Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak said everyone must accept the fact that Islam is the OFFICIAL religion of the country and that it cannot be changed in whatever form.
"This is because the reality is that we have the Federal Constitution and its provision on the position of Islam and the other religions is very clear," Najib told the media after meeting with 22 Muslim leaders and intellectuals in Putrajaya today.
"Under whatever circumstances, the Federal Constitution cannot be amended and as such, no one should be worried or feel uneasy on this matter," he said.
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Malaysia Has NO OFFICIAL Religion, Says Constitutional Expert
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The Federal Constitution has NEVER stated Islam is the country’s “official religion”, says lawyer Syahredzan Johan.
Syahredzan Johan was commenting on the controversy raged over a Utusan Malaysia report that Christians want to usurp the religion’s place in the charter.
The Umno-owned paper and some Malay-Muslim groups, including Umno leaders, have been pushing the view that the country’s highest law proclaims Islam to be its “official” religion and that only a Muslim can be its prime minister.
Syahredzan, who is the Bar Council’s constitutional law committee chief, said Utusan’s reading of the law was wrong and warned the Malay-language daily was pushing what he described as a “dangerous misconception” that could plunge the country into religious and social unrest.
“In terms of the Federal Constitution, there’s only one religion for the federation, no official or unofficial. The Constitution is clear on this. Islam is not the official religion,” he said to The Malaysian Insider when contacted yesterday.
He cited Article 3 as stating
“Islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation”and pointed out the word “official” was NOWHERE in the provision.
Syahredzan said that section of the constitution must be interpreted together with Article 11, which states “
Everyone has the right to profess and practise his religion and, subject to Clause (4)’ — which is on Islam — ‘to propagate it’”.“We need to understand the correct terminology to be used when we say anything about the Federal Constitution,” he said, and added “everyone, from ministers to NGOs to bloggers have been claiming all sorts, which goes to show they do not know what is in the Federal Constitution”.
He observed that by inserting the extra word into the Constitution, the bloggers, ministers and newspaper were reading things that are not there and changing the law.
“And that’s unconstitutional,” the lawyer insisted.
Syahredzan also said while the man-on-the-street could be excused for not being well-versed with the law, ministers and lawyers could not be forgiven because it was not only their job but their duty.
“If it’s normal people, they can be excused for not knowing the Constitution, but we’re talking about ministers, lawyers, the media ... people with influence in society. If they themselves don’t understand how the Constitution works, then we have a serious problem because people might be agitated,” he said.
Syahredzan said he was highlighting this issue because no one else seemed to be doing so.
“It’s a very dangerous thing and it gets played up and because of that, it becomes more than just a constitutional issue, it becomes a bogeyman ... it becomes a religious issue and a social issue and a political issue and a problem. Someone needs to stand up and say this,” he told The Malaysian Insider.
While the young lawyer noted that right-wing Malay rights lobbyists had been making noise about this issue, he said he was unsure if their campaign was deliberate or carried out due to ignorance.
But, Syahredzan stressed, it is time Putrajaya take the lead to correct the misconception to avoid disaster.
“But something needs to be done; the government must state clearly what is and what is not in the Federal Constitution. The government should play the leading role in trying to correct the misconception and not push further misconception,” he said, and volunteered the Bar Council’s MyConstitution campaign to help the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) government help understand the Constitution.
Syahredzan also stressed that Malaysia is a secular country as it is a country that is bound by its constitution, and not the Quran or Islamic legal provisions.
“There are people who argue that our country is Islamic,” he conceded. “But an Islamic state is guided and bound by the Quran and the Sunnah, which then becomes the supreme law of that state,” he said.
He also explained that the whole controversy of changing the official religion from Islam to Christianity, which he noted pro-Malay rights lobbyists had pinned on Article 3, could be carried out with a two-thirds majority of Parliament and did not need the permission of the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong.
“There’s no need for confirmation from the Conference of Rulers either, unlike Article 152 which is on the national language,” Syahredzan said, and cited Article 152 (1) which states “The national language shall be the Malay language”.
Similarly, Article 43(2) — on a Christian becoming prime minister — Syahredzan said it could happen because “the Constitution does not state the prime minister must be a Muslim. All it states is that someone who has the confidence of the majority of Parliament”.
Syahredzan said Islam’s position had become a basic structure of the Federal Constitution and was accepted by all regardless of their creed; adding he did not foresee any change to its position any time in the future.
The lawyer said there were enough safeguards in the Constitution and in the make-up of Parliament, where he observed Muslims outnumbering the non-Muslims, for any change to Islam to be put to the table.
“Why are we under this siege mentality that everyone is out to get us, as if they are afraid Islam is going to be changed?” he asked.
“We have got safeguards to protect Islam,” he said.