Commentary Local

The Malaysian concord (part 1) – the sanctity of Islam

November 15, 2018

By Abdul Rahmat Omar

HRH Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah is known to be a private person and rarely voices out.  The only times that he would voice out are over matters pertaining to the Constitution. Yesterday was one of those times.

He said that the act of a certain group questioning the sanctity of Islam, the special rights of the Bumiputera, the national language, and the function and position of the Malay Rulers enshrined in the Federal Constitution need to be immediately addressed and curbed.

I have come across such people, and unfortunately, many are young Malays.  They do not seem to understand that the social contract made between the various races of Malaya prior to August 31 1957 and Malaysia prior to July 9 1963 are now part of the Federal Constitution.

Nor do they know the parties who signed both agreements for the independence of Malaya, and the formation of Malaysia, and understand why those agreements were made.  

I put a partial blame on the education system where we were taught that we were all colonised by Britain when that is not true, except during the Malayan Union period.

Although Islam had been preached in the Malay Archipelago, Indo-China and China as early as the seventh century, it is largely held that Islam arrived in the Malay peninsula in the 12th century.  

Syariah laws such as the Batu Bersurat of Terengganu, Hukum Kanun Melaka, Undang-Undang 99 Perak became the laws of the land.

In 1908, Richard James Wilkinson, a British colonial administrator who, with the backing of Sultan Idris I, was responsible for the establishment of the Malay College in Kuala Kangsar, and who was also a scholar of Malay and history, wrote on the status of Islamic law in the Malay states:

There can no doubt that Moslem law would have ended up becoming the law of Malaya had not British law stepped in to check it.” (William R. Roff, Patterns of Islamization in Malaysia, 1890s-1990s: Exemplars, Institutions and Vectors, Journal of Islamic Studies Vol. 9, Is. 2 (1998), 210-228, at 211).

This was reinforced by two British judges in the landmark case of Ramah binti Ta’at v Laton binti Malim Sutan 6 FMSLR (1927).

It is due to these facts that the sanctity of Islam was retained in the Federation of Malaya Agreement of 1948, and was introduced into the Federation of Malaya Constitution of 1957.

The English law was only introduced to Pulau Pinang as it was the original British colony.  It was on March 25, 1807 that a Charter of Justice was granted by the Crown establishing a Court of Judicature in Pulau Pinang, with jurisdiction and powers of the Superior Courts in England.  This was then introduced to Melaka and Singapore when they became part of the Straits Settlements under British rule.

Only with the arrival of the British residents in the Malay states in the last quarter of the 19th century was the English law introduced there in the form of Orders, Regulations and Ordnances, save for the laws and regulations affecting the Malay customs and the administration of Islam.  

These laws provided for the administration of justice, the law of contract, sale of goods, bills of exchange, company law, criminal law and procedure, the law of evidence, land law, labour law, and the regulation of many matters of public interest.

The Civil Law Enactment, 1937 (No.3 of 1937, FMS) introduced the whole body of the common law of England and of equity of minor modifications.

It provided always that the common law and rules of equity are “subject to such qualifications as local circumstances render necessary”.  Local laws and custom were made applicable.

Islam was made the religion of the Federation of Malaya.  Although Lord Reid felt it was unnecessary to have such a provision as the Sultans would be the Head of Islam in their states, it was added to the draft of the Federal Constitution at the suggestion of Justice Hakim Halim bin Abdul Hamid of Pakistan, who was a member of the Reid Commission, because he said the suggestion by the Alliance party that represented the people of Malaya to have that proviso added was innocuous.

Sir Donald Charles MacGillivray personally felt that such a provision would be advantageous because the Yang DiPertuan Agong could at the same time become the head of the faith in the Settlements of Penang and Malacca (CO 1030/524 (10), MacGillivray to Secretary of State, 25 February 1957; See also CO 1030/524 (18), MacGillivray to Secretary of State, 21 March 1957).

This accord was reached between those who were party to the discussion – the Malay Rulers, the British who administered the Rulers’ sovereign states on their behalf, and the multiracial government chosen by the people in 1955 to represent them.

There is even a separation of jurisdiction when it comes to the position of Islam in the Federal Constitution.

The Syariah Law comes under the purview of the respective Rulers, and the Attorney-General of Malaysia, under Article 145(3) does not have the jurisdiction over proceedings before a Syariah court, a native court of a court-martial.

This separation of jurisdiction is also present as provided by Article 121(1A) where both the High Court of Malaya and High Court of Sabah and Sarawak do not have any jurisdiction over Syariah matters.  Therefore, any claim that the Syariah law infringes on the rights of the non-Muslims is fallacious.

The Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Committee chaired by North Borneo’s (later Sabah) Donald Stephens (later Tun Fuad Stephens) stated in its memorandum dated September 3 1962 that the acceptance of Islam as the religion of the to-be-formed Federation of Malaysia would not endanger religious freedom within Malaysia nor will it make the country less secular (Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Committee Memorandum on Malaysia, 3 Sep 1962, p.p 120).

And that is how Islam became the religion of Malaysia.

 

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