Over the past two days, our Facebook feed went crazy over an open letter published in various news publications by a group describing themselves as “concerned citizens of Malaysia” mainly addressing the need for a rational discussion of the role and position of Islam within our constitutional laws and a shoutout to Prime Minister Najib Razak to take the lead in getting all Malaysians invested in an open discourse to solve some of the more major problems within the country.
We have reproduced a copy of the letter here (This is the one published by The Malay Mail Online):
We, a group of concerned citizens of Malaysia, would like to express how disturbed and deeply dismayed we are over the continuing unresolved disputes on the position and application of Islamic laws in this country. The on-going debate over these matters display a lack of clarity and understanding on the place of Islam within our constitutional democracy. Moreover, they reflect a serious breakdown of federal-state division of powers, both in the areas of civil and criminal jurisdictions.
We refer specifically to the current situation where religious bodies seem to be asserting authority beyond their jurisdiction; where issuance of various fatwa violate the Federal Constitution and breach the democratic and consultative process of shura; where the rise of supremacist NGOs accusing dissenting voices of being anti-Islam, anti-monarchy and anti-Malay has made attempts at rational discussion and conflict resolution difficult; and most importantly, where the use of the Sedition Act hangs as a constant threat to silence anyone with a contrary opinion.
These developments undermine Malaysia’s commitment to democratic principles and rule of law, breed intolerance and bigotry, and have heightened anxieties over national peace and stability.
As moderate Muslims, we are particularly concerned with the statement issued by Minister Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, in response to the recent Court of Appeal judgement on the right of transgendered women to dress according to their identity. He viewed the right of the transgender community and Sisters in Islam (SIS) to seek legal redress as a “new wave of assault on Islam” and as an attempt to lead Muslims astray from their faith, and put religious institutions on trial in a secular court.
Such an inflammatory statement from a Federal Minister (and not for the first time) sends a public message that the Prime Minister’s commitment to the path of moderation need not be taken seriously when a Cabinet minister can persistently undermine it.
These issues of concern we raise are of course difficult matters to address given the extreme politicisation of race and religion in this country. But we believe there is a real need for a consultative process that will bring together experts in various fields, including Islamic and Constitutional laws, and those affected by the application of Islamic laws in adverse ways.
We also believe the Prime Minister is best placed with the resources and authority to lead this consultative process. It is urgent that all Malaysians are invested in finding solutions to these longstanding areas of conflict that have led to the deterioration of race relations, eroded citizens’ sense of safety and protection under the rule of law, and undermined stability.
There are many pressing issues affecting all of us that need the urgent leadership and vision of the Prime Minister, the support of his Cabinet and all moderate Malaysians. They include:
i) A plural legal system that has led to many areas of conflict and overlap between civil and shariah laws. In particular there is an urgent need to review the Shariah Criminal Offences (SCO) laws of Malaysia. These laws which turn all manner of “sins” into crimes against the state have led to confusion and dispute in both substance and implementation. They are in conflict with Islamic legal principles and constitute a violation of fundamental liberties and state intrusion into the private lives of citizens. In 1999, the Cabinet directed the Attorney-General’s Chambers to review the SCO laws. But to this day, they continue to be enforced with more injustices perpetrated. The public outrage, debates over issues of jurisdiction, judicial challenge, accusations of abuses committed, gender discrimination, and deaths and injuries caused in moral policing raids have eroded the credibility of the SCO laws, the law-making process, and public confidence that Islamic law could indeed bring about justice.
ii) The lack of public awareness, even among top political leaders, on the legal jurisdiction and substantive limits of the powers of the religious authorities and administration of Islamic laws in Malaysia. The Federal Constitution is the supreme law of the land and any law enacted, including Islamic laws, cannot violate the Constitution, in particular the provisions on fundamental liberties, federal-state division of powers and legislative procedures. All Acts, Enactments and subsidiary legislations, including fatwa, are bound by constitutional limits and are open to judicial review.
iii) The need to ensure the right of citizens to debate the ways Islam is used as a source of public law and policy in this country. The Islamic laws of Malaysia are drafted by the Executive arm of government and enacted in the Legislative bodies by human beings. Their source may be divine, but the enacted laws are not divine. They are human made and therefore fallible, open to debate and challenge to ensure that justice is upheld.
iv) The need to promote awareness of the rich diversity of interpretive texts and juristic opinions in the Islamic tradition. This includes conceptual legal tools that exist in the tradition that enable reform to take place and the principles of equality and justice to be upheld, in particular in response to the changing demands, role and status of women in the family and community.
v) The need for the Prime Minister to assert his personal leadership as well as appoint key leaders who will, in all fairness, champion open and coherent debate and discourse on the administration of Islamic laws in this country to ensure that justice is done. We especially urge that the leadership sends a clear signal that rational and informed debate on Islamic laws in Malaysia and how they are codified and implemented are not regarded as an insult to Islam or to the religious authorities.
These issues may seem complex to many, but at the end of the day, it really boils down to this: as Muslims, we want Islamic law, even more than civil law, to meet the highest standards of justice precisely because it claims to reflect divine justice. Therefore, those who act in the name of Islam through the administration of Islamic law must bear the responsibility of demonstrating that justice is done, and is seen to be done.
When Islam was revealed to our Prophet saw in 7th century Arabia, it was astoundingly revolutionary and progressive. Over the centuries, the religion has guided believers through harsh and challenging times. It is our fervent belief that for Islam to continue to be relevant and universal in our times, the understanding, codification and implementation of the teachings of our faith must continue to evolve. Only with this, can justice, as enjoined by Allah swt, prevail.
* This letter was signed by:
1. Tan Sri Datuk Abdul Rahim Bin Haji Din
Former Secretary General, Ministry of Home Affairs
2. Tan Sri Ahmad Kamil Jaafar
Former Secretary General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
3. Tan Sri Dr Aris Othman
Former Secretary General, Ministry of Finance
4. Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican
Former Director General, Ministry of Health
5. Tan Sri Dato’ Mohd Sheriff bin Mohd Kassim
Former Secretary General, Ministry of Finance
6. Tan Sri Dato’ Dr Mustaffa Babjee
Former Director General, Veterinary Services
7. Tan Sri Nuraizah Abdul Hamid
Former Secretary General, Ministry of Energy, Communications and Multimedia
8. Tan Sri Dr Yahya Awang
Cardiothoracic Surgeon and Core Founder, National Heart Institute
9. Dato’ Seri Shaik Daud Md Ismail
Former Court of Appeal Judge
10. Dato’ Abdul Kadir bin Mohd Deen
11. Datuk Anwar Fazal
Former Senior Regional Advisor, United Nations Development Programme
12. Dato’ Dali Mahmud Hashim
13. Dato’ Emam Mohd Haniff Mohd Hussein
14. Dato’ Faridah Khalid
Representative of Women’s Voice
15. Dato’ Latifah Merican Cheong
Former Assistant Governor, Bank Negara
16. Lt Gen (Rtd) Dato’ Maulob Maamin
Lieutenant General (Rtd)
17. Dato’ Noor Farida Ariffin
18. Dato’ Ranita Hussein
Former SUHAKAM Commissioner
19. Dato’ Redzuan Kushairi
20. Dato’ Dr Sharom Ahmat
Former Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Universiti Sains Malaysia
21. Dato’ Syed Arif Fadhillah
22. Dato’ Zainal Abidin Ahmad
Former Director General, Malaysian Timber Industry Board
23. Dato’ Zainuddin Bahari
Former Deputy Secretary General, Ministry of Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism
24. Datin Halimah Mohd Said
Former Lecturer, Universiti Malaya and President, Association of Voices of Peace, Conscience
and Reason (PCORE)
25. Puan Hendon Mohamad
Past President Malaysian Bar
If you looked at the names on the list, you’d know why the media are using the words “Prominent,” “Malay,” and “25” to describe them, cause well, there 25 of them, they’re Malay, and if you look at the titles in front of their names, pretty prominent. Yay investigative reporting!
But that does lead us to the question at hand though….
What makes the 25 prominent Malays so…. prominent?
We initially wanted to do a quick profile for each of the 25, but as it turns out, some of them are really, REALLY low-key. Two-page Google search results, no Facebook, no Twitter, nuthin’. But we should know by now that not being internet famous doesn’t mean they’re nobodies – it just means that they don’t go around making silly statements on the internet. Also, many of their areas of contribution have overlapped over the years so we’ll group them according to what they’re most notable for.
So here are the areas in which the 25 have been…well, prominent in:
1. Representing us as ambassadors in foreign countries (7/25)
Of the 7 ambassadors on the list, Tan Sri Ahmad Kamil Jaafar seems to be the most well-covered. Nicknamed the “Tiger of Wisma Putra,” he was known to rarely smile (even his smile was described as “threatening”) and was known to scold ambassadors, superiors, and subordinates alike – all for the greater good of the country. He’s also touted to be Malaysia’s most famous in “unconventional diplomacy,” which we can only interpret as “spy stuff” – all for the greater good of the country.
Another well-documented diplomat is Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin, who also served as a judge and legal advisor. Since her retirement she’s been involved in advocating women’s rights; being a founding member of the Women’s Aid Organization, president of the Association of Women Lawyers, helping establish Sisters in Islam, and being a committee member in the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO). And she’s also the only one whose Facebook page we’ve been able to find. Woohoo!
The other ambassadors are Datuk Abdul Kadir Mohd Deen (served 1971 – 2004), Datuk Dali Hashim Mahmud (served 1963 – 1998), Datuk Emam Mohd Haniff Mohd Hussein (served 1966 – 1997), Datuk Redzuan Kushairi (served 1972 – 1996), and Datuk Syed Arif Fadhillah (can’t find anything)
2. Making sure we don’t go broke (6/25)
There are quite a few bankers and business people on the list as well, most notably Dato’ Latifah Merican Cheong; who was assistant Governor at Bank Negara Malaysia. If you don’t know what that is, she’s basically the assistant to the person who signs all our Ringgit notes – not an easy feat okay? (j/k). She was also an Alternate Executive Director in the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). We’re not sure what that is, but it sounds pretty important. She’s also a board member for the Asian Women’s Leadership University (AWLU).
Another board member at the AWLU is Tan Sri Dato’ Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim.
Before his retirement, he worked in planning Malaysia’s development programs, participating in the economic management of the country where he reported directly to the Prime Minister and Finance Minister. He has also previously written about our dual-justice system in a letter to The Star.
Other notable personalities are Tan Sri Abdul Rahim Haji Din, former Secretary-General in the Home Affairs Ministry (1992-1996) and General Manager of the EPF (1987-1991); Tan Sri Dato’ Aris Othman, former Secretary General in the Finance Ministry and author; Datuk Zainuddin Bahari, former Deputy Secretary-General, Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism Ministry (no info); and Datuk Zainal Abidin Ahmad, former Director-General of the Malaysian Timber Industry Board (no info other than a joke we can make about being a board member of the timber industry)
3. Creating groups and policies that allows us to live better (4/25)
If you haven’t heard of Datuk Anwar Fazal, you might have heard of the consumer rights group he founded – the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP). It’s not his only achievement though, and not all his contributions have been local. He also helped establish the Consumer Interpol, a global consumer and environmental alert network. He’s also a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award, sort of an alternative Nobel prize. Seriously, the things he’s been involved in are too numerous to list here.
Others on this list are Datuk Faridah Khalid, Deputy President of the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO); Tan Sri Nuraizah Abdul Hamid, former Secretary-General, Energy, Communications and Multimedia Ministry; and Datin Halimah Mohd Said, former Universiti Malaya lecturer and President of the Association for Voices for Peace, Conscience, and Reason (PCORE) – She has a blog! Yay!
4. Helping you (or your pet) get medical attention (3/25)
Alright, everyone in this category is equally well-covered, but we’re gonna start with Tan Sri Ahmad Mustafa Babjee cause he’s… well-covered.
Former Director-General of the Veterinary Services Department, he’s a leading advocate of biodiversity and conservation in the country. He also makes statements like these:
“All my life, I have been curious about nature. I can sit and watch nature at work for hours … A bundle of flowerheads of a wild palm can conjure in my mind, strands of DNA with their bases, or a bunch of rosary hanging in a shop in Medina or an exotic ear-ring for a go-go dancer.” – as quoted in Biomass-sp.net
Also, doesn’t he look like Einstein? We think we may have found ourselves a new hero of the week.
There’s also Tan Sri Dato’ Dr. Yahya bin Awang, a cardiothoracic (heart surgeon) who helped establish the National Heart Institute (IJN) AND performed Malaysia’s first successful heart transplant. He’s also written a bunch of research papers on the subject and represented Malaysia in conferences, helping establish the country as a training centre for cardiac surgery. Oh, and he also performed open heart surgery on Dr. Mahathir in 1989.
And then there’s Tan Sri Dr. Ismail Merican, former Director-General of the Health Ministry. Having served for 35 years in the health ministry, the man is a self-described workaholic and lifelong student (Never too old to learn). He’s largely credited as the person responsible for setting up a network of clinical research centers in government hospitals and for five-star ratings awarded to the Health Director-General’s office and the Health Ministry for excellent public service performance. He was also the Agong’s personal physician in 1982.
5. Making sure our justice system is impartial and fair (3/25)
Datuk Seri Shaik Daud Mohd Ismail was a court of appeals judge who served in the legal system for 38 years till his retirement in 2001. We managed to find news of a speech he gave where he pretty much told off the judiciary for losing public confidence and for being “yes men” to judges. This quote is quite the win:
“It used to be that the tinting of judges’ cars was for my security but now I say it is to hide my embarrassment” -as quoted in this Yahoo archive
Datuk Ranita Hussein is the former commissioner in the Human Rights Commission Malaysia (SUHAKAM), legal consultant, and Member of the Advisory Council of Jurists of the Asia Pacific Forum for National Human Rights Institutions. We found an opinion piece she wrote about ballot papers during the last election which you might be interested to check out.
The third lawyer here is Hendon Mohamed, winner of 9 consecutive terms in the Malaysian Bar Council including the 2015/2016 term. This is like, literally, so much win.
6. Ummm…. he was the military? (1/25)
We couldn’t find anything on Datuk Maulob Maamin, other than that he’s retired from the Army.
Thanks to a tip by a CILISOS reader who pointed us in the right direction to look, we finally got some information on Datuk Maulub Maamin. Like mind-blow information ugaiz!
As it turns out, Datuk Maalub was the head of Kor Risik Diraja, Tentera Darat Malaysia, also known as the Royal Intelligence Corps, also known as the guys who specialize in intelligence work, surveillance, espionage, and psychological warfare. Because the Intelligence Corps was formed partially to counter the communist insurgency in the 60s, Datuk Maalub was thrown in the thick of it in East Malaysia when he had to handle 3 Communist defectors and work with them to arrest or “take out” a high ranking communist leader and his wife.
You can read the whole account here in 7 parts, but we’re going to add a little excerpt so you know what you’re in for:
Dengan erat, saya menggenggam laras senjata SMG yang kehabisan peluru itu lalu melepaskan satu pukulan ke tengkok Commander Fam Tze Heong. Oleh sebab hayunan saya yang begitu kuat dan tepat megenai sasaranya, maka Commander Fam Tze Heong rebah ke tanah dan senjata SMG yang saya pegang juga lucut dari genggaman saya lalu terpelanting ke dalam semak. Saya terus menerpa kearah Comander Fam Tze Heong sambil dengan pantas memulas tengkoknya beberapa kali. Kemudian secepat kilat saya mengeluarkan pisau yang berada di pinggang serta terus membenamkan hujung mata pisau saya hingga kehulunya ke dada Commander Fam Tze Heong dengan dua tikaman.
But you know what’s more bada$$ than that? He started an initiative for the Intelligence Corps to take up hydroponic farming as a side project in 1998.
7. Improving our education system (1/25)
Datuk Sharom Ahmad is a distinguished historian who served the majority of his years as an academician in Universiti Sains Malaysia. With the university newly established at the time, he worked to help establish it as one of the country’s major academic institutions. The rest, you might say, is history. Because he’s a historian, geddit?
Is there something that the 25 all have in common?
Well other than that they’re all well-educated and significant contributors to their respective fields, we think that another trait that binds them is passion, both in their professions and their desire to see a better Malaysia.
Yes, we know what you’re thinking…
Then why did it take them so long to speak up?
Well, we can’t speak on their behalf for sure, but here’s a little bit of research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology that people with extreme opinions were more willing to publicly express their views compared to those with moderate opinions. Now note that “extreme” in this sense works two ways… for both the very liberal and the, well, perkasa. It’s just that these groups are more vocal because they believe that their views are shared and supported by the general public.
“You have a cycle that feeds on itself: the more you hear these extremists expressing their opinions, the more you are going to believe that those extreme beliefs are normal for your community.” – Kimberly Rios Morrison, co-author
So maybe it isn’t that those with moderate views have been silent, they’re just less likely to publicly express how they feel.
Will there be an impact?
Well, other than invoking some name-calling from Isma and Perkasa, we aren’t sure if the open letter would actually initiate any kind of change or open discourse. However, what we do think is that it might inspire other Malaysians with moderate views to speak up.
This petition is in support of the stand taken by the group of 25, by standing together in solidarity as #26. – Text from the petition
At the time of writing, it has exactly
3,107… 3,111… 3,145… a growing number of signatories.
I want sign! How do I get in on this????
We got you covered, yo. Click on the image below to link to the petition. We are #26 ugaiz 🙂
(Note: While it says “Malay Muslim Malaysians,” we’ll leave it up to you whether or not you want to sign it anyways if you’re not. Otherwise, you can always support them by sharing the petition)