Federal and state govts urged to uphold Sarawak’s religious freedom

Dr Maszlee Malik

KUCHING, Dec 26: Sarawak Evangelical Christian Association (SECA) calls on both the federal and state governments to give due attention to issues that would affect the kind of religious freedom Sarawak was promised in their consultation process on the restoration of Sarawak rights.

In a statement, SECA emphasised that Sarawak’s unique religious freedom was enshrined in the Federal and State Constitutions, which provides ample space for the adherents of each religion to profess, practise and propagate their faith.

“It is therefore unthinkable for the government to use any of its ministries or government agencies to support the agenda of just a specific religion, albeit Islam being the official religion,” SECA said.

The association was responding to Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik’s statement related to making Sabah and Sarawak an Islamic propagation field (‘medan dakwah’) in Parliament recently, which has since drawn criticisms from various quarters in Sabah and Sarawak.

SECA added that the minister’s subsequent explanation in his attempts to defuse the furor created by his remark, by explaining that there was a broader meaning to the term ‘medan dakwah’ was unacceptable.

“A quick reference to any dictionary will tell us that the word ‘dakwah’ is none other than the rally cry for Islamisation of the two East Malaysian states.”

“We are sure that, after his remarks, Maszlee cannot unequivocally assure the people of Sarawak that there is really no ongoing Islamisation agenda in the education system in our state.”

The reality, SECA said, was that the government has been, and still is, overtly and persistently favouring one religion over the others in its policies and allocation of resources.

“This has been the case right from the early stage of the Federation. Non-Muslims have been facing the increasing erosion of their religious space over the years. The long-drawn ‘Allah’ court cases and the ‘Alkitab’ saga in 2011 are two clear examples of situations where the people of Sarawak have to fight for their rights to practice their faith.”

Standing with the people of Sarawak, SECA expressed strong support to uphold and maintain the state’s unique right to complete freedom of religion.

SECA reminded that this was an ideal that was espoused by all the parties that were involved right from the time of the Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Committee (MSCC) meetings, which subsequently led to the formation of Malaysia.

“The top leaders of the five territories who came together in 1961 and 1962 to explore the concept of the new federation under the MSCC, all held high ideals of the kind of country we wanted to establish together.”

This Committee, SECA added, played a very important role in the journey to the formation of the Federation.

Elaborating, SECA said the report written by the MSCC, which became known as the Memorandum on Malaysia (MOM), contained foundational terms of reference that the subsequent Cobbold Commission relied upon to carry out their tasks.

“One key consensus of all the parties to MA63 (Malaysia Agreement 1963) was to ensure the continuity of the prevailing way of life the people would enjoy under the new federation. Our delegates to the whole negotiation process voiced strongly the need to keep the Sarawak way of life.”

“To protect us against possible disruptions to our unique way of life in the federation, we fought hard for safeguards of specific rights in those areas of our society which we believed were vital in keeping this way of life.”

The issue of religion in the new federation, SECA continued, was raised right from the first meeting of MSCC and featured prominently in MOM as it was a key determinant of societal life.

Citing an excerpt from the report on this, it stated that “The Committee directed a great deal of its attention to the question of Islam as the religion of the Federation. It is satisfied that the acceptance of Islam as the religion of the Federation would not endanger religious freedom within Malaysia nor will it make Malaysia a state less secular.

“The present Constitution of the Federation of Malaya which would serve as the basis of the new federation, has adequately guaranteed that other religions can be practiced in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation.

“Every person will have the right to profess and practise his religion… No person in the federation of Malaysia will be required, except in accordance with the laws of his own religion, to receive instructions, or take part, in any ceremony or act of worship of any religion.

“All these rights, which were in fact universally enjoyed at present in the Federation of Malaya, will be enshrined in the constitution of the Federation of Malaysia.”

SECA said that it remained a prominent focal point throughout the process of the formation of the federation; in the Cobbold Commission Report, Inter-government Committee (IGC) Report, and finally in MA63.

In short, SECA reiterated that Sarawak has been granted a special safeguard in religion – ‘complete freedom of religion’, which was a term repeatedly and fervently discussed in the meetings leading to the signing of MA63.

“Preserving this kind of religious freedom is therefore key to keeping the Sarawak way of life. We have been fighting hard for a long time for this in the face of increasing restrictive measures against this freedom in our state,” SECA said. — DayakDaily