Monday 22 October 2012

Malaysia never declared a secular state, says minister

October 22, 2012
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 22 — Malaysia has never been declared or endorsed as a secular state, de facto law minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz told Parliament today, but stopped short of calling the country an Islamic state.

His remarks today come amid debate over the status of the Constitution, and made despite a previous Supreme Court ruling which said Malaysia is a secular state, and previous statements made by earlier leaders such as Tunku Abdul Rahman, the country’s first prime minister.

The Tunku had on a number of occasions said that Malaysia is a secular state, while the Supreme Court in 1988 said Malaysia practised secular law.

Replying to John Fernandez (DAP-Seremban) during Question Time, Nazri (picture) said he could not confirm if Malaysia’s founding fathers had in the past labelled Malaysia a secular state but reminded the House that Article 3 of the Federal Constitution outlines Islam as the religion of the federation.

Nazri told the House that Malaysia was formed of the Malay sultanate, an Islamic government, and unlike countries like the United States, India or Turkey, Malaysia was never formally declared as secular.

“A secular country does not expressly identify one religion as its official religion... but its citizens are allowed to profess their respective faiths.
“Their religion is deemed as separate and is up to an individual’s own practice.

“In the Federal Constitution, the word ‘secular’ does not at all appear,” the minister said.

The uncertainty over Malaysia’s status as a secular or Islamic state is a long drawn-out dispute that has over past decades put to test the racial and religious ties among the country’s many ethnic groups.

Court of Appeal president Tan Sri Raus Sharif had said last year that “there is still a clash of opinion on the status of Malaysia, that is, whether Malaysia is an Islamic or secular state. 

“This is despite the fact that the Supreme Court (now Federal Court) in one case had declared that although Islam is the religion of the Federation, Malaysia is a secular state,’’ he said in a paper delivered at last year’s Commonwealth Law Conference in Hyderabad, India.

The case cited by Raus was that of Che Omar Che Soh which was decided by the Supreme Court in 1988.

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