|In my interview with an Indonesian radio station last Monday, I reiterated my view that Lina Joy should proceed to bring her case to the Syariah Courts as instructed by the Federal Courts. The ball will then be in the courts of the Syariah Courts and this courts will have to prove its worth. Yes, one may argue that the Federal Courts should have taken upon itself to decide whether Lina Joy could or could not leave Islam. Since the Federal Courts has failed to perform, Lina should try out the Syariah Courts as a last resort.
Many are now worried that the country is going down to the road of an Islamic State. This is something DAP has been expressing its concern for a long time. The danger has become “more real” after Lina Joy and several other cases concerning the converts in recent months. A solution or consensus must be reached by the authority soonest possible. Something must be done by all the religious leaders and political leaders in this country to stop the uneasy trend before it’s too late. we are disappointed with the Prime Minister because he has failed to lead on the matter.
DAP also sees the importance and significance of establishing an Interfaith Council since the nineties. Mr Lim Kit Siang has spoken and written on the issue time and again inside and outside of the Parliament.We believe the Interfaith Council, if established, would be able to help drawing guidelines for issues concerning conversions and other issues related to the disputes between the different faiths.
Malaysia will remain as a multi-religious nation for a long time. We need to find a solution for the good of its entire citizenry.
All religions are equal. Everyone is talking about the same God. There is no supremacy of this religion over another religion. No? Please keep the dialogue open and free.
Islam is not about anything as crass as power
|This letter is a reaction to the decision of the Federal Court in the Lina Joy case. Taking heed of the prime minister’s concerns, I have two unemotional points to make. Firstly the Federal Constitution should guarantee the rights of all Malaysians to choose their religion. Secondly, this issue of apostasy in Islam is far more open to interpretation than what the orthodoxy claims.Article 11 of the Federal Constitution is very clear. Every person has the right to profess and practice his religion. They can propagate it as well if they want unless the state laws say you can’t propagate to Muslims. It is also clear by Schedule 9 of the Constitution that whatever Islamic laws that we have is to be made by the state legislature (with the exception of the three Federal Territories).These Islamic laws are to be judged by the Syariah courts, whose jurisdiction is only over persons who profess to Islam. The types of Islamic laws that the state legislature can make and that Syariah courts enforce are also listed in Schedule 9. To summarise, they cover issues of family, inheritance and the administration of Islamic institutions and charities. There is no mention at all about apostasy.Where then does the state legislature get the authority to punish Muslims who declare that they wish to leave the religion? Where does it say in the constitution that you can fine, jail or ‘rehabilitate’ people who have chosen to believe differently? This ‘authority’ comes from a line in Schedule 9 that says states can make laws punishing Muslims who act against the ‘precepts’ of the religion. I must repeat here that apostasy is not expressly mentioned, therefore everything hinges on the question as to what makes up the ‘precepts’ of Islam.The constitution is not any mere legal document. It is not like an ordinary contract where you can have express terms and implied terms. It is a guarantee that the government and the law will not take away our fundamental rights as a human being. As such, it is unacceptable that a right as vital as the freedom of religion can be taken away with anything less than an express clause saying in no uncertain terms that this can be done.Justice Ahmad Fairuz, in his judgment, made the point that one can’t leave one’s religion on a whim and religious bodies would naturally want to have procedures to regulate this. This may be true, especially in this country where being Malay by definition means being Muslim and if one were to renounce Islam then legally speaking one can’t be Malay. Therefore all the special Malay privileges won’t apply to you any more. In that sense, I can see the logic of having some sort of system to determine whether a person is a Muslim or not.
However, that process, if it must exist, must by necessity be purely administrative and automatic. It can not and must not be punitive. Because once it is punitive as it is in this country, (after all leaving Islam can mean imprisonment) in effect you are denying a person their freedom to choose
The opposing argument to mine is that conversion out of Islam clearly goes against the ‘precepts’ of the religion. Apostasy is a crime that has to be punished. The degree of punishment ranges depending on which Islamic scholar you wish to quote, but the harshest is execution.
This is not a universally accepted view. The Koran, after all, does mention the lack of compulsion in religion. The verse does not come with explanatory notes as to the extent of this statement. There are opinions that say it means no compulsion to join the religion, but once in, there are compulsions aplenty, one of which is that you can’t leave. There are others that say that it means exactly what it says, you can’t force religion on anyone and that once this is done religion can have no meaning. Furthermore, the Koran does not prescribe any worldly punishment for apostasy. Therefore this entire issue is the result of human interpretation of the Koran. It is thus surely open for debate.
Let me provide an example of how changing times and values have affected how Muslims view the verses in our holy book. The Koran is ambivalent about slavery. It does not say that slavery is a sin. Neither does it encourage it. But there are verses that describe what one can do to one’s slave. In this day and age, you would be hard pressed to find a Muslim who will say that slavery should be reintroduced. Yet it seems to be allowed in the Koran.
I am not being facetious. I do not believe that Islam, taken as a whole, encourages or even condones slavery. The verses were meant for a particular time in history when such practices did occur. But the point here is that if the values of the ‘ummah’ can change to the point that practices which are allowed in the divine Koran won’t be accepted anymore, why then can’t we do the same for what is essentially the mere opinion of human Islamic scholars on the issue of freedom of religion?
Often, when the view is put forward that there is no compulsion in Islam and that if a person wants to leave they should be allowed to, there are the usual cries that such attitudes are the result of liberal, Western influenced minds. In all honesty, that is probably a fair ‘criticism’ of someone like me. However, Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur), the Indonesian cleric and ex-president as well as the mufti of Al Azhar in Egypt are just two examples of people who also share this view. They can’t possibly be described in the same way.
At the end of the day it is simply quite cruel to not allow someone to believe what they want to believe. It is not a decision made lightly and as can be seen in Lina Joy’s situation, one that can lead to misery and heartache. Just as I am sure many converts into Islam face misery and heartache from their respective community. It’s hard enough to face being ostraciced from family and friends without having to face legal persecution as well. When faced with two contesting human opinions on the ‘precepts’ of Islam, one which is harsh and one which is merciful, I choose the latter.
Religion is one path towards personal peace and spiritual fulfilment. It is also something which depends entirely on faith. Even if the religion is a ‘way of life’, a term commonly used to describe Islam; it still needs belief and faith. How can one be forced to follow a ‘way of life’ if one simply does not believe in it? Once the element of force comes into the picture, be it in the form of fines, imprisonment or ‘rehabilitation’, then religion ceases to be about the spiritual and becomes instead a matter of power. I can not accept that the religion I was born into and my children are raised in is about anything as crass as power.
And it is my right to believe that.
|Gatekeeping will not stop apostasy|
|I write in light of the larger debate currently taking place in Malaysia on the right to determine one’s faith and the need to uphold the secular Malaysian constitution. Lina Joy’s case has highlighted, above everything else, the Malay-Muslim obsession with the boundaries of who is considered an ‘insider’ and who is an ‘outsider’. Individuals, particularly women, who transgress the preset borders of racial and/or ethnic purity are seen as deviant communal actors with blatant disregard for the survival of the Muslim ummah, thus the act of transgressing these borders allows for racial and/or ethnic supremacy to be normalised, reproduced and reinforced (in this case, through manufactured consent of ethno-religious uprising).Why the obsession with demanding that Lina Joy remain a Muslim? Is this obsession a reflection of Malay-Muslim religiosity? Is it really about Islam? If we interrogate Malaysian history of ethnic relations and religiosity, it will be apparent that this debacle is not about one’s faith. It is about politics, or more accurately, the politicisation of religion in the public sphere. It is about
maintaining Malay-Muslim hegemony and the power of the ruling coalition party. It is about preserving special privileges accorded to the Malays in the name of national unity and ethnic ‘tolerance’. More importantly, it is about having the Malay majority rule the country without contest, ever.Where do we locate Islam Hadhari (Civilizational Islam) in this controversy? Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s claim to fame has been hailed as the foundation for promoting a more liberal interpretation and legislation of Islam, but do we see this in practice in Malaysia? Is it ‘civilized Islam’ to deny Lina Joy justice and dignity in the name of politics? If Abdullah is sincere in promoting Islam Hadhari and conscious of the rising ethno-religious conservatism that might, in the near future, lead Malaysia down the road of religious extremism, than government-sponsored Islamic institutions responsible for monitoring ‘proper’ understanding and practices of religion should be re- evaluated, re-structured and eventually abolished.These institutions are not only dictating how a person’s faith should be practiced, but also dangerously narrowing the diversity of Islamic understandings and interpretations according to the limited worldview of its visionaries.
Muslims of any race and ethnicity should value their own thought process and ability to understand and interpret religion (to a certain extent) for themselves. Islam is the religion for those who think and reflect. Privileging the doctrine of blind imitation (taqlid) denies Muslims the right to independent reasoning (Ijtihad) and the understanding that Qur’anic messages and teachings are amenable to change according to the socio-historical conditions of contemporary
The Qur’an is a blue print for living one’s life and not a blue print for oppression and tyranny. Gatekeepng is at best, an embarrassment to Malay-Muslims specifically, and to the ruling coalition generally because it reflects a mentality that is frozen in time. Gatekeeping will not ensure that more Malay-Muslim will not renounce Islam.
Lina Joy was denied justice and dignity not because she transgressed the boundaries of the religion (remember, the Qur’an states that there is no compulsion in religion, Al-Baqarah 2: 256), but because she transgressed the boundaries of what is permissible and beneficial to Malay- Muslim hegemony. Lina Joy is punished because she dared question the power and authority of the gatekeepers who must, for their own political hegemony, maintain a tight rein over the main defining characteristic of the Malay-Muslim majority, that is all Malays are Muslims.