The Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the UPR Process (MACSA) is elated to learn from media reports that closer ties have been fostered between the various Islamic religious departments throughout Malaysia and the National Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM) as elaborated by one of its commissioners Dr. Nik Salida Suhaila Nik Saleh at the 20th anniversary forum of the latter hosted at the Istana Hotel recently.
Indeed the whole purpose of human rights as adumbrated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (UDHR) is to argument and compliment the teachings of Islam which teach love and reverence for and obedience to a supreme creator higher then oneself and that the grant of such rights is by the authority of and subject to this creator of all humankind, and not otherwise.
Such is the conception of human rights according to the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam 1990 (CDHRI) that we believe is in tandem with not just Islam but all other major religions in general. We are also of the firm view that this is also the conception of rights that goes hand in hand with values and responsibilities that we as an East Asian nation subscribe to and forms the basis of human rights enumerated within the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration 2012 (AHRD).
To this end we also welcome initiatives taken by several state religious departments to strengthen the practice and enjoyment of human rights with our national human rights body, such as the inclusion of SUHAKAM’s inputs into the content of sermons delivered in mosques during Friday prayers, for example. However, it is also our hope that this could be a mutually beneficial learning process that benefits both sides, in particular SUHAKAM, on the teachings of and role of Islam in our public sphere as well.
Islam has always played a fundamental role in our nation building ever since its arrival many hundreds of years ago prior to colonisation, having informed and become the basis of law and administration throughout all our states and territories ever since Malacca’s glory days as an international entreport and now that we are an independent nation with our own written Constitution, it is naturally expected that Islam will once again dominate our collective way of life.
Article 3(1) of our Federal Constitution was clearly formulated with this in mind, with the proviso that other religions may be practised in peace and harmony with Islam. It is clear from the constitutions of various states, such as Article 5(1) of the state of Perlis and Article 33A(1) of the state of Kedah, that this Islam shall be of the Sunni variety.
Thus the assertion by former Court of Appeal judge and current SUHAKAM commissioner Datuk Seri Hishamudin Md Yunus that our Constitution does not proscribe an official denomination or school of jurisprudence is regrettable as well as untenable, given that any person with an inkling of our history of a nation knows precisely the predominant role the sunni school of thought has played in the country that is in tandem with our local customs and values.
We take this opportunity to urge all Malaysians to increase our understanding of our Federal Constitution, our state constitutions as well as our long history as collection of Malay Muslim Sultanates prior to colonisation, being a place, as one of the British colonial administrators RJ Wilkinson aptly put, where Islamic law would have ended up the dominant law were it not for the actions of British colonial authorities. We also urge all Malaysians to appreciate in particular subsection 4(4) of the SUHAKAM Act 1999 which subjects any understanding and practice of the UDHR to our Federal Constitution and recognise the role that CDHRI and AHRD have in the realisation of the UDHR in Malaysia.
That said, all in all we welcome the increased collaboration between SUHAKAM and our religious authorities as a positive step forward for human rights in this country. SUHAKAM’s work on ensuring that LGBT persons have the right to education, employment, housing, dignity and healthcare are laudable and similar to our own approach when we emphasised the right of such persons to religious education and instruction, and the right to practice their religion, in our report to the United Nations Human Rights Council during Malaysia’s 3rd Universal Periodic Review in November last year.
Such understanding and collaboration, provided it is based on the acceptable cultural relativist approach to human rights that is in tandem with Islam and our local Asian values, and not against them, must surely be encouraged to continue. We as a coalition of 57 civil society organisations having worked with SUHAKAM on the proposed ratification by Malaysia of the Convention Against Torture (CAT) in particular are also happy to inform and collaborate further with SUHAKAM on other human rights matters, in particular those relating to Islam, and we invite them to do the same with us.
Media Statement by Azril Mohd Amin, Lawyer and Chief Executive, Centre for Human Rights Research & Advocacy (CENTHRA) and Chairperson, MACSA and Associate Professor Dr. Rafidah Hanim Mokhtar, President, International Women’s Alliance for Family Institution and Quality Education (WAFIQ) and Co-Chairperson, MACSA