Thursday, December 28, 2023

Ngeh: Appoint non-Muslim experts to sit on 'syariah laws committee'

Ngeh: Appoint non-Muslim experts to sit on 'syariah laws committee'

Non-Muslim constitutional experts should be appointed to the committee reviewing the jurisdiction of the Syariah Court as per the Federal Constitution, said DAP lawmaker Ngeh Khoo Ham.

“I notice that all members of the committee are Muslims.

“It is important to also appoint non-Muslim constitutional experts into the committee so that non-Muslim views with regard to the provisions in the Federal Constitution will also be taken into account before proposals for changes in our law is made,” he said in a statement.

Furthermore, Ngeh (above) said a representative from the Malaysian Bar must also sit on the committee as this is a statutory body formed to ensure the laws passed in our country are fair and just.

Last month, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said the government has agreed to form the special committee sanctioned by the Conference of Rulers.

He said the rulers consented to the committee studying ways to enhance the powers of the Syariah Court over Muslims, while ensuring that it does not affect non-Muslims.

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim

Subsequently, on Dec 5, the government announced the formation of the committee.

The 11-member committee, headed by former chief justice Zaki Azmi, would also review the competency of state legislatures in formulating syariah laws.

Other members are former federal court judge Mohd Zawawi Salleh, Selangor Islamic council member Salehuddin Saidin, Malacca Chief Syariah judge Nadzri Abdul Rahman, Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) syariah and law harmonisation division head Anas Ahmad Zakie, civil division deputy head Shamsul Bolhassan and constitutional research unit chief Azirul Liza Abdullah, International Islamic University Malaysia legal dean Farid Sufian Shuaib and Wan Ahmad Fauzi Hashim, Malaysian Syariah Lawyers Association president Musa Awang and syariah lawyer Zulqarnain Lukman.

Meanwhile, Ngeh said the government must recognise and put into effect the absolute right of a person to profess and practice his/her religion guaranteed under Article 11 of the Federal Constitution.

“The Federal Constitution is a well-crafted supreme law of our land which holds our diverse nation together.

“It takes into consideration the interest of all races, religions, languages, cultures, regions, the positions of the rulers as well as the rights and protection of the common man.

“Any attempt to change the position of any race or religion that affects other races and religions must be discussed thoroughly to avoid conflict,” the Beruas MP added.

In harmonising the syariah laws with the Federal Constitution, Ngeh said it is important that the views of non-Muslims are taken into account so that their rights and protection are not affected.

“An example where an amendment to the Federal Constitution to accommodate complaints of Muslims that civil courts interfere into Islamic matters has now, in my view, been wrongly interpreted to take away the freedom of religion guaranteed under the Federal Constitution,” he added.

Ngeh said that in 1988, Article (1A) was added to Article 121 of the Federal Constitution and Article (1A), which provides that “the courts referred to in Clause (1) shall have no jurisdiction in respect of any matter within the jurisdiction of Syariah Courts.”

“Due to Article 121 (1A) of the Federal Constitution, some civil courts at the moment refused to entertain applications from persons who seek to declare that they are not Muslims on the ground they have no jurisdiction to entertain such applications.

“The Home Ministry has asked persons who do not profess the Islamic faith to get a Syariah Court declaration to declare that they are not Muslims before the word Islam can be removed from their identity cards.

“Syariah Courts will be slow or will not grant such an order as it is an offence to leave Islam under the syariah law,” he said, adding that it has left many in a quandary.

‘Administrative changes to MyKad’

Calling it a social issue which needs to be resolved, Ngeh reiterated that the Home Ministry allows such amendments to the identity cards administratively.

In October, the DAP lawmaker urged the government to act administratively to rectify the status of 137 Orang Asli from the Bateq Mayah ethnic group by removing the word “Islam” from their identity cards.

This was after the Kuantan High Court on Tuesday (Oct 3) struck out a lawsuit by the group of Orang Asli to nullify their Islamic status following an alleged unlawful mass conversion 30 years ago.

Ngeh’s unwavering stand on religious freedom had also become campaign fodder in the last general election and this year’s polls for six states.

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