Sunday, December 31, 2023

MP Ngeh Koo Ham apologises, says no intention to interfere in Islamic affairs

MP Ngeh Koo Ham apologises, says no intention to interfere in Islamic affairs

Beruas MP Datuk Ngeh Koo Ham has apologised and said he has no intention to interfere in Islamic affairs. — File picture by Farhan Najib

Saturday, 30 Dec 2023 6:55 PM MYT

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 30 — Beruas MP Datuk Ngeh Koo Ham today apologised for his recent proposal regarding the membership of a special committee studying the competence of states to enact Islamic laws, and said he has no intention to interfere in Islamic affairs.

Ngeh referred to his December 28 media statement, where he had suggested that both non-Muslims and a member from the Malaysian Bar who are constitutional experts to be also appointed as members of the committee studying how to harmonise the Shariah law and the Federal Constitution.

Ngeh explained that he had expected that the process undertaken by the committee would include proposals to amend the Federal Constitution, adding that this was why he had made his proposal previously: "My suggestion is to ensure that all views are taken into account before any constitutional amendment proposal is made."

But Ngeh went on to say that he now retracts his earlier proposal.

"As it has been now clarified that the special committee was formed by the National Islamic Affairs Council headed by His Royal Highness Sultan Selangor which I was not aware of earlier, I hereby withdraw my proposal and tender my sincere apology.

"I have no intention whatsoever to interfere in Islamic affairs," the DAP man said.

On December 28, Ngeh was reported proposing for non-Muslim constitutional experts to also be appointed to the special committee to enable non-Muslim views on the Federal Constitution's provisions to be taken into account before proposals for changes to the country's law are made.

Among other things, Ngeh also suggested a representative from the Malaysian Bar to be appointed as a committee member.

On December 29, DAP secretary-general Anthony Loke said Ngeh's proposal was based on an erroneous understanding regarding the special committee's formation, clarifying that its formation is not determined by Cabinet but by the National Council for Islamic Religious Affairs (MKI).

Loke said that the special committee reports directly to the MKI and would be advising the MKI — which is chaired by the Selangor Sultan — on proposals to enhance the Shariah courts' jurisdiction.

Loke clarified that DAP was not trying to interfere in Islamic affairs and said that DAP respects the Selangor Sultan's wisdom in making any decisions on MKI affairs.

Loke also said non-Muslims do not have to be concerned as any legal amendments involving the rights of non-Muslims would have to go through and be decided by Cabinet before going through the usual process in Parliament.

Previously on December 5, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Religious Affairs) Datuk Mohd Na'im Mokhtar announced the appointment of 11 members — including former chief justice Tun Zaki Tun Azmi as chairman — to the special committee, including former chief justice Tun Zaki Tun Azmi as its chairman.

Mohd Na'im had said the special committee would study state legislative assemblies' competence to enact Islamic laws and the Shariah court's jurisdiction under the Federal Constitution.

He also said the special committee is part of government efforts to resolve the conflict between the federal government's jurisdiction and the state government's jurisdiction to enhance Shariah laws and the Shariah judicial system in Malaysia.

National news agency Bernama had also on December 5 reported Mohd Na'im as saying that the special committee would look at and refine all matters involving overlaps between the Shariah courts and civil courts such as religious conversion, property, inheritance claims and wills, and that it would also examine the reasons for the courts' decision in two cases.

The two court cases that Mohd Na'im was referring to involve constitutional challenges against the Selangor state legislative assembly and the Kelantan state legislative assembly to make state laws on certain Shariah offences, due to the federal and state jurisdictions listed under the Federal Constitution.

Both court challenges revolve around questions of whether it is the Parliament that has the power instead under the Federal Constitution to make those laws, and whether the state legislative assemblies went beyond their law-making powers under the Federal Constitution when enacting those provisions on some of the Shariah offences.

The first court case saw the Federal Court's nine-judge panel on February 25, 2021 declaring a Selangor state law's provision which made unnatural sex a Shariah offence as unconstitutional as it comes under Parliament's law-making powers instead of state legislatures' law-making powers.

As for the second court case, two Muslim women are challenging the constitutionality of a Kelantan state law's provisions on some Shariah offences which they argue are under federal law-making jurisdiction and are already covered in laws made by Parliament.

The Federal Court has yet to decide on the second court case, but had during a November hearing stressed that the issue in the case is not about undermining the position of Islam or the Shariah court, and is rather about the competency of the state legislative assembly to make laws.

On December 29, Mohd Na'im in a subsequent statement said Ngeh's proposal for non-Muslim experts' appointment to the special committee was baseless, saying that all 11 members that have already been appointed each have expertise in the Federal Constitution, civil laws and Shariah laws and are qualified to propose the best and harmonious resolution of all related issues to enhance Shariah laws and the Shariah judicial system.

Also on December 29, the Selangor Sultan as the MKI chairman reminded non-Muslims to respect and not interfere in Islamic affairs in Malaysia, following Ngeh's proposal. He also took note of Loke's statement.

This morning, Anwar issued a brief statement backing the Selangor Sultan's reminder for respect and non-interference in Islamic affairs, while also saying that non-Muslims could write into the MKI if there are any doubts to resolve any confusion harmoniously.

Earlier this evening, Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Amirudin Shari today thanked the Selangor ruler Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah on behalf of the state's residents for his wisdom in his decree on non-interference by non-Muslims in Islamic affairs.

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