Minister: Some strings attached to constitutional articles of religious freedom

Jerry Choong
Boys recite the Quran at Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Mosque in Shah Alam May 22, 2019. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 13 — The right to religious freedom for some is conditional due to the wording of the Federal Constitution, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Mujahid Yusof Rawa said today.

“I want to give my assurance that Articles 3 and 11 are still our parameter in ensuring we do not infringe upon those freedoms and rights,” Mujahid said after officiating the Federal Territory Maal Hijrah celebrations at the Federal Territory Mosque.

Article 3 of the Federal Constitution states that Islam as the religion of Malaysian federation but this does not infringe on other faiths while Article 11 provides that every Malaysian has the right to profess and practise his religion.

However, the latter article has a clause that prohibits the propagation of faiths other than Islam to Muslims.

In Malaysia, only the Sunni denomination and its Shafie school of jurisprudence are considered Islam while others are deemed deviant. This distinction is not codified, however, in the Constitution.

On Monday, raids were conducted on Shiahs at several places in the country as they observed a major festival of their faith.

Mujahid explained that this particular area was subject to the interpretation of Muslim authorities, citing the recent raid by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department on a Shiah event in Gombak last week as an example.

“That falls under the jurisdiction of the state government, and they have their own standard operating procedures (SOP) in certain situations which may be justification when certain actions have to be taken. On our part, we will respect their decision.

“So in upholding constitutional principles, my department has also consulted the Selangor mentri besar during a meeting with the National Council of Islamic Affairs, as we are looking to balance religious freedom and state Islamic departments’ SOPs,” said Mujahid.

When asked about Penang Mufti Datuk Wan Salim Wan Mohd Noor’s recommendation for facts on the Shiah denomination be included in the Islamic Studies subject, Mujahid said the former was commenting on a different aspect of the matter.

“The mufti is looking at things in a more structured and positive manner, so as to prevent misunderstanding from arising between the followers of religion.

“However as with the recent case in Selangor, it will have to depend on the state SOPs, especially when it comes to the question of implementing enforcement. In the long-term, I feel such matters as this ought to be balanced out carefully,” he said.

Yesterday, Education Minister Maszlee Malik said he would meet Wan Salim to discuss his view in the nearest future. The mufti took a more conciliatory approach to the Shiah denomination, saying that education is the key to resolving tensions surrounding the followers of that sect.

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