Historian explains why Malaysia is neither secular nor Islamic


PETALING JAYA: Historian Khoo Kay Kim has dismissed those who call Malaysia an Islamic country as ignorant.

“They do not know the country’s history, they do not know the Rukun Negara, and they do not know the Federal Constitution,” he told FMT.

However, he added, neither could Malaysia be properly called a secular state because of Islam’s constitutional position as the country’s official religion and because “belief in God” is the first principle of the Rukun Negara.

He said the committee that recommended the Rukun Negara principles, of which he was a member, decided on the principle of belief in God because it recognised that the majority of Malaysians had religions.

“They may be Muslims, Christians, Buddhists or Hindus. Therefore they believe in God. So the committee recommended that first principle.

“So, yes, it was agreed upon that this should not be a secular state but neither is it an Islamic state.”

As to the meaning of Islam’s constitutional position as the country’s official religion, he said:

“Whenever there is an important function, you will notice that it’s the Islamic prayer that is most likely said. That and also the fact that Islam is the main religion in the country is what it means when it states that Islam is the official religion.”

He said the problem in Malaysia was that most Malaysians did not understand the meaning of the constitution and were not well versed in law.

“Another one of the Rukun Negara principles is the supremacy of the constitution, which means that any other law which contradicts the constitution is null and void.

“You also have the principle of the rule of law. But most Malaysians are not well versed in law and they cannot distinguish between what is law and what is common talk.

“This happens because our education does not emphasise law.”

He also said politicians calling for the imposition of Islamic law on all citizens were showing that they did not understand the principle of separation of powers and that it was not up to them to interpret laws.

“If there is any difficulty over interpretation of law, only the judiciary can interpret it. Not the parliament, not the executive.

“Our politicians think they can interpret laws but they cannot. The prime minister cannot say he has the right to interpret laws because he is part of the executive branch.”

He also urged Malaysians to gain a better understanding of democracy.

“Even the concept of democracy is something that people do not know,” he said. “A democracy means a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Members of parliament are servants of the public but they think they are leaders and the public cannot criticise them.

“When the British were running the administration, do you know how the governor would sign himself off whenever he wrote letters to the people? He would sign them as ‘I am your obedient servant.'”