Syariah in a Secular Constitution


The debate currently raging on Islam and the constitution in Malaysia raises some very pertinent and perplexing questions not only about the character of the federal constitution, its role in government and politics, but it also reflects how little of the constitution is understood by those who comment on it and then attempt to interpret its provisions.

At the heart of the current debate on the perceived ‘rise of radical Islam’ ‘in breach of the secular character of the constitution is that “clash of civilizations” narrative conceived and conceptualized by conservatives in Washington post 9/11. That narrative and all that it stands for is now being played out in Malaysia.

Ventilating the position of what even the right wing in Washington refer to as the “rabid looney far right”, is an urban, ‘educated’ elite, embedded in the cities and metropolises of Malaysia. They and judging from their socio political dialect are an elite, alienated from the mainstream of Islam and their own culture. They have little connection to the realities of the daily lives, struggles and aspirations of the vast majority of Malaysia’s Muslims, Its Malays. Yet they claim to speak on behalf of Islam and the Malays in pronounced western monologues and tones .


The latest barnacle of this socially and politically aware coterie, attached to the hull of an opposition ship piloted by civil societies and other so called NGO’s is the Prominent group of 25. Led by former Malaysian Ambassador to the Netherlands Datuk Noor Faridah Ariffin, the group raises amongst other things, ‘a head of steam’ in what many in their class perceive as the unwelcome ascendancy of Islam as a religious and political force in national politics. They see the rise of Islam as threatening and a breach of the secular character of the federal constitution. But they don’t raise any argument capable of supporting the non ‘secular’ aspect of the  ascendancy of Islam as they see it or how it breaches the constitution’s ‘secular’ character in the process.

Relevantly Faridah Noor is quoted as saying “It is high time moderate Malays and Muslims speak out. Extremist, immoderate and intolerant voices as represented by Perkasa and Isma do not speak in our name,”  in an open letter sent to all Malaysian media. What she failed to say was that the letter was not meant for the media. And then there were 24.

Noor Faridah fails to qualify or substantiate her claims in respect of the constitution, Islam and secularism  in that letter. She fails to address or ignores the fact she and her group of 25 Datuks and Datins have little in common with the wider body of the Malay Muslim population, from which it could be argued that the 25 have far less in the form of a credible mandate than Perkasa or Isma to speak out for Muslims  or for Malays.

The 25 decorated, socially connected, upper middle class signatories to that letter have little connect with the vast body of marginalized mainly rural Malay Muslims for whom Isma and Perkasa speak so eloquently and effectively drawing Noor Fardiah’s ire and attention.

So much for her respect and knowledge of the constitution, of secularism, of democratic principles and  the needs and aspirations of Malays.


Interestingly Noor Faridah refers to Perkasa and Isma as extremists for a few misplaced sentiments of its members. One swallow it appears does a summer make. She conveniently avoids comment on the totalitarian mindset and extreme language of chauvinistic (the exclusive and Chinese dominated) opposition politicians from the DAP, Bersih and elements of the Malaysian Bar. Each of these groups seek to overthrow government outside the ballot box. Noor Faridah and her G25 don’t see this as a threat to democracy and secularism.

Noor Faridah ignores reference to the plethora of  insults hurled at Islam and the Malays and the litany of lies and defamatory remarks in propaganda prior to and during the general election period of 2013 by her allies.These are the foreign funded rioters who  threaten to undermine democratic, representative, government by their actions.

Not even after Ambiga Sreenivasan’s audacious admissions on record to being foreign funded with an agenda to disrupt the elections and government has Noor Faridah anything to say about that threat and its extremist undemocratic non secular tones.

Faridah and the ‘prominent’ 25 are not outraged. Nothing extreme or dangerous to the rest of the state there it seems. Nothing unconstitutional or intolerant about Bersih either. Yet the language Noor Faridah choses in her contumely against Islam is couched in very similar language to that used by Bersih, the DAP’s, PR and the civil society’s other assets in the region. One therefore must ask by what credentials did Noor Faridah attain the lofty post of Malaysian Ambassador to the Netherlands. And what did she there?

Noor Faridah  is deafeningly silent also about the Catholic church and its unwarranted divisive provocations of Muslims in cahoots with the US sponsored evangelistas. Critically and conveniently she fails to demonstrate why Perkasa and Isma are racist.

Could it be that she believes that Isma and Perkasa by one or even 10 of  their number have  issued political statements like those of Bersih’s, Fr. lawrence’s or Rev. Ong Moon and Anwar’s that do not meet with her approval? or worse still could Isma’s offending statements have been in the mold of the former Pope’s (Ratzinger)“Islam is a religion of evil” remark? or more to the point,  is it because Isma and Perkasa  are not of the same social pedigree as the G25 members?


Nothing could be further from the truth than Noor Farida’s implied negativity and interpretations of secularism and the constitution arising as she implies from inclusion and recognition of Syariah law as an equal or parallel civil code in the Malaysian legal system.

It is a very long bow to draw to suggest that Malaysia, Afghanistan and Pakistan in some respects are in a parallel orbit because the Malays in a majority in exercising their constitutional rights appear to support Syariah, whilst also resisting in a tide of opposition to their rights by non Malays.

This group of 25 does not comprise Islamic or legal scholars of any repute or distinction. Nor do they comprise anyone of standing with theological or academic credentials (Islamic) in Islamic or constitutional jurisprudence capable of supporting their arguments.

The group of 25 speculate, create fear and loathing of Muslims and invite incitement to sectarianism with the open letter. Nothing more, nothing less. Noor Faridah’s credentials as a lawyer and one who held such a high position in the public service and as one who may have instructed counsel in the Pulau Batu Puteh litigation leaves a lot to be desired.


Truth is that religion, inspite of the fictional doctrine of separation of church and state has, always been like the Syariah, an integral part of state and politics.

The same applies to Holland (where Noor Faridah served) which is ruled by the House of Orange as it is in the UK ruled by the House of Windsor (the Queen) as it is in Malaysia.

The Syariah has from time immemorial been an integral part of Malay politics and deeply ingrained in the Malay psyche. Its existence and influence predates encroachment by the British colonial government and the ensuing influences of waves of imported migrants both cultural and religious. The conventions and influence of Syariah remains alive inspite of Anglo Christian legislation having obscured its existence, tarnishing its history and questioning its legitimacy.

The once seemingly dormant and benign force of Islam stirred up recently by provocative religious minorities and foreign funded anti Islamic forces appears to have finally found their sea legs. The opposition appears to have precipitated a crisis from which it is desparate to withdraw but unable to find the means to do so honourably.

These so called Liberal Muslims who the 25 appear to appeal to must in part shoulder responsibility for the increased radicalization, isolation,  militancy and rise of the politics of Islam in mainstream Malaysia today.

Islam is seen as The political doctrine, ideology and shield of a largely marginalized polity amongst the Malay population. The group of 25’s discomfort at the rise of Syariah is of their own making, their own negligence and their own incompetence.

The dispossessed amongst the Malays who are greater in number than their ‘Liberal’ counterparts, the 25 appear to appeal to, have a far greater right to an expressive voice (however offensive and disagreeable) in a democracy. And from what is happening they appear to be prepared to use their voices to express their rights to their advantage in numbers. What is so wrong about that, that those who in a majority stand up to be counted offend others? Something so wrong according to Noor Faridah. But what?


Liberal Muslims (whatever that term means) can no longer avoid the obvious, the inevitable and the consequential damage from decades of suppression of the deeply personal and religious aspirations of a silent marginalized majority, the Muslims.

Being Muslim and being Malay is as analogous to being celibate and being the Pope at the same time. These are inseparable characteristics of both concepts and not mutually exclusive terms or propositions in the Malaysian context at least. These are truisms we cannot ignore.

Terms like ‘moderate Islam’ and ‘liberal Islam’, ‘radical Islam’ and ‘progressive Islam’ are terms coined in places like the creative media labs of the powerful Hill & Knowlton and other consultancies to the anti Islamic lobby in Washington created more than a decade ago. They are colourable terms used to distort and to defame, to destroy and to debilitate.

These same terms now embarrassingly find currency amongst a belatedly ‘secularized’ community 13 years too late. The language is a dead give away of where the strings to these anti Islamic campaigns are attached.


When all else fails………….Noor Faridah unfairly and unjustly draws parallels to what has occurred in Pakistan and Afghanistan to what is likely to happen to Malaysia if the Syariah Isma Perkasa juggernaut is not stopped. 

Afghanistan like Pakistan are two states cursed by their strategic location as entry points to central Asia and the Arabian sea. Historically the British, the Russians and the Americans had all sought to subjugate and rule a martial race of people in the Hunzas, Baluchi’s, Waziris (the people of Samson of Samson and Delilah of the bible) the Pathans and the other tribes that make up the two regions. None of Britain, the US or the Soviet or their armies succeeded.

Both Pakistan and Afghanistan had a strong liberal, educated class who aspired and sought to claim for their people a fair share of the goods and services of a functioning democracy which would enable them to co-exist alongside the conservative principles and rigours of Islam and their tribal parochialism.

It was the British first, then the Soviets second then the Americans (under Ronald Reagan and William Casey) who militarised and radicalized the people of these two nations, assassinating, imprisoning and exiling their intellectuals, their liberal politicians, then setting up a false intellectual pseudo liberal class in an effort to lend a facade of legitimacy to their subjugating and ruling Pakistan and Afghanistan under an extreme form of Islam ‘Wahhabism’ to which the US was midwife at its birth in Saudi Arabia.


Coup after coup after assassination they failed. The west had by now brutalized, radicalized and militarized Islam in these places. It was now their brand of Islam that would exist in the region destroying it and its people whilst promoting western designs and supporting pro western strategies in the region.

The lynching of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto one of the very few democratically elected Pakistani leaders was a watershed in Pakistani and South Asian politics.

Pakistan has had a sleuth of despots, military brutes, medieval warlords and tyrants all installed and supported by the US before and after that event. Noor Faridah appears to latently support the myth of Islam being the root cause of the problems of Afghanistan and Pakistan with her ill informed misdirected rhetoric.

If Malaysia is to become like either of these two states it will not be because of Isma or Perkasa  or the Syaria. It is more likely to be so because of the fear mongering and ill informed claims of a misguided Noor Faridah and her cohorts and their ignorant (however well meaning) rants in this debate. This is exactly what occurred in Egypt and in other places in the middle east where American sponsored springs resulted in totalitarianism anarchy and bloodshed. The writing on the wall is the same.

What Noor Faridah and others like her are doing is precisely what the US did to Pakistan and to Afghanistan before destroying their liberal cultural and democratic and secular political institutions before turning these places into chaotic irredeemable failed states.

These agents of change achieve the destruction of their subject states by first creating then deploying a class of pseudo intellectuals with little limited knowledge, or regard for their own history or for fact. They flashed the public with their one liners instead.

Each of the extreme elements of Islam from the Taleban, Osma Ben Laden, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Algerian Brotherhood (the anti French resistance), the Chechen Rebels, (Saudi Arabian and American intelligence) the Filipino Abu Sayef (US intelligence to keep Marcos under check) and the Ayatollah’s Iranian Revolutionary Guard (the French), Hamas, Amal and Hezbollah (by Israel to keep the PLO under check) was a direct or collaborative instrument of US foreign policy. The same applies to ISIS.

Sadly for Noor Faridah there are no parallels to draw with Malaysia’s situation unless she is referring to the nexus with her group and these same forces of US foreign policy.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy them make mad first“.


There is no such thing as liberal Islam or liberal Christianity. These are religions. They are socio political concepts embedded in theologies (religions) born out of revolts, rebellions,social and political upheaval against oppression a long time ago.

The religious edicts of Islam demands strict personal disciplines as ‘ordained by God through his prophets’ and adherence to an even stricter moral code which is also claimed to be from the word of God.

For man (or woman) to alter the word of God in any way is more than merely Haram worthy of a Fatwah. Such reinventions (deviations) reduces God to a creation of man and a subject of man and not the other way round as it should be.

There are no liberal or progressive or extreme versions of Islam. There is Islam and there is Christianity. It is absolute. You either take it or leave it. You can’t reinvent it, liberalise it or dilute it.


The Malaysian constitution is secular in nature as Malaysia’s system of government is that of a parliamentary democracy. But whether or not one accepts these descriptions of Malaysia’s constitution, its government and its character the question is this. What is the meaning of secular in the context of government and the constitution. What is a democracy?

Ambiga Sreenivasan was quoted recently as explaining the meaning of secular in the framework of a similar constitution to that of Malaysia’s, the Indian constitution. In her explanations she  suggests that the notion of secularism in the Indian constitution“ is to make the Christians and Muslims feel safe and to protect them against a government being pro Hindu”. How ordinary. How misleading. How shallow.

Ambiga failed to take the opportunity to disabuse the ill informed of why the word constitution and secular are words not cast in stone to be explained with copious references to articles of the constitution by their number and paragraph alone. In fact that is not the way to explain the constitution at all.

As an example of the point. Secularism is described as being an ‘a’religious concept’ (of politics and government in this context) where no religion or spiritual belief takes precedence over the laws or over government.

Another way of describing this is simply is by reference to the concept of  The rule of law. No one is above the law (institution or individual). That does not necessarily mean no religion can prevail within the confines of the law or the constitution in a multi confessional society.

However and getting back to Amnbiga’s embarrassing explanation of the Indian example; in India, you have marriage and property acts exclusively applicable to different religions which differ in application, resultant rights and obligations but under a unitary ‘secular constitution’. An example of a few appear below for convenience:

Anand Marriage Act, 1909. (07 of 1909)Arya Marriage Validation Act, 1937. (19 of 1937)Converts’ Marriage Dissolution Act,1866. (21 of 1866)Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act,1939. (08 of 1939,)Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956. (78 of 1956)Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. (25 of 1955) Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937. (26 of 1937) Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986. (25 of 1986) Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936. (03 of 1936) The Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872. 

This example in the Indian constitution when applied against the backdrop  of secularism can be argued as being the very antithesis of secularism.

The law  and the constitution in India’s example is subject in part (as above) to religious doctrines, laws and the various theological imperatives which India’s constitution accommodates in varying degrees of discrimination resulting in a form of sectarianism. But they call it secular in India. Not sectarianism.


The point is this. India’s constitution like that of Britain’s is said to be secular. But what secular means is clearly not understood by all. Secularism it may be said is like the elephant to the three blind men in the room. Each sees and feels it from a perspective of his or her own short comings and limited knowledge.

The US, it is difficult to forget, called itself a democracy for over a century defined by the “Gettysburg Address”. “ A government of the people by the people”. But no one dared ask the vexed question for over a century about, “a government by which people  for what people”. And for a century at least the Native Americans and the African American population lived under a shadow of unparalleled oppression, deprivation and brutality under a white Christian majority, till the events that culminated in Dr. Martin Luther King’s civil rights million man march of 1968 forced a re think of the ideas of democracy and secular government there.

Yet the world recognized this ‘moral, economic and military power’ as being not only a democratic state but also the model of democratic government and a secular constitution others had to aspire to or face their wrath in the breach. The demon then was communism. Today it is Islam.


Malaysia’s constitution is secular, its government a parliamentary democracy, its majority and therefore its social fabric fundamentally cloaked in a Muslim Malay character.

By introducing Islam into the legal system the constitution does not in any way become sectarian or breach  its ‘secular character’. It may be argued that it in fact gives the idea of secularism a wider multi dimensional interpretation. It adorns the otherwise pallid secular characteristics of the constitution in its very Anglo Christian form as it currently is. Islam as an added ingredient to the constitution in fact recognizes and legitimizes the popular notion of the concept of secularism. Separation of church and state. But is that separation real?

Malaysia’s constitution, a variant of the Westminster English constitution according to the Malaysian Bar’s ‘constitutional experts’ and by implication of the call by the group of 25  is said to be secular.

In England the constitution its laws and every element of government in its preamble is by reference to the Queen in whose name parliament is called, prorogued and in whose name every law is enacted. Now how is that secular?

The Queen is head of the Church of England and the Protestant Churches. All government is hers. Her Prime Minister her Ministers, her armed forces, her courts and her civil service. Where therefore is the separation of state and religion?

The laws which determine what is wrong and what is right has its origins in the 10 commandments beginning with the first “I am the Lord thy God thou shalt not have strange Gods before me”. Interpreted in simpler form “ The King and parliament is sovereign and no other power or law shall have precedence over them”. The “constitution is the supreme law of the land” Not the US constitution, not the British constitution, but the Federal Constitution of Malaysia is the supreme law of the land. At least that is what the pre amble to the constitution says.

One can go on about the other laws such as the homicide act which is derived from the fifth commandment “thou shall not kill”, the tenth “thou shalt not covet they neighbours goods” the origins of the theft act and so on and so forth. But is it necessary?


Now where is the problem in the introduction and recognition of Syaria on par with the Christian civil code? Syaria is often ignorantly viewed through a ‘sensationalist ignorant’ prism as a regime of prohibitions alone leading to amputations and stoning.

Such perceptions are further reinforced by exaggerated media hype about organizations such as Boko Haram and ISIS whilst ignoring the equally evil “cult of the Christ of death” (Santa Muerta) in Mexico. Santa Muerta  has been responsible for the tens of thousands of deaths over the past decade where innocents have been hacked to death, mutilated, kidnapped, raped and beheaded indiscriminately. Referred to by the media as the Cocaine wars all care is taken to avoid reference to Santa Muerta a Catholic cult of death which hangs over this murderous rampage.

The US has done nothing to stop the carnage and continues to merely report it as organized crime. It in fact is far greater a danger than what ISIS (which the US created) is today. Yet the narrow minded amongst us sheepish and shallow in their intellect are willing to further advance these myths  riven by fear and a healthy dose of Islamophobia to the extent they have denigrated themselves in the process.

The singular incidents of a conflict of laws involving the Syaria and civil codes are but conflicts of law which cannot be resolved through name calling, hurling insults and demonizing one side or the other. Needless to say for a population as proportionately large as the Malays are in Malaysia they are dwarfed by the enormity of the resources in money and technical expertise of English and Chinese anti Malay anti Islamic online publications whose primary purpose is to insult them and hijack everything from their culture to their religion to their language and rights.

Isma and Perkasa are but creatures of necessity having been ignored for far too long by the comfortable middle classes and the voracious lofty ambitions of the mainly Chinese land grabbers in their midst. In the end the Malays will prevail not because of the rest of us non Malays and what we think of them, but inspite of it all.


Noor Faridah and any of the signatories to this “open letter to government” have an obligation to resign from any government position they now hold. A resignation in these circumstances is part of the Westminster Constitutional conventions  Malaysia has adopted.

It is imperative that they resign because their “open letter” is a disendorsement of confidence in the government they serve. They are therefore unfit or in the alternative not able to serve a government in whom they have expressed no confidence.

The other side of this situation is that the Prime Minister to whom and to whose government the letter is in effect addressed must resign if he does not immediately respond and put his position on the table. The Prime Minister’s response must be to sack any serving civil servant in the list of signatories to this “open letter” if he does not himself tender his resignation and that of his government.

Anytime there arises an expression of no confidence in government, there are but very few options available to the protagonists if they are within government. It is the underlying principle of responsible government that demands such a response.

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