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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Setting straight what's in the Federal Constitution

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A very common occurrence in Malaysia is that the Federal Constitution is often misquoted, usually to fit a certain point of view or agenda. These misquotes, in turn, are accepted for the simple reason that very few Malaysians are aware of what is actually written.

It is for that primary reason, among others, that the Bar Council's constitutional law committee created the MyConstitution campaign, in order to educate Malaysians on the Federal Constitution.

Ironically, MyConstitution has been criticized by the very same people who often misquote the document (and continue to do so), for reasons best known to them.

This news clip focuses on MyConstitution's current chairperson's opinion, pertaining to a recent "issue" raised by Utusan and some pro-UMNO bloggers.

Malaysia has no official religion, says constitutional expert

The Federal Constitution has never stated Islam is the country’s “official religion”, says lawyer Syahredzan Johan as 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.