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Law expert: Listen to wishes of Sabah, Sarawak on religious freedom

 | April 21, 2017

Saying both states were given certain rights as conditions for forming Malaysia, Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi suggests the establishment of a judicial committee to handle conflicts between civil and shariah laws.

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KUALA LUMPUR: A law expert has urged Putrajaya to recognise the rights of Sabah and Sarawak amidst rising tension over a conflict between civil and shariah laws.

Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi said the rights of both states were entrenched in the 20-point (Sabah) and 18-point (Sarawak) agreements as conditions to set up an enlarged federation in 1963.

Among the notable rights to be accorded is freedom of religion.

“These are part of international agreements and one of the signatories were the British,” he said in his lecture titled: “Constitutional Freedom of Religion & International Perspectives” at Universiti Malaya yesterday.

The Borneo states were British colonies which obtained independence before they agreed to join Malaya in forming Malaysia.

Singapore was the other member of Malaysia but it was expelled in 1965.

Shad, who currently holds the Tunku Abdul Rahman chair in the university, said the break-up of East and West Pakistan should serve as a reminder.

“Please take heed of their (Sabah and Sarawak) sensitivities. I am afraid what happened there will be repeated here,” he said.

East Pakistan, now known as Bangladesh separated from (West) Pakistan in 1971.
It separated because West Pakistan was constantly discriminating against East Pakistan.

Shad said there had been incidents of intense competition between native courts and shariah courts in both these regions arising from inter-religious marriages.

He proposed that the Conference of Rulers exercise their power under Article 38(2) of the Federal Constitution to recommend to the government to set up a judicial committee.

“Conflicts between civil and shariah laws could be referred by the attorney-general who could give advisory opinion to the rulers through this committee,” he said.

The people of Sarawak and Sabah are clamouring for Putrajaya to respect the agreements. Many of their leaders have stated that they are unhappy with religious tension over shariah laws and related issues in the peninsula and do not want these issues to spread to their states.

They are unhappy with a hardline Islam trend in the peninsula, including over the use of the word “Allah”.

Sarawakian Jill Ireland Lawrence and a Sabah church, Sidang Injil Borneo, have mounted a constitutional challenge against Putrajaya on the right to use the word Allah in their religious education and propagation.


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