I read an excerpt of a speech published in The Malay Mail Online, on 14 October 2016, titled “Reclaiming our Federal Constitution — Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin”. I agree with most if not all of the points raised. I especially agree with the title, that we have to reclaim our Federal Constitution.
We have lost a lot of the spirit of the constitution since independence. Some have re-written the constitution by choosing to ignore it. A lot of the rights given in the Federal Constitution are now questioned by those with ulterior motives. Others view the constitution as oppressive despite claiming this nation to be a democracy.
It is the virtue of democracy that the majority rules. We also have those who question the human rights values of the constitution. If that was not enough, we have those who want the constitution to be interpreted the way they think is right. The spirit of the constitution has been left behind because of the continuous reinterpretation.
Those who chose to interpret the constitution have done many things wrong. These issues are now haunting the society. There are those who refer to Reid Commission for the interpretation of the constitution. The very same people do not realise that the Federal Constitution is the finalised version of the Commission’s report.
The Federal Constitution came to being by the approval of the Malay Kings. If this approval was not given, then the Federal Constitution would have to be amended until it was passed. So what we have now is the final version of the draft. The accepted edition is what we know as the Federal Constitution.
The key person behind this was Justice Abdul Hamid. Who prepared the final draft for approval of the Malay Kings. It is stated in Article 3 clause 1, Islam is the religion of the Federation. Our text books have misled us into assuming Islam as the official religion. This phrase is nowhere to be found.
Many tend to forget the oath of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong in article 37 of the Federal Constitution. The King swears by Allah to protect the sanctity of Islam. We live in a nation that was founded as a Federation because the Malay Rulers agreed to do so. Had they not agreed, we would be living in 13 separate nation states today.
It was due to their kindness that they allowed non-Malays to be accepted as citizens of this country. The spirit of the Madinah Charter signed by the Prophet Muhammad S.A.W can be ubiquitously found in Malaysian Constitutions. By constitutions we mean both the State and/or Federal. Islam as the religion of the nation, minorities are allowed freedom to practice their religion and all have a collective obligation towards the state.
Another important part of the Constitution that is shared with the Madinah Charter is the different legal systems for Muslims and non-Muslims. We have Syariah Courts to sentence crimes that are done by Muslims. We have the Civil Courts for other punishments not catered by the Syariah Courts.
The values of the Constitution are Islamic in nature. There is no mention of the word secular anywhere whatsoever. Many today have forgotten this. We have a legalised gambling centre, we have factories producing alcoholic drinks and other atrocities that are against the Federal Constitution. There is nothing in the Federal Constitution that allows for the legitimate operation of these entities.
Because the Constitution was not consulted prior to the erection of these institutions. Likewise we have many instances where the legal system is ignored. Despite the freedom of religion provided many feel otherwise.
We now have minority groups that claim oppression. The meaning of the word “oppression” here is ambiguous. There are some places in this country where there are more churches than mosques and/or more temples than mosques. Some of these establishments are illegal and do not have the required permits.
The authorities turn a blind eye, and they are free to operate. Is this oppression? In democracy the majority rules. Simple formula for success. Now we have minority groups that claim some parts of the Federal Constitution are oppressive. They promote a democratic government but not when it does not favour them.
They don’t like Articles 11 and 153 because of the special rights of Malays and the natives. When they don’t like something they will bring up the issue of human rights. Despite promoting democracy they do not like the idea when it does not help with their objectives. We have many ministers from minority groups in the cabinet.
But they never praise the Malays for allowing them to be in the cabinet. When some can not preach their religion to Muslims, they lose it. The claim fascists in the ranks of the government are being oppressive. But they never appreciate the democracy they themselves espouse.
Some go on to say “Islam is the official religion” without proof. Despite multiple attempts to prove otherwise they choose not to listen or learn. Yet they claim there is a silent rewriting of the constitution. Who is the one misinterpreting the constitution? Who is rewriting the constitution by going against it? It is definitely not the majority.
Indeed I agree with Tunku Zain Al-A’bidin that we should have one version of the constitution that is accepted by the vast majority. We cannot let a small number of people determine the fate of this nation. A very small number given a voice by the online news channels. This voice is merely loud not because they are numerous, but because they are given the opportunity.
A majority is not given the same treatment when it comes to opinions. It is not the majority who is rewriting the constitution, it is only a few irresponsible souls, hell bent on destroying the success we have thus far achieved.
We should live by the laws that have been determined for those who reside in this country. The spirit of the nation is to live as a peaceful and harmonious country. Those who spread hate, should not be given a voice to confuse and misguide others.
Rehan Ahmad Bin Jamaluddin Ahmad
Research Fellow, Institut Kajian Strategik Islam Malaysia (IKSIM)
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of, and should not be attributed to, Isma or Ismaweb.