G25 Report: Administration of Matters in Islam in Malaysia

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The 281-page “Administration of Matters in Islam” report covered topics ranging from the legality of Jakim, the role of the Malay monarchy in the administration of Islam, religious intolerance, and religious education among other issues.

  • Authorities chastised on siding with the wrong people – those who trample on people’s constitutional rights:

– Police obtained a court order to stop the Dong Jiao Zong congress

Police ordered a school to remove CNY décor

  • Formation of Jakim unconstitutional, no laws to establish Jakim
  • Malaysia’s Islamic family laws suffered two rounds of regression in the 1990s and early 2000s following amendments to the law:

– Divorce without going to court and just by pronouncing talak

– Mothers wholly responsible of children born out of wedlock, with no claims for maintenance or inheritance from the father

– Husbands in polygamous marriages could claim for a share of wife’s matrimonial assets despite taking a second wife

  • Laws against apostasy inconsistent with Federal Constitution – a Muslim’s decision to leave Islam is between that person and God

Pro-moderation group G25 yesterday launched an extensive report on the administration of Islam within the country.

Ramieza Wahid/Malaysiakini

The report, dubbed the “Administration of Matters in Islam (Saim)”, also lists what the group comprising former senior civil servants see as weaknesses at the way the religion is managed in Malaysia.

G25 founding member and the report’s working committee chairman Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim said the report is part of the organisation’s engagement efforts to promote a healthy discussion in the public sphere.

Sherrif said G25 appreciates constructive discussion or differing views on the issue but stressed that the group maintains the secular nature of the Federal Constitution.

“We are aware that some religious institutions may differ with us on our findings. We hope that in producing this report for public reading, we will be able to have a constructive dialogue with those who have different views.

Ahmad Zamzahuri

“Whatever the differences of view, we must address them in a consultative manner and not through threats and force,” he said in his welcoming remarks during the launch at the Universiti Malaya Alumni Clubhouse.

The 281-page report covered topics ranging from the legality of the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim), the role of the Malay monarchy in the administration of Islam, religious intolerance, and religious education among other issues.

A panel discussion was held after the launch.

FMT

Among those who spoke were former Court of Appeal judge Datuk Hishamudin Yunus, executive director of NGO Musawah, Zainah Anwar, and deputy chief executive officer of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies Malaysia, Mohamed Azam Mohamed Adil.

Sherrif said the G25 report will be provided to Islamic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mujahid Yusof Rawa soon.

He hoped the group can work closely with the government to enhance the administration of Islam in the country.

Ex-judge Hishamudin Yunus criticises police for siding with civil rights transgressors

The former senior judge chastised authorities on how they handled recent racial and religious issues, saying the police should not side with those who trample on people’s constitutional rights.

Hishamudin cited the uproar over the teaching of jawi in vernacular schools and Chinese New Year decorations at a school as two examples of the “authorities siding with the transgressors”.

Instead of protecting the rights to freedom of expression and assembly of a group opposing jawi and the school’s administrators, the police had acted to silence them, Hishamudin said.

This behaviour, he said, is dangerous as it sends the wrong message and make groups who incite racial and religious sentiments bolder.

“It is disappointing that whenever there are transgressors, the authorities will side with the wrong people,” Hishamudin said.

Malay rights groups had threatened that racial riots will break out if Dong Jiao Zong persisted in holding a congress on teaching jawi to primary four vernacular classes.

Due to the threat, police obtained a court order to stop the congress.

Days later, however, a Muslim student group went ahead to hold its anti-Dong Jiao Zong rally in Kuala Lumpur despite orders from police not to do so.

Seth Akmal/TMI

“So instead of arresting those people who threatened the peace, the police sided with the people who went against Dong Jiao Zong’s right to freedom of speech and assembly,” Hishamudin said.

The same thing occurred in SMK Pusat Bandar Puchong (1) where police asked the school to take down CNY decorations because a Malay nationalist party, Putra, protested against them.

“This type of behaviour (from the authorities) is dangerous. It sends the wrong message and makes those groups bolder in the future.”

Formation of Jakim, National Council of Islamic Affairs unconstitutional

Hishamudin also said the formation of a federal Islamic institution is against the Constitution, which provides for matters concerning Islam under the jurisdiction of the states.

“The formation of Jakim is unconstitutional because of Islamic affairs under the purview of the states. There are no laws to establish Jakim.

Seth Akmal/TMI

“In fact, it was only established as an administrative decision. It was initially created to serve as a secretariat for the Conference of Malay Rulers, but it is now a giant with a huge budget,” he said.

Jakim was created in 1997 under Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s first term as prime minister from the Islamic Affairs division of the Prime Minister’s Department.

According to the report, a review of Jakim should be undertaken by the Council of Rulers to determine whether it is still relevant and if its functions can be performed by state authorities instead.

“Should the Council of Rulers still deem Jakim necessary, the constitution should be amended to include a provision to make Jakim constitutional,” the report said.

Rights activist Zainah Anwar laments that Malaysia’s Islamic family laws gone from best to worst

According to Zainah, Malaysia’s Islamic family laws suffered two rounds of regression in the 1990s and early 2000s following amendments to the law,

“In 1984, the Islamic family law was amended, and new laws were provided, which was amazing. It gave us so many rights and expanded the rights for women to get divorced,” she said with divorce and polygamy decided by the courts.

“With the 1994 amendments, you can divorce outside the court. Without going to court, you can just pronounce talak.

“Your wife doesn’t even know she’s being divorced because the husband has disappeared. She gets a letter from the religious authorities sometime later to say that she has been divorced.”

Another regression, she said, saw the responsibility of children born out-of-wedlock being wholly given to the mothers, which meant they could not make any claims for maintenance or inheritance from the father.

In 2003, another round of reforms meant that husbands in polygamous marriages could make a claim for a share of their wife’s matrimonial assets despite taking a second wife.

“We’re not even asking to ban polygamy. We just want them to ensure that the rights of the first wife and existing children are protected, especially their financial well-being.

FMT

“What is galling is the fact that for non-Muslim women, law reforms have moved forward to recognise equality. But for Muslim women, in the name of Islam, you can be discriminated against.”

Zainah, who led the rights group Sisters in Islam (SIS) previously, blamed these regressions on the rise of “political Islam”, adding that these issues remain due to the current patriarchal state of society.

She said groups such as SIS and Musawah would not have to exist if Islam was practised the way it should be.

Laws against apostasy inconsistent with Federal Constitution

G25 said various state laws penalising apostasy, whether by fines, imprisonment or rehabilitation, were inconsistent with the Federal Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion.

“Article 11 (1) guarantees to every person in Malaysia, and not merely citizens or non-Muslims, three distinct rights, i.e., the right to profess, practise and propagate his religion,” the report said.

Ahmad Zamzahuri

“There is no constitutionally permitted ground to prohibit the mere profession of one’s religion.”

From the Islamic perspective, G25 noted, no one can be coerced to believe in God. No one should therefore be coerced to remain in Islam, it said.

But it added: “Leaving Islam is something that is regrettable. A Muslim who wants to exercise that choice should be persuaded to remain within the fold.

“However, if he persists to forsake Islam, it is between him and God. There is no earthly punishment provided in the Quran.”

It said a democratic society would cease to exist if there was no respect for freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.

It noted that Malaysia used to have clear laws to validate a person’s conversion out of Islam.

“These laws have now been repealed and replaced with vague legal provisions in most states” that allow Shariah High Courts to declare that a person is no longer a Muslim.

Only Negeri Sembilan, it said, had an elaborate process for renouncing Islam.