KUALA LUMPUR, March 6 — Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir welcomed today a Muslim lawyers group’s defence of atheists when it protested against making the Rukunegara a preamble to the Federal Constitution.
Malay rights group Perkasa and a group of 31 lawyers and academics at a roundtable talk yesterday strongly opposed the proposal by the group calling themselves “Rukunegara Muqaddimah Perlembagaan” (RMP), which Marina is a part of.
"This is coming from the Muslim lawyer? Well I'm glad he's standing up for atheists Congratulations! I'm glad he believes in freedom of belief," Marina said, referring to Muslim Lawyers Association Malaysia president, Datuk Zainul Rijal Abu Bakar.
During the discussion, Zainul lamented that the rights of atheists to not believe in the existence of God would be affected if the Rukunegara was made a preamble of the Federal Constitution, as “belief in God” was one of the five tenets of the National Principles.
Marina however said that the Rukunegara by itself cannot alter the provisions in the Federal Constitution.
"Well I think there is misunderstanding, because the Rukunegara upholds the Federal Constitution. So whatever is in the Constitution, remains unchanged. The preamble by itself, cannot change the Constitution. I don't know what they are talking about.
"But again, I would like to congratulate Datuk Zainul Rijal for considering those who do not believe in God," she told Malay Mail Online when contacted.
RMP head Dr. Chandra Muzaffar also echoed Marina's sentiment, adding that the group proposed the suggestion to enable the Rukunegara to act as a moral compass and not to undermine the special privilege of the Malays and Islam, as alleged by Muslim academics and lawyers during the Sunday discussion.
"No way this will undermine the special position of Malays and those from Sabah and Sarawak. Why? Because Article 153 and others related to the special position of the Malays and those from Sabah and Sarawak are entrenched in the Constitution and no one can change it.
"Not the Parliament or the electorates can change that. These are protected by the Conference of Rulers. It has iron-clad protection," Chandra said, adding that allegations that the Rukunegara would alter the Federal Constitution were without basis, aimed to create a climate of fear.
Article 153 of the Federal Constitution grants the Yang di-Pertuan Agong responsibility for safeguarding the special position of the Malays and natives of Sabah and Sarawak, as well as the legitimate interests of other communities.
It also detailed ways to do this, such as establishing quotas for entry into the civil service, public scholarships and public education.
As for the position of Islam, Chandra said that Article 3 of the Federal Constitution already safeguards Islam's position and the Rukunegara, as per one of its tenets "keluhuran perlembagaan” (nobleness of the Constitution) only aims to uphold that.
"Since the Rukunegara itself upholds the Constitution, why should one worry about the position of Islam?" he questioned.
Economist and academic Dr Madeline Berma, echoed such sentiments.
"The very fundamental thing as to why I decided to be part of the team was because of the way the Rukunegara is being treated now.
"We thought we should put it at a position where it is best. The Rukunegara is not against anything else. Why are we afraid to put the Rukunegara as a preamble? It upholds the Constitution and is not against it," she added.
On sentiments aired about religion and freedom to not believe in God, Madeline said that the importance leant towards the aspect of spirituality rather than godliness.
"Believing in God is about spiritual foundation. It is not just one God. It's about spirituality. No way are we trying to impose one religion or one's belief upon society. It's not about imposition," she added.