Let Malaysia remain a secular and inclusive state for All

February 16, 2017

Let Malaysia remain a secular and inclusive state for All

by Dr Kua Kia Soong@www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT:  There is an attempt by some ‘eminent persons’ to install the Rukunegara as the preamble to the Malaysian constitution. If there is indeed a need for such a preamble, it ought to reaffirm the principles of secularism and inclusiveness in the constitution.

Image result for Najib and Hadi Awang with Zakir

God Bless Malaysia with these guys

In my humble opinion, any attempt to have a preamble to our constitution needs first to be discussed by all the communities in the country including the Orang Asli, debated and passed through Parliament; secondly, it has to be inclusive.

This ‘national philosophy’ of Rukunegara was proclaimed on Merdeka Day, 1970 as a response to the racial riots of May 13, 1969 when the country was still under a state of Emergency. Like the National Culture Policy, it was drafted by selected ‘eminent persons’ rather than involving representation from all Malaysian communities and it did not go through a democratic process of debate, nor was it passed by the Federal Parliament.

While most of its aspirations are noble and acceptable, namely, “achieving a more perfect unity…; preserving a democratic way of life; creating a just society…; guaranteeing a liberal approach towards her rich and varied cultural traditions; and building a progressive society…”; nevertheless, its principle of ‘Belief in God’ is not inclusive of all Malaysian faiths.

Any preamble should include all peoples and stress social justice and democracy

The preamble to the US constitution, for example is short and concise, stressing that their nation is defined and formed by its people and what it stands for:

“We the People… in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution…”

Although peopled largely by Christians, the preamble to the US constitution makes no reference to a God or monarch. Apart from serving as an executive summary, it merely sets the stage for how the new government defined by the constitution will establish justice and secure the blessings of Liberty. Thus, their preamble is absolutely secular and the first three words are perhaps the most important: “We the People…”

Image result for Najib and Hadi Awang with Zakir

Malaysian Muslims idolize this Guy

Perhaps India is a better comparison since it was a former colony like ours. The preamble to the constitution of India actually makes its secularism explicit:

“We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic and to secure to all its citizens: Justice, social, economic and political; Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; Equality of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation…”

Thus the main purposes of having a preamble of the Indian constitution are again, first, to refer to the source that is responsible for the authority of the constitution (We, the People…), and to spell out the objectives of the Indian constitution, namely, Equality, Justice, Fraternity and Liberty. Like the US constitution, there is no insistence on ‘Belief in God’.

The importance of being secular

So what is the significance of including ‘Belief in (the monotheistic) God’ in the hypothetical preamble to our constitution?

Since the prevalence of Islamic populism in the Eighties, there have been attempts by politicians including one or two Prime ministers (one of them is none other than Tun Dr. Mahathir Bin Mohamad) to claim that Malaysia is an Islamic state. Nonetheless, this attempt has been rightfully frustrated by among others, Bapa Malaysia and the Judiciary in the country.

For example, on his 80th birthday on February 8, 1983, Tunku’s main message to the Barisan Nasional leaders was not to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state, stressing that Malaysia was set up as a secular state with Islam as the official religion and this is enshrined in the Constitution. This was echoed a few days later by the Third Malaysian Prime Minister, Tun Hussein Onn on his 61st Birthday on February 12, 1983.

Image result for Najib Razak
Commander-in-Chief, Ketuanan Melayu (Malay Hegemony) and Partner of PAS’ Hadi Awang on Hudud
The Alliance Memorandum submitted to the Reid Constitution Commission on Sept 27, 1956 clearly stated that “the religion of Malaya shall be Islam… and shall not imply that the state is not a secular state.” Thus, both the Reid Commission in 1957 and the Cobbold Commission in 1962 characterised Malaysia as a “secular state”.

Most importantly, former Lord President of the Malaysian Judiciary, Mohamed Salleh Abas in Che Omar bin Che Soh vs Public Prosecutor (1988), stated that the term “Islam” in Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution meant “only such acts as relate to rituals and ceremonies… the law in this country is… secular law.”

The Late Lord President Mohamed Suffian Hashim similarly wrote that Islam was made the official religion primarily for ceremonial purposes, to enable prayers to be offered in the Islamic way on official public occasions, such as the installation or birthday of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Independence Day and similar occasions.

Against the background of confounding populist politicians, one would think that it is even more crucial – if there is a need for a preamble to our constitution – for such a preamble to reaffirm the secular and inclusive character of our constitution.

In a secular state, the state is officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor atheism. It treats all its citizens equally regardless of religion. Secularism is not merely desirable but essential for the healthy existence of a pluralist society such as ours. It implies a separation that exists between the state and religion.

This does not detract from the fact that the right to religion is a fundamental right and the denial of this freedom is a violation of the basic principles of democracy.

Monotheism is not the only religion in this world

Secularism is also important in regulating the relation between the state and various religious groups on the principle of equality. When the Rukunegara espouses only ‘Belief in (Monotheistic) God’, it forgets that there are Malaysians of other faiths based on polytheism or animism and ancestor worship.

Image result for Nazir Razak

To conclude, the concept of secularism is derived from the principle of democracy and secularism becomes meaningful only when it refers to democratic equality and includes diverse peoples of all faiths, beliefs and practices.

DR KUA KIA SOONG is Suaram adviser.

13 thoughts on “Let Malaysia remain a secular and inclusive state for All

  1. If you listen carefully to Mahathir even Najib, THEY ALL KNOW Malaysia is a secular state AND should be a secular state. But Mahathir at his height was reckless and ruthless to defend the principle and Najib just learned from him to do even worst.

    Even now, you can see Mahathir’s disdain for Hadi’s PAS politics but he recognised the difficulty to challenge them straightforwardly. Arabic political Islam is dysfunctional.
    Najib and Mahathir share something common and that is both used Islam for their political ends to tame–or maybe subjugate is a better word–the Malay muslims. Both are, therefore, irresponsible and toxic leaders. In the end, I blame the Malays for allowing themselves to be led by their noses like buffaloes. They become suckers for fake Islam.–Din Merican

    The reason why Nazir Razak proposal of NCC will never work is not just he has no real political weight compared to his brother but that traditional political Islam already entrenched here will never let it work.
    Nazir Razak is pro his brother.NCC2 is sheer waste of time and a convenient political diversion. Our real problem is none other than his corrupt and toxic brother Najib Razak. So, Bigjoe, don’t be misled by Nazir’s smokescreen. Nazir should be well advised to stick to banking.–Din Merican

  2. “Although peopled largely by Christians, the preamble to the US constitution makes no reference to a God or monarch. Apart from serving as an executive summary, it merely sets the stage for how the new government defined by the constitution will establish justice and secure the blessings of Liberty. Thus, their preamble is absolutely secular and the first three words are perhaps the most important: ‘We the People…'” — Dr. Kua Kia Soong

    I detest organized religion. What “religion” is to me is a human-made concoction meant to promote the personal views of some while degrading the views of others. Although I was born into a Catholic family but I became an Atheist because I oppose most things that have been written in the Bible as it is clear that much of the text has been influenced by the personal views of those in charge of translating the text through time. Islam repulsed me. I’ve found in the Koran (English translated version) some 500 times calling for violence against non-believers. As a matter of fact, I detest all three Abrahamic religions, and Islam is the youngest and the most violent of the three.

    I’ve talked “religious faith” with Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and it’s amazing how personally we’re all pretty much the same. Our core values as human beings are basically identical. Things like being a good person, helping the helpless and defending the defenseless. Generally just being good people. And isn’t that what life is about? Isn’t that what we should all strive to be as humans? Why is it so many care so much about the personal religious views of others? If everyone kept their beliefs private, as they should be, practiced them in the appropriate places and didn’t judge others who believed differently, can you imagine how much more peaceful the world would be?

    How many murders, wars, acts of terror or any number of other heinous acts have been committed in human history in the name of religion, especially with the Muslims in recent years? Not faith, spiritual guidance or belief in humanity, but human-made religion. It’s one group of humans telling another that they’re wrong. It’s one group of people using religion to manipulate the masses to oppose another grouping of people based on their own interpretation of a faith.

    Because that’s what organized religion is – control.
    It’s an easy way to take a group of people with like-minded beliefs, group them together and manipulate them for some kind of ulterior goals.
    Heck, just look through history. Religious leaders often perpetuated that specific kings or emperors were “ordained by … fill in whatever God they believe in” and for the people to rise up against them would be blasphemy. To question their rule was to go against “God,” thus risking damnation.
    It’s genius, isn’t it? You can force people to support leaders who don’t have their best interests in mind by simply evoking the “wrath of … whatever God they worship.”

    And this isn’t just a Christian and Muslim thing. You see this with almost every religion around the world. It’s why our American Founding Fathers had it right by wanting to keep church and state separate. They didn’t put God into the United States – Christians did much later. Phrases like “One Nation Under God” and “In God We Trust” didn’t show up in the United States until long after this nation was founded. How can anyone like Trump or any neo-con or alt-con honestly argue that this country was “founded on Christianity” when the words “Christian” or “Christianity” don’t appear even once within our Constitution? Not. One. Single. Time.

    I believe faith to be a wonderful thing. But by faith I mean spiritual faith. If you want to believe in Jesus Christ or Muhammad, I don’t care – as long as you’re not taking that faith, forming it into a belief and then forcing it on others. Hell, you don’t have to believe in anything at all. Just don’t try to force others to believe in nothing either. I’ve met plenty of atheists who act just as obnoxious as religious radicals about their lack of a belief in a God. If you don’t believe how they do, you’re an idiot.

    Because at the end of the day, who really cares?
    When we die, something happens to us, and that’s a certainty. Whether we ascend up into some kind of heaven, get reincarnated into something else or simply just cease to exist – something will happen to us when we die. Our goal as humans should simply be to exist as good people, and that’s essentially what the core of all of these faiths tells us – just be a good person.

    But it’s organized religion that has taken that simple goal and twisted it for human-made selfish ambitions, greed and power. Because religion is quite the tool to achieve all three of those things. Like I said earlier, many horrific acts have been committed in human history all in the name of “religion.” Individuals who’ve been convinced that the best way to show the veracity of their faith is by slaughtering those who chose not to convert to it.

    Religion is nothing more than a tool that’s been used over centuries to manipulate people, usually for the benefit of a select few. Heck, just look at the United States today. Tens of millions of Americans vote against their own interests based on essentially two “religious” beliefs: Abortion and Same-sex marriage. I’ve actually met conservatives that say they couldn’t care less about what economic policies either party supports, because those two issues mattered to them most. Basically, they would rather live impoverished by economic policies which hurt them than see a gay couple get married or a woman have control over her own body.

    It’s absolutely ridiculous. Because at the end of the day no matter what we believe, how we’re judged as people by whomever might judge us, be it a deity or loved ones, will be determined by our actions, not the opinions of strangers who disagreed with our beliefs.

    • Amen. No pun intended. I grew up with no religion. It is sad that no matter my religion (Christianity) tries to reform, it is still lacking, causing much hurt and harm on the way.

      // to manipulate people, usually for the benefit of a select few.
      Yet, the above brought me to Christ. I spent my last few months before STPM reading the Bible from beginning to the end, although not realizing much of the importance of Jesus, I have never stepped inside a church service other than attending a few Christmas Carol before then. No one explained the Bible to me before then. But, it help calmed me from my realization of ugly politics of Malaysia, and put down my anger towards DSAI (then). I totally dig the book of ‘Judges’ where most of the chosen are all messed up. So is David, the most enlightened of them all.

      It is days working in a ruthless world that allows me to see the light of grace, and appreciating the wisdom of “I think therefore I am, therefore God exists”, realizing my pride and most importantly a selfish me, and a lack of thankful heart.
      That realization of the later compels me to see the beauty of ‘Maka Kami’, instead of ‘Maka Kita’ in the Preamble of Rukunegara.

  3. The relationship between religions and government will make or break a nation. The Founders of the United States seemed to have found a solution 240 years ago after a long series of failed attempts by many nations and civilizations through the millenniums.

    The solution used by the United States consists of essentially three components:
    1) Government does not establish national religion and does not officially honor a particular religion,
    2) government enforce laws for free exercise of religions, and
    3) government does NOT impose the view that all religions are equal with respect to the results of believing those religions and faith.

    The end result of the solution is that the United States is generally a nation of faith with faithful people not only overwhelming the majority, but also constructively dominating almost all spheres of society, while the government is secular.

    So, if you believe the solution works, then our Rukunnegara should have a phrase in this direction:

    “Secular government but a faithful nation.”

  4. LaMoy: ” I’ve found in the Koran (English translated version) some 500 times calling for violence against non-believers.”

    To Abnizar et al, don’t tell me LaMoy is right because I have always believed that ALL religions are peaceful.

    If they are not peaceful, how can they have so many followers?

    • “… If they are not peaceful, how can they have so many followers?” – aitze

      This is because some of us have a need (in faith) irrespective of their lives, well off or otherwise. For some, there is something missing (meaning of life? purpose of life?, etc.) apart from their material existence. For others, faith provides a source of comfort, something better after this horrible worldly existence they are in, an explanation why they are suffering, a possible better reincarnation in the next life, etc. etc. etc.

    • HT Low and aitze:
      History told us that Christianity and Islam mainly spread through conquering with the swords. They are basically the same.

      Mohammad lived 15 years as a merchant and came into contact with many Jewish merchants and landowners, from whom he learned the Judaic-Christian tradition. He adopted aspects of these older religions’ theologies while introducing new doctrines, which he called Islam, although the Judaism and Christianity he knew differed from the religions we know today. The Prophet Muhammad was one of the most influential religious and military leaders in history. He used the new religion to unify the nomadic Arab people to fight the Jews and the Romans.

      In order to fully appreciate the events of today, it is essential to understand the events surrounding the founding of Islam and the work of the Prophet. Although Islam was created with lofty spiritual aims, and has grown to be the inspiration of millions of worshipers worldwide, one must remember it was originally formed within the context of direct battle against “the West”, in the form of the Roman Empire. That’s why the Qur’an is the most violent “holy” book I’ve ever read.

      It was also done, as recorded with much detail in the Qur’an, within the context of the destruction of the largely Jewish kingdom of Arabia. The Himyarite Kingdom had replaced the previous kingdom of Sabea or “Sheba” as mentioned in the Bible . It had existed for hundreds of years and encompassed a great portion of what is today Saudi Arabia and Yemen. It was made up of refugees from the Roman conquest of Israel during the 1st and 2nd centuries CE and descendants of converts.

      The context of the formation of Islam is important to understand, because it makes it possible for its adherents to interpret Islam today either as “a war against greed, immorality and idolatry; a battle between good and evil” – or as “a war on Jews and Christians, and a battle between East and West” – depending on which historical facts you choose to emphasize. In any event, the concept of a literal, physical battle exists throughout. The Qur’an is a holy book of war.

      No, sirs, I don’t believe any of the Abrahamic religion is peaceful. And the most violent one, in my opinion, is Islam. The forbiddance of Muslims to convert into other religions is a form of violence. But remember there is a difference between religion and faith. Islam as a faith is peaceful. So is Christianity.

  5. No, I think ‘religion ‘ is simple ,,,, as long as one ‘believes ‘ in God ( the way one believes in ‘ God ‘ in his own different way, is a seperate matter , its not easy to find God , but find you must ….) Man makes it complicated because he thinks God is ‘playing hide & seek ‘ ! Here it is , as few provisions in the Book of revelation , is indeed playing hide & seek…. :

    1. ” heaven and Earth contains me not not, but the heart of my humble & faithful servant containeth Me …..”

    2. ” Behold , I created man of the highest mold and sent him to the lowest of the low……”

    3. ” Lo ! I made man higher than the angel , nay potentially lower than the beast….” –

    To quote you : ……’ some 500 times calling for violence against non-believers ” ? ? Non ‘ believers ‘ of what ? Of ” God ” , OR , ‘ Of religion ” ?

    Surely, it is to do with non-belief of ‘ God ‘ , because all (yes ALL ) Scriptures , directly or impliedly, God does say : ‘ the non-believer will burn in ‘ Hell ‘ …..

    NB . If Man cannot find peace with himself, then of course , he’s got into his own ‘ wrong ‘ religion ( or faith ) , do not blame God , for all our ‘ wrongs ‘ …..

  6. If you need a religion to tell you to be or do good before you be or do any good, then you can’t be any good to start of with.

    BTW, taIking about “good or doing good” I just want to ask the religious people here one simple question, and that is, will I still go to hell or receive any kind of divine punishment if I do good deeds all my life but never for one moment believe in God or in His existence?

    • @wayne, in a world without hell, why does it matter to us on what religion of others say about hell. I am a Calvinist who believes in a God who predestined who would know the meaning of Grace. As such, why should I object to an inclusive society that would provide a fair living inclusive space for those who never get to experience the meaning of Grace. Yet, I must say hell starts the moment we experience something is not right in this world. Faith in a world without hell,when there is hell already everywhere around us, too perhaps is a mere blind faith.

  7. The topic here is about Secularism , and Malaysia should be inclusive in its policy direction – agreed.

    @ Wayne, doing good in this world , is also doing it good for you to earn your heavenly abode , God is a loving , merciful and a benovalent Ruler of the universe.

    I have since checked up ‘ The Language of God ‘ by this famous Scientist/biologist Francis S. Collins . All the experts were arguing whether the world/universe was a mere chance happening (or fortuitous ) , or by Intelligent Design , in this big idea of Evolution , ( concerning the Anthropic principle.) –

    As always, there are two sides of the arguement – personally I would accept ‘ The Theistic Evolution’ ( of Man on earth ) , and not fortuitous , or random happening…. – Quote here :

    ” ……There is only one universe , and this is it. The precise tuning of all the physical constants and physical laws to make intelligent life possible is not an accident , but reflects the action of the one who created the universe in the first place ” – ) Denoting the the Most Supreme Creator . and not as commonly understood as ‘ Evolution ‘ as in the chance happening or random…..

    In short, goodness and benovalence in the traits of ‘ Man ‘ is the criteria, not as in the ‘ political animal ‘ idea of the over-ambitious Man – but fulfilling the genuine socio-political-economic aspiration of Manking…..

    What do you think ?

  8. PS . in the random theory happening of the universe , Evolutionists were talking of multiple universes , which is not the case , so the conclusion must be that the Intelligent Design in Evolution is the Theistic Evolution , not fortuitous …….

    (But the author was also presenting Scientific Evidence to fortify Belief , that is , he means that both Faith (spirituality ) and the Sciences are Complimentary, and not antagonistic…..)

  9. Just the final thing – the author Francis Collins , fortifies to the effect that the Scientific axioms recently discovered , not only proves but confirms Spiritual truths , which is astounding…..

    On the other hand, as in most Agnostics ( re Wayne’s assertion that he does not believe in a ” Supreme Being , God ) , my question to them is : Would you still NOT accept the postulate that Scientific axioms in recent times , do indeed confirm and PROVES spiritual truths, and both are indeed Compatible ( as in two sides of the coin ) ? –

    It will be good to find out how…..? ?

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