G25 would like to refer to the letter from the Assistant Director, JAKIM published in your column on 1 August in which he accused the liberals for not respecting the authority of Islamic scholars. The writer quoted from well-known Muslim scholars, old and new, to explain the personal sins in Islam and proceeded to criticise G25 for allegedly not understanding the concept of sins in Islam.
The most important point for readers to note is that nowhere in JAKIM's long letter was the word constitution mentioned, giving us the impression that the writer has probably forgotten or is not aware that Malaysia is a constitutional democracy, with Islam as the official religion. It was designed with checks and balances to ensure that no Federal or state authority has absolute authority in governing the country. Any law passed by parliament or any state legislature that contravenes the constitutional rights of citizens can be challenged in court and declared invalid.
The constitution, as the supreme law of the country, has spelt out the powers of state religious authorities in the protection, promotion and development of Islam, while ensuring that in exercising their powers, the states cannot go beyond their jurisdiction on matters of criminal justice, as crimes are a Federal responsibility. Religious scholars and institutions that are responsible for the administration of Islam must understand that there are limits in legislating on the personal sins of Muslims, because punishments that are not authorised under the constitution are illegal.
In the public statement issued by G25 on 7th December 2014, we pointed out it is important to have a proper consultative process involving experts in constitutional law and other social disciplines so that the fatwa that is issued or the Islamic law that is passed, conforms to the principles of justice as enshrined in the Federal constitution. As we are all aware, justice is also a fundamental principle in Islam. The consultative process is essential because no one religious scholar or legal expert has the same view about personal sins. We believe that a transparent system in enacting and applying Islamic laws to the daily lives of Muslims will ensure that the religious authorities and state legislatures are made accountable for the Islamic laws that are passed.
As Muslims, G25 members agree with the fact that khalwat and adultery are sins in Islam. These sins, however, are personal and because of this, there are different interpretations among Muslims on how they should be treated. Some argue the offenders should be solely responsible for their own actions before God, while others say their immoral actions should be punished by the state as it must take responsibility for protecting Islamic moral values in society. The issue about laws to punish personal sins is that as they are man-made, they are open for public scrutiny and debate.
Being a multicultural country, there will be public complaints and anxieties about religious laws that create uncertainties among the various races as to the future of Malaysia as a progressive country based on the universal values of justice and human rights. If the country is burdened with two parallel systems of criminal law, one for Muslims and the other for non-Muslims, there will be chaos as Malaysia slides into a failed state.
The JAKIM letter takes the view that only a scholar has the authority to speak on Islam. That is correct but up to a point. If the scholar wants to go further and make his Islamic findings to be official government policy, then the public has a right to speak too. All scholars and experts, including the ulama and muftis should expect that in a democracy, the moment there is a proposal to enact a law affecting the lives of the people, the matter goes into the realm of public policy. When it’s a matter of public interest, all citizens have the right to participate in the discussion whether the religious proposal is good or bad for society. It is for this reason that G25 feels it is entitled to comment and issue public statements on the hudud law, the police involvement with moral policing, the remarks by a mufti on kafir harbi, among others.
G25 does not pretend to be expert on Islam. But we know what the constitution says on the implementation of Islam in our system of law. Our role is to promote moderation in the administration of Islam, with justice for all, as envisaged in the constitution. In doing so, we will support the various initiatives that are being taken by civil society organisations in developing a strong system of governance for a clean and responsible government, which is most important for strengthening the image of Islam as a religion of peace, compassion, and justice.
6th August 2016