Objections built on false grounds

  • Brave New World
  • Wednesday, 18 Jul 2018

PUTRAJAYA, 12 Julai -- Ketua Hakim Negara Tan Sri Richard Malanjum berucap pada majlis Angkat Sumpah Presiden Mahkamah Rayuan dan Hakim Besar Sabah dan Sarawak di Istana Kehakiman hari ini.--fotoBERNAMA (2018) HAK CIPTA TERPELIHARA

I CANNOT begin to tell you how angry I am at the objections raised regarding Tan Sri Richard Malanjum’s elevation to Chief Justice.

All forms of opinion are welcome, of course, and everyone has a right to object.

However, the sheer obtuseness of the objections and the language being used reflect both profound ignorance and a vile worldview.

The primary concern about Malanjum in the new post is that he is non-Muslim. Coupled with the fact that the new de facto Law Minister and the Attorney General are also non-Muslims, this has got some people’s knickers in an almighty twist.

These shrill voices are using that old chestnut of race and religion to stoke up negative sentiments. They claim that their noble wish to introduce Syariah nationwide is now scuppered.

And besides, how can a kafir (their words, not mine) be allowed to hold such power.

Right, let me sort this lot out.

Firstly, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, in our laws that says the Chief Justice (or the AG and any minister) has to be of any particular faith.

Nothing. Get that?

Secondly, these people seem to have no idea how laws are made in this country or how the judiciary works. The CJ does not make decisions on his own. Sitting in the Federal Court as he does, he is always part of a panel.

Furthermore, the CJ, AG and Law Minister do not make the laws. Laws are made in Parliament.

They are debated and voted for by 222 MPs.

The “three amigos”, therefore, cannot control the passage of any law, Islamic or otherwise.

The Law Minister, being an MP, has one vote. But that is it – just one vote. So they can’t influence legislation.

I don’t know how to make this any simpler.

A big deal is made about Malanjum’s decision in the Lina Joy case.

For those who have forgotten, Lina Joy was a Malay woman born into a Muslim family who converted to Catholicism. She wanted to change her status on her identity card and was prevented from doing so. The case was fundamentally about whether she had the freedom to choose her faith.

According to some, Malanjum’s dissenting judgment shows that he is anti-Islam. Rubbish. Utter and total rubbish. His decision in that case was not anti-Islam; it was in accordance with the Constitution.

He dealt head-on with the issue at hand, which is whether a person has freedom of religion in this country. The answer is an emphatic yes because the Constitution says all persons have the freedom of religion. Not non-Muslims only, all persons.

The other two judges did not deal with the issue.

They instead focused on the procedural, saying that Lina had to leave the faith via the Syariah Court for her new status to be recognised. And just a side note: there weren’t two majority judgments. One judge wrote the majority agreement and the other simply agreed.

So, let me get this straight. A judge who follows the rules – and the Constitution is the main rule of the land – is somehow a bad judge? Why? Because he is not a Muslim? How bigoted is that?

You know, it is the right of these folk who want to have an Islamic state in this country to ask for it, campaign for it and argue for it.

I have always said this and I maintain it now. However, it has to be done within the rules of this country.

If you want Syariah law to be the only law, if you want non-Muslims to be unable to hold certain posts (or perhaps these bigots don’t want them to hold any post at all), then campaign for it.

At the next general election, make that your manifesto, that you will change the Constitution and you will make Malaysian law Syariah law and that you will ensure non-Muslims be kept in their place with no major positions for them.

Get the requisite majority and change the Constitution. But be honest, for heaven’s sake.

Azmi Sharom (azmi.sharom@gmail.com) is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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