Thursday, March 22, 2007

Article 11: Alive And Kicking

Article 11, the coalition, launched its video series today. The videos are aimed at clearing the air about what the coalition stands for and what its objectives are. At the moment, there are 3 videos: a dialogue in English with key coalitions members, a dialogue in Malay with other key members and a dialogue (in Malay) about the role of Islam in governance. The videos will be available for viewing shortly on prominent internet portals and sites. For further details, please go to www.article11.org. The website also has an FAQ about the coalition and its activities.

It is worth underscoring that Article 11 stands for what all of us as Malaysians should be standing for. A just and compassionate society in which the interests of all are equally protected through an unbiased and objective adherence to the Rule of Law. For those of you who have doubts, let me set out here the mission and objective of Article 11 (as is set out in its website):

Mission Statement

Our mission is to ensure a Malaysia that:
  • upholds the supremacy of the Federal Constitution;
  • protects every person equally, regardless of religion, race, descent, place of birth or gender; and
  • is firmly established in, and upholds, the rule of law.

Objectives

We aim to promote awareness towards, advocate for, and contribute to achieving a Malaysia where all Malaysians in our daily lives:

  1. affirm the Federal Constitution as the supreme law of the land;
  2. strive to build national unity;
  3. affirm the right of every person to full and adequate access to justice;
  4. recognise the need for a judiciary that is impartial, independent and an equal arm of the government;
  5. recognise that the Federal Constitution embodies an agreement among the various communities;
  6. respect the Constitutional guarantees of equal protection for every person in a multi-racial, multi-religious Malaysia;
  7. seek to protect fundamental liberties for all;
  8. respect the freedom of thought, conscience, belief and religion of every person; and
  9. ensure that Malaysia does not become a theocratic state.”

The mission and objectives of Article 11 are not inconsistent with Islam. On the contrary, they go far in attempting to ensure that the core Islamic values of justice and righteousness are adhered to and applied. How is it Islamic to leave any person – muslim or otherwise – without recourse? How is it Islamic to apply the law tactically to deprive a person of legitimate rights of access to justice? Islam does not only offer justice and fairness to Muslims. It does not create a monopoly over these values for Muslims. Any suggestion to the contrary is an insult to the religion. Any application of the law to that end misrepresents Islam as a religion that enjoins unfairness, injustice and oppression.

Article 11 promotes the Constitution. In doing so, it accepts the Constitutional declaration that “Islam is the religion of the Federation” (Article 3(1)). It also accepts the Constitutional declaration that “all other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony” (Article 3(1)). There have been many lies about the coalition and its supposed efforts to reject Islam as the religion of Federation. I question the motives of those who have misrepresented the efforts of the coalition. I challenge them to prove that Article 11 has done what it is they say.

It is the Constitution that protects us all, Muslims or otherwise. It is the Constitution that guarantees Muslims the freedom to be Muslims. It is the Constitution that guarantees a Malay Muslim the freedom to practice Islam in the way a Shafee Muslims would. It is the Constitution that allows a Malay Muslim to reject any compulsion to practice Islam other than as a Shafee. But if one accepts that along with the madzhab Shafee, there are other recognized schools of thought, or madzhabs, within the Sunni grouping of Muslims, we must also recognize that the Constitution equally protects the rights of Muslims to practice Islam in accordance with the principles declared by these other madzhabs. Muslims from the Indian sub-continent are more usually Hanafis.

Islam cherishes diversity. In our uniqueness as humans, diverse as we are, we celebrate the Creator. Islam is not monolithic. To attempt to define Islam in a limiting way is to attempt to limit God.

The Constitution protects that diversity. Not only within the religion of Islam but also outside it. It protects the rights of all persons in religion, faith and conscience. It guarantees that all of us are equal in law and before the law; that no one can be discriminated against on grounds of ethnicity, religion and gender. In this way justice is ensured for all. And just because the Constitution is not replete with Islamic terminology, this is no reason to condemn it as being unIslamic or anti-Islamic. Labels only go to form. More importantly, justice is not justice unless it is seen as being impartial. Fairness cannot be created from bias, in fact or in perception. Justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done. The Constitution exemplifies this principle.

So, I believe that in promoting the Constitution and the objective, detached justice it offers to us all, Article 11 is in fact promoting the universality that is an essential aspect of all faiths, religions and ways of life, including Islam.

And that is why it continues with its efforts to highlight those very disturbing trends that have developed in recent times. Can you blame Article 11 for doing so? I think not. To turn its back on the issue would mean turning its back on the very unjust and unfair treatment of individuals such as the widow of Murthi, Shamala, more recently Subashini and all those in similar positions.

The reality is that these individuals have been wronged by a system that was conceived to protect individuals like them but which has been misapplied to contrary ends in recent times. They have been treated unfairly and oppressively. Regretfully, Islam (as represented by the syariah courts and their purportedly exclusive jurisdiction) has been invoked to justify the treatment of these individuals and others like them. In this way, Islam is being given a bad name

The situation that has developed is a grave one. It is a situation that is dividing the nation more and more as the flaws in reasoning get more entrenched. I say flaws because the Murthi or Shamala or Subashini scenario is a recent one. We have been independent since 1957 and Article 121(1A) - the Constitutional provision that introduced the jurisdictional divide between civil and syariah courts - came into play in 1988. One would have thought that the problems would have surfaced much earlier. They did not. Shamala, the first in the series as far as I know, came to court only in 2004.

Why now and not before?

This is what Article 11 has been attempting to grapple with and highlight. If the system worked before, then something must be wrong with the way it is being applied now. The resultant injustice is reason enough for all of us to study the situation and attempt to solve it. Recent developments are tearing apart this nation, ironically in the name of the Constitution.

In this way, the efforts of Article 11 are aimed at ensuring that this country remains united and that the assurance of the Prime Minister of “1 county, 1 system” is borne out.

Article 11 is a nation building effort. It is an effort which all of us should align with. It is not an effort that belongs to the organizations and individuals behind the coalition. It is an effort that all of us are stakeholders in.

Help Article 11. Help Malaysia. Disseminate correct information about the initiative, consider the issues it is dealing with, communicate your understanding to others. The situation developing is serious enough for all of us to be concerned about, irrespective of faith.

MIS

7 comments:

Weng Tchung said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

In my opinion, it is a sad day when a country needs a coalition to promote and uphold the Constitution of the country.

What is happening to the Executive and Judiciary?

sad, sad-lah ...

I pray that everybody should uphold the simple principle of mankind ie goodness, justice and equality should prevail regardless of colour and creed - this is the ONLY way we can live in harmony with a hope of a better tomorrow for the future generations.

Good luck to MIS and the coalition.

teetwoh said...

it is time to review the constitution as a whole if Malaysians are serious about building a just and equitable Malaysia. Get rid of Article 153, eg. This movement talks about building national unity. All this means is non-bumis are expected to continue playing the stooge to the bumis. Is this what Malaysia wants?

Elanor said...

Good to have you back :)

Definitely hope that all will turn out well. It is a personal fear, however, that certain groups will neither have the open mind nor capacity to accept and comprehend the effort of the coalition and the gravity of the current state of affairs.

Malik Imtiaz Sarwar said...

Hello all, it's good to be back. I have spent much of the last, very silent, month thinking about things. It has been hard not to be cynical. I That, however, is a luxury none of us can afford at this stage of things. Thanks for the encouragement.

MIS

Elanor said...

Hi Malik Imtiaz,

Thanks for visiting my blog :)

On your comment, I empathise with your sentiment. In fact, I have referred to you before in my earlier post on Who Watches the Watchmen, -

"Just wondering how much of the lack of social cohesion is the product of political opportunists, and how much is from the actual conviction of the masses itself.

Both are interrelated and self-perpetuating of course. But if it is more of the former, and the majority of the people disagree with such social division, then it will only be a matter of time before the society gets more mature and those in power will be revealed to be powerless (yes yes, Vaclav Havel again...). Malik Imtiaz mused about this scenario nicely in one of his blog entries, and all that is needed is for us is to stand up together.

Unfortunately, it is my fear that reality is not so, and the political power is merely a derivation and reflection of the belief and conviction of a divided society.
"

Economists concur that growth and development of an economy depends crucially on its institutions. In the current state of Malaysia now, it is my earnest believe that having good institutions is getting absolutely critical in ensuring future prosperity.

Will be waiting to read your future posts :)

Elanor

amelly said...

Finally...