion is your religion, my religion is my religion’.

The freedom of religion as one of the special safeguards for Sarawak as demanded by the founders of Malaysia from Sarawak should always be borne in kind.

This is the main message which we must convey to the authorities for the survival and sustainability of a multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious Malaysia.

Why can’t we live and let live, enjoying freedom of religion, a special safeguard that the founders of Malaysia in Sarawak had wished us to observe and cherish at all times.

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