02 September, 2007

Malaysia morphing into Islamic law state ?

The political climate in Malaysia appears to be more favorable to a conversion of the nation’s legal system to Islamic law.

The nation’s chief justice recently proposed overhauling the legal system created during the days of British colonial rule and bringing it in line with the strict Sharia system, The Times of London reported Saturday.

The Times said Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz contends the British-authored constitution declaring Malaysia to be a secular state has failed to deliver the nation from colonialism and that common law should be replaced by Syaria law.

The move has alarmed non-Muslim Chinese and Indian Malaysians, as well as others who see the move as socially divisive.

Malaysia celebrated its 50th "Merdeka" 31st August - the anniversary of independence from the British. Watching the garish displays as a representative from Britain was Prince Charles' brother, the Duke of York, representing the Queen. He attended a reception hosted by Boyd McCleary, the British High Commissioner to Malaysia. This was also attended by British veterans and members of the British Malaysian Society.

According to The Star, Malaysia's Prime Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, is reported to have made a speech celebrating the cultural unity of all the ethnic groups in the nation. He said : "Malaysia will continue to be developed together in a spirit in which we will not allow any narrow interpretation of the people's identity, religious extremism, injustice against any citizen or uncertainties on the future or any citizen."

However, the Telegraph reports that Syaria law - already causing huge problems for apostates, ordinary Muslim, and the 40% of the country who are not Muslim - could be introduced more universally. In 1988, Sharia law was given legal status, wherein any issue governed by the "Syariah" courts could not be decided upon by the secular courts. This was done through an amendment to the constitution - Article 121 (1A). The amendment contradicts both Article 3(1) of the constitution, "other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation" and Article 11, which states that a citizen can follow any religion of their choosing.

It is because of Article 121 (1A) that apostates cannot have their label as "Muslims" removed, and why recently Hindus have had their 21-year marriages dissolved and their children taken away by order of the Syariah courts, with no recourse to the "justice" promised by the constitution. Despite the claims of the Prime Minister (whose position depends upon an alliance with a Chinese and a Hindu political party), Hindu temples are destroyed with no warning and under sparse legal reasoning.

Famous apostates, such as Kamariah Ali and Lina Joy are still prevented from having their conversions out of Islam recognized on their identity cards (MyKad). Such "unconstitutional" treatment continues. On August 11, the New Straits Times reported on the case of Siti Fatimah , a Chinese woman in Penang who converted to Islam in July 1998, in order to marry an Iranian man. The man has since left her, and she wanted to leave Islam. Othman Ibrahim, a Syariah court judge, had considered her request to leave Islam but decided that she be sent to a "brotherhood unit" to learn more about Islam over a period of three months. The decision was said by Ms Fatimah's lawyer to be designed to "appease everyone". It is a fact that no living apostate has ever been allowed to leave Islam in Malaysia.

Thomas Bell, writing in today's Telegraph states: Ahmad Fairuz, the chief justice, told an Islamic conference in Kuala Lumpur that 50 years of independence had failed to free Malaysia from the "clutches of colonialism". Sharia law should be "infused" into the gaps created by abolishing common law, he said.

He notes that the Prime Minister this month denied that Malaysia is a secular state, despite what is said in the constitution, which was authored 50 years ago under British governance. Bell also notes that bloggers and journalists claim to be followed by police and to have their phones tapped




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