PETALING JAYA: Non-Muslims in Malaysia have every right to take part in any debate on laws, including those that affect them indirectly, says Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
The PKR leader said while some laws only appeared to affect Muslims, these often inevitably affected non-Muslims as well.
He cited as example PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang’s proposed Bill to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act (Act 355).
“They (proponents of the Bill) speak as if we are all in Islam and that’s it; nobody else should bother. They (non-Muslims) have a right to bother.
“Any legislation, though it seems to purely affect only Muslims, will inevitably affect non-Muslims, and therefore they have every right to participate,” he said in a wide-ranging interview with The Star and Sinar Harian here on Friday.
Looking relaxed in a blue batik shirt and blue slacks, Anwar said non-Muslims were concerned over what seemed to be minor issues because of the fear that it would ultimately affect them.
“Their fear is that it will be like a Trojan Horse. We have to navigate and weigh these issues well,” he said, when asked about his views on tackling some of the major differences in opinion about religion in the country.
Anwar noted how PKR supported Hadi’s right as an MP to present the proposed Bill.
However, he said PKR also emphasised that the rest of the MPs should have the right to debate, amend and if needed, reject the Bill.
“This is because what is presented is not hudud and secondly, it is his (Hadi’s) interpretation,” he added.
Anwar, who was released from prison on May 16 following a royal pardon, hoped that the freedom of press enjoyed in the country today would create space for dialogue and exchange of views over the issue.
“I am confident that if a debate takes place, and is referred to authoritative views on Act 355, it (the proposed Bill) will not last,’’ he said.
Anwar urged the public to study more closely PKR’s stand on the Bill to amend Act 355, which the party issued in the form of a booklet that was available for download on its website (https://www.keadilanrakyat.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Pemerkasaaan-Perundangan-Syariah-di-Malaysia.pdf).
“We are not liberals who refuse to apply Islamic tenets. We represent the Islamic conscience, but we do not represent this outmoded ultra-conservative Islam that wants to compel others to accept a particular interpretation,” he pointed out.
Hadi tabled a Private Member’s Bill to amend Act 355 in 2016, which if approved would grant syariah courts the power to impose stiffer penalties on all crimes except those involving the death sentence.
Following fierce debates among lawmakers, Hadi presented a tweaked version of the motion and sought to defer it for debate at the following parliamentary meeting.
In March last year, then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said the Government decided not to table the Private Member’s Bill in line with the principle of consensus.
However, PAS said it would continue to try and push it through.
Anwar was also asked to comment on the fate of the Islamic Development Department (Jakim), which was under review following Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s announcement on May 31 that a committee made up of religious scholars and non-religious experts would be set up for the purpose.
“Tun Mahathir did not say abolish but to re-examine,” said Anwar.
Senior people in Jakim were involved in the campaign for a particular political party and that was excessive, he said, adding that Jakim’s budget of almost RM1bil was also “huge”.
“If the aim is for increasing awareness on proproselytisation, that I agree. But now people are raising the issue that even on the question of halal (certification), there are excesses.”
Anwar said he had met with representatives from a number of local food manufacturing companies run by non-Muslims who had no objection over the need for halal certifications but complained about the excessive additional costs involved.
“The aim is good and the implementation is needed, but there should not be excesses.”
The over hour-long interview also touched on Anwar’s relationship with Dr Mahathir, the Malay Rulers and on who would become his deputy when he eventually assumed the country’s top post.
Later that evening, Anwar flew off to London to meet with a close friend – former US vice-president Al Gore. Anwar is expected to return early next week.
The Star team was led by Star Media Group managing director and chief executive officer Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai.