Founder member of G25 Tan Sri Ahmad Kamil Jaafar talks about what’s ahead for the grouping.
A group of 25 prominent Malays made the headlines on Dec 8 last year, with their open letter calling for a review of syariah and civil law, to be in line with the supremacy of the Federal Constitution.
They are pushing for a high-powered committee which would recommend amendments to meet the needs of Muslims while also entrenching the rights of minorities. Their stand has drawn both strong support and opposition from other new groups.
Although they are now known as G25, their number has more than doubled.
Founder member and former Wisma Putra secretary-general Tan Sri Ahmad Kamil Jaafar talks about their game plan and tackles some of the criticisms.
> What do you hope can be achieved since G25 met Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in February?
We met the Prime Minister, conveyed our concerns and presented our proposal for the establishment of a consultative council to set in motion an open discussion by experts in the field of Islamic and constitutional laws. They should recommend the repeal of laws which trespass on the Federal Constitution.
We remain hopeful that the leadership will address some of the concerns expressed and, more importantly, consider and decide on the setting up of a consultative council to review the Islamic criminal law enactments which overlap or conflict with the Federal Constitution, and moral policing laws that intrude into the private sphere.
In pursuit of our goal and objectives, we have since met several Rulers and will continue to seek audiences with other Rulers. We have also met political leaders, past and present, from the Government and opposition, and lawmakers at both the federal and state level.
We hope that at the federal level, the lawmakers will give their support to the establishment of a parliamentary caucus on religion.
> What further action and programmes is G25 planning?
At the moment we are busy working on a book project that will have contributions from local and foreign scholars. The book will look into whether Islamic bureaucracy is consistent with the provisions of the Federal Constitution. It will also look, among other topics, at the Arabisation of the Malay language and culture.
The book, titled Voices of the People: Islam in a Constitutional Democracy, will be out by September this year.
Also being planned is a public forum that we hope will be held on Dec 5 and 6. Again, we will invite foreign scholars to speak at the forum.
> There now appears to be rational and informed debate in the media. Is that already a sign of progress towards rational discussion and conflict resolution, which are part of the G25 goals?
I view this as a positive development. We are now mindful of the dangers of a society that is fracturing along racial and religious lines. There are already clear signs of racial and religious fault lines made worse by divisive issues and irreconcilable differences of opinion. These must be arrested. I am happy that there is a general awareness of the dangers posed by this negative development.
> How do you view the emergence of other groups and initiatives such as G32 which came out with another open letter last December calling for a central role for syariah law, G33 who promised “unconditional support” for your mission in December, and G40 who called for strengthening the pillars of the Constitution in April?
From the perspective of the opportunity available for us to work together or even form some loose alliances, I view the emergence of these groups as a positive development. The call, especially, by G33 and G40, is very much in line with what we are espousing.
> Some members of the public have questioned why G25 has not admitted non-Malay members. Please comment.
Speaking for myself, I am of the view that the very nature of our thrust and the need to reach those whose support we consider vital to our success would at once preclude any possibility of opening up the grouping. For me, it is best if we stay as we are presently constituted.
But this is not to say that we do not value the support of other like-minded groups and personalities. As I said earlier, we are prepared to work with others in a loose alliance with like-minded groups.
But let me say here that our whole effort and what we hope to achieve is not confined to one particular segment of our society. It encompasses every one of us who has a stake in this land of ours. Indeed, we hope to bring the country back to the middle road and restore sanity to our lives.
> What form do you see G25 taking in future? A formal organisation? An umbrella grouping? Collaboration with the Malaysian Movement of Moderates proposed by Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam in January this year?
At the moment we are a loose grouping held together by a shared vision. We will of course look at the various options on the table and perhaps soon enough we will find an acceptable formula and structure that can serve us better. But for the time being, we will remain as we are.
Finally, let me say that this is a long road for us but eventually we will get there. Negative remarks and in some cases vitriolic outbursts have been thrown at us.
But we will not be distracted and we will stay the course. I am reminded of a Chinese saying told to me when I was serving in China and I quote “If you are climbing a hill, do not stop along the way to count the pebbles.”
Some have also questioned our pace. This is not something that can be achieved overnight.
To those who expect quick results, let me say categorically that we are not about to storm the Bastille.