Tuesday 5 June 2012

Our judges failed us again — Zaid Ibrahim

JUNE 5 — Our Federal Court is at it again, making judicial pronouncements without legal basis. The latest example is a five-man panel’s ruling that it’s valid for a state law (i.e. the Negri Sembilan Criminal Enactment 1992) to restrict the teaching of Islam only to those accredited or licensed by the state religious authority.

The state religious authority found the appellants in this case guilty of teaching Islam without accreditation. What, exactly, did the appellants do to even get charged with this offence? At a function to celebrate Prophet Muhammad’s birthday some years back, they gave a talk in which they expressed their views about aspects of Islam. To the state religious authority, giving a talk about Islam is the same as teaching Islam. So to talk about your own religion is now prohibited.

In weighing the merits of the case, our clever judges were more interested in the so-called “big picture”, i.e. making sure there are no deviant teachings in Islam and giving the state the authority and legal power to protect the integrity and sanctity of Islam. That is based on what the state religious authority told these judges — that the views and opinions of these unlicensed speakers would put Islam in jeopardy.

Our Federal Court judges have clearly forgotten about freedom of speech and expression under the Constitution. These issues are of no relevance to them, so there is no need to address these points at all. They seem to be saying that under the Constitution, a Muslim has no right to talk about Islam if he has no licence from the state authority to do so. A Muslim has no right to express his views on his own religion, not even to a small group of people. Like a dog, he needs a licence to live day to day.

Strangely enough, to justify their findings these judges also spoke about the hadith, about incidents involving Prophet Muhammad and his emissary, and about spreading the religion in faraway lands. But wait — since when are these Federal Court judges licensed to talk about Islam? They should be prosecuted for offering their views on religious matters without authority from the state religious body.

What the judges have decided is not only ridiculous but also harmful to our religion. Smart and knowledgeable Muslims will not be licensed by the licensing body to talk about the religion. More enlightened ideas will be curtailed and slowly, the religion will decay. They have only succeeded in protecting mediocrity — so much for their plans to protect Islam.

Our judges should only talk about the law and the Constitution. They should apply the law first. They should know that only Parliament can restrict the fundamental right of anyone from exercising his freedom of speech and expression, on any subject.

That, at least, was what the original makers of the Constitution had intended. Now thanks to the judges, state legislative authorities can also restrict fundamental liberties. We have abandoned civil laws altogether, at least for the Muslims. So who says Malays/Muslims are privileged and first-class citizens in this country?

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