Monday, January 4, 2016


3 JANUARY 2016

Why is it that so many politicians, judges, religious leaders and all manner of public commentators have forgotten that Malaysia is a secular and democratic country? The agonising ordeal of M Indira Gandhi in the courts over the unilateral conversion of her children, and the recent statement of the Mufti of Perlis about the tormented stewardess who weeps over having to serve alcohol and not being able to wear the headscarf are just two instances which show that even ‘learned’ Malaysians have trouble with the concept of a secular and democratic Malaysia.

When the normally pragmatic Mufti of Perlis reinforces the ‘guilt’ and torment of the stewardess by calling on the airline to allow Muslim stewardesses their religious practices at work instead of explaining and defending the freedoms guaranteed in this democratic and secular country, the public cannot help but to feel that religion is encroaching into every aspect of society. This is clearly not what the framers of Federal Constitution had in mind.

When the judges of the Appellate Court freely relinquish their jurisdiction to the Syariah Court instead of jealously guarding it as would be expected of them, the public cannot help but to see this as a failure of the judges to carry out their sworn duty to protect the Constitution. The perception is that they are unable to separate their religious convictions from their duty to uphold the supremacy of the Constitution and to apply the rule of law. Retired Court of Appeal judge Datuk Mohd Hishamudin Yunus understood this simple concept as reflected in his comments in an interview published in The Star on 20 September 2015: ‘… a judge must not decide a case in accordance with his religious or political leanings. That would not be an honest decision. That would not be a lawful decision. For, in deciding a case, a judge must do so strictly in accordance with the merits of the case, in accordance with the law and the Constitution. He must decline to hear a case if he thinks that his political and religious leanings, rather than the law, is going to influence him in making a decision.’

The former law Minister Zaid Ibrahim has written a most cogent and well-reasoned piece ‘Understanding Democracy’ in yesterday’s Star newspaper and I can do no better than to quote from his excellent article. On the freedom of choice in a democratic country as opposed to a country governed by religious law, he wrote: ‘All I can say is that if you want to live in a democracy, then we must first separate the law of the land from those religious obligations. Then, we need to defend the right to have personal choices with regard to our lives.’

With regard to the freedom to choose, he said: ‘Muslims in Malaysia seem to want to move aggressively towards a religious state. They think that by supporting “an Islamic” political structure, they will become better Muslims and be rewarded. I hope they think again. Do they really want their lives to be determined by some men in robes? Or do they value a life where there are choices, which, as mature adults, they are capable of making for themselves?’

I am thankful for moderate Muslims like Zaid Ibrahim and Datuk Noor Faridah Ariffin who dare to speak their mind. And for Zaid Ibrahim’s reminder to the Muslims who choose the ‘more Islamic way of life’: ‘What they must not do is to force other Muslims to do the same. They have no business forcing on others their points of view or their lifestyle.’

This country needs more Malaysians to speak the voice of reason, and to defend our democratic and secular Malaysia.

Baru Bian
ADUN N70 Ba’ Kelalan

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