Opposition to the Interfaith Commission proposal would not have been so strong that Abdullah has to call for the proposal to be put on hold  if not for the arbitrary and unconstitutional “929 Declaration” that Malaysia is an Islamic State

Speech (8)
on the Royal Address 
by Lim Kit Siang

(Dewan Rakyat, Thursday): The International Mother Language Day on Feb. 21 was not the only important date in February that was allowed to pass unnoticed by the government – the other was February 8, the the birthday anniversary of Tunku Abdul Rahman, Bapa Malaysia and the first Prime Minister of Malaysia.

I am not suggesting that both these dates should be declared public holidays, but they should be celebrated nationally and meaningfully by Malaysia, both officially and by the civil society.


It has been said that “The further backward you look, the further forward you can see”.  If Malaysians today are more mindful of the Merdeka “social contract” reached by the forefathers of the major communities on the fundamentals of this nation created on August 31, 1957, and which represents Tunku’s legacy, that Malaysia is a democratic, secular and multi-religious nation with Islam as the official religion, but not an Islamic State, the country and people would have been spared many of the present-day agonies of nation-building. 


The Tunku, for instance, would have given his full support to the establishment of a Inter-Faith Commission, which in the past two months  had attracted so much flak, opposition and negative responses, to the extent that the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had to come out  with a most disappointing stand against the Inter-Faith Commission proposal, calling for it to be put on hold. 


In the first quarter-century of nationhood from 1957-1982, it would be unthinkable that the idea of an Inter-Faith Commission would have created any  strong opposition as it would have been fully in line with the Merdeka “social contract” reached by the forefathers of the major communities and written into the 1957  Merdeka Constitution that Malaysia is a democratic, secular and multi-religious nation with Islam as the official religion but not an Islamic State.  


In fact, under his premiership,  Tunku took  the initiative to form an Inter-Religious Council headed by a Cabinet Minister, but which was allowed to go defunct in the eighties and its very concept has come to be regarded as “anathema” in many powerful and influential quarters. 


Malaysians should give deep thought as to why Malaysia has  undergone such a tectonic shift in the approach, understanding and  interpretation of the Merdeka “social contract” reached by the nation’s forefathers from the various communities as the fundamental basis of the nation founded on August 31, 1957.


Abdullah’s hesitancy in supporting the proposed Interfaith Commission is at variance  with both  the spirit and message of his opening speech entitled “Dialogue the Key to Unity of Multi-religious, Multi-Ethnic and Multi-Cultural Societies” when opening  the Conference of World Council of Churches in Kuala Lumpur in August last year. Abdullah had stressed:


“What we need more than ever today is a concerted effort to initiate  inter-faith dialogue. We need to talk to one another openly about issues that impact on all our lives. Let us go beyond arguing over differences in theology and religious practice. A meaningful dialogue will not be possible if we do not respect each other’s freedom of worship. Islam enjoins pluralism and we are reminded of it in the Quranic Verse ‘To you your religion, to me my religion’.”


With the confluence of the world’s great religions in the country, Malaysia should be setting the example of inter-faith and inter-civilizational dialogue to the rest of  the world, but we seem to be retreating instead of boldly going  forward to take up this challenge. 


Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s statement that Islam is a sensitive matter is pertinent though incomplete, for the religious rights of all Malaysians must equally be regarded as “sensitive” – and the country should not commit past errors of disregarding these sensitivities, such as the unilateral, arbitrary and unconstitutional distortion of the Merdeka “social contract” and Constitution in the “929 Declaration” that Malaysia is an Islamic State.  


 “Sensitivities” in a plural society must always be given proper regard, but it should never be an excuse to impede or frustrate inter-faith dialogue, which is the only viable basis for building a durable national unity in a nation of diverse faiths like Malaysia.


The statement by the Suhakam Chairman, Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman, that he was unable to support the proposal for an Interfaith Commission was most shocking, especially in view of his role when he was the Attorney-General in the 1988 sacking of Tun Salleh Abas as Lord President, using as one ground Tun Salleh Abas’ “insensitivity” to the secular nature of the Malaysian constitution. 


The 2003 Suhakam Annual Report gave  the government’s response to a report lodged by the DAP in 2002  that the arbitrary, unilateral and unconstitutional “929 Declaration” by the then Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad at the Gerakan national delegates conference on Sept. 29, 2001 was a serious violation of constitutional and human rights – which is so outrageous and  untenable from constitutional law that it could not acceptable by Abu Talib if he is consistent with his submissions before the Judicial Tribunal in 1988  justifying the sacking of Tun Salleh Abas for being insensitive to the secular nature of Malaysia as Lord President.


I had asked whether Abu Talib’s statement opposing the proposed  Inter-faith Commission,  whether statutory or otherwise,  was a stand of Suhakam taken officially by a proper meeting of the Suhakam Commissioners or was  it  his personal view, and I am still waiting for an answer.


I have no doubt that opposition to the Interfaith Commission proposal would not have been so strong that the Prime Minister  had to call for the proposal to be put on hold  if not for the arbitrary and unconstitutional “929 Declaration” by the former Prime Minister on Sept. 29, 2001 that Malaysia was  an Islamic State, which had brought about a tectonic shift in the nation-building process.


I understand that the convenors of the two-day Interfaith Conference in Bangi last month had sent its  proposed Interfaith Commission Bill to the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, key Cabinet Ministers and the Attorney-General.  A Parliamentary Select Committee on Inter-religious and inter-civilisational dialogue would be most appropriate  to be established as the body  to consider among things the proposed Inter-faith Commission Bill.


This Parliamentary Select Committee would also provide an excellent venue for the campaign launched yesterday by some 50 non-government organizations (NGOs)  and 236 individuals with the support of  political parties and MPs  against moral policing by the state and for the repeal of provisions in the Penal Code and  in religious and municipal laws that deny citizens their fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of speech.



* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman