By Nicole Tan Lee Koon
I read with much excitement the current debacle over Nurul Izzah Anwar’s statement that there should be no compulsion in religion and that it applies to Muslims as well.
Nurul Izzah is right in saying that all Malaysians, including Malays, have the right of freedom of religion, that is freedom to choose their own religion. This is a basic fundamental right as enshrined in Article 11 of the Federal Constitution.
The legal perspective. Article 11 of the Federal Constitution provides that every person has the right to profess and practice his own religion. Every person has the right to propagate his religion, but the law may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among Muslims.
Article 160 defines a Malay as inter alia a person who professes to be a Muslim, habitually speaks the Malay language, and adheres to Malay customs.
Article 11 contains a proviso only against proselytising to Muslims but not a proviso against professing another religion.
If a person who habitually speaks Malay and practices Malay customs but does not profess to be a Muslim is by definition not a “Malay” under the constitution.
I agree with constitutional lawyer Malik Imtiaz when he said that Nurul’s statement was consistent with the Federal Constitution. As Malik Imtiaz rightly opined, ”Malaysia is not an Islamic state, Malaysia is a secular state and the constitution is the supreme law of the land”, in Malaysia the Federal Constitution prevails.
Article 11 prevails. Article 160 merely defines who a “Malay” is.
What the scriptures say
Since I am not a Muslim scholar, I shall be reiterating what other people wrote on the scriptural perspective.
Surah Al-Baqara 2:256 : “Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth has been made clear from error. Whoever rejects false worship and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks. And Allah hears and knows all things.”
Surah Al-Imran 3: 85 : “And whoever desires other than Islam as religion, never will it be accepted from him, and he, in the Hereafter, will be among the losers. How shall God guide a people who disbelieved after their belief and had witnessed that the Messenger is true and clear signs had come to them?”
I totally agree with Haris Ibrahim’s scathing article against Nasharudin Mat Isa that even God allowed the freedom of religion under Surah Al-Imran 3: 85-90 albeit those who chose to leave Islam shall be condemned to Hell.
Anisah Sukry’s article is like a compendium on freedom of religion with legal, scholarly and scriptural references.
She deftly argued that what Nurul Izzah said is nothing new and has basis both in the Quran and in the viewpoints of certain Islamic scholars.
My favourite is the one by the former chief judge of Pakistan, SA Rahman who wrote “There is absolutely no mention in the Quran of mundane punishment for defection from the faith by a believer, except in the shape of deprivation of the spiritual benefits of Islam or of the civil status and advantages that accrue to an individual as a member of the well-knit fraternity of Muslims.”
“He should, however, be free to profess and propagate the faith of his choice, so long as he keeps within the bounds of law and morality, and to enjoy all other rights as a peaceful citizen of the State, in common with his Muslim co-citizens.”
SA Rahman also added that apostasy is an offence in the realm of the rights of God, rather than the rights of mankind, thus there would be no pressing necessity to punish a peaceful change of faith.
DAP life adviser Dr Chen Man Hin said that the threat of apostasy was used frequently in the Middle Ages. Then,Christianity was a very strict religion. Wrongdoings were frequently said to be heresy and apostasy.
One outstanding example was Joan of Arc. Her enemies used the church to discredit her despite her many exploits of heroism for France. She was burned at the stake for heresy.
Mindsets must change
Sadly, some people in Malaysia are possessed with minds mired in the Dark Ages. Any Malay or Muslim who dares to think differently is quickly accused of apostasy. He or she is ostracised and denied the rights of a citizen.
The mindset of the our people must change. Nurul Izzah wants young Malaysians to be free and open minded so that they will be the scientists who can create a new society. She wants to encourage the people to be adventurous and enterprising so that Malaysia can play a dynamic role in the new century which is destined to be an Asian Century.
Nurul Izzah is a courageous and conscientious leader. Malaysia needs such leaders in order to progress lest we stay in the Middle Ages’ mentality.
All the three Abrahamic faiths allowed for free will, lest we all become like robots. The choice is ours and we bear the consequences of our choices.
Nurul Izzah has opened up a fundamental truth that religious freedom is for all.