No Shia or Sunni in Article 3, says Suhakam

A Suhakam commissioner has reminded Islamic authorities to follow the Amman Message.

KUALA LUMPUR: Putrajaya’s human rights commission Suhakam has urged authorities to take into account an international document pledging to end sectarianism among Muslims in coming to an agreement on which version of Islam is recognised under the law.

Suhakam commissioner Hishamudin Yunus said in interpreting what form of Islam was meant by Article 3 of the constitution, which declares Islam as the religion of the federation, the authorities should refer to the Amman Message signed in 2005.

“We should have the same spirit as the Amman Message,” the former judge told a forum in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of Suhakam’s formation.

The Amman Message, signed in Amman by Jordan’s King Abdullah II in 2004, brought together some 200 Islamic scholars and Muslim heads of states representing different schools of thought, calling for intra-Muslim tolerance. Among those who signed the document was former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Hishamudin said the constitution does not state any particular school of thought.

“The word used is Islam. It does not say Sunni or Shia,” he added.

Hishamudin Yunus.

His comments come as authorities recently launched a crackdown on followers of Shia Islam, arresting scores of people who attended private functions marking the Ashura, the death anniversary of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein.

The move drew criticism from Suhakam, who reminded the authorities on the constitutional guarantees on religious freedom.

Shia Muslims have been labelled “deviant” by state Islamic authorities, who insist that Muslims in Malaysia should only follow Sunni Islam.

Friday sermons in Selangor also frequently condemn Shia teachings.

Meanwhile, Suhakam said it has been reaching out to Muslims in Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Negeri Sembilan by preparing Friday sermons themed on issues of human rights.

Commissioner Nik Salida Suhaila Nik Saleh said initially some state religious departments felt Suhakam’s views on human rights were opposed to theirs, including on the issue of LGBT rights.

Nik Salida Suhaila Nik Saleh.

“We told them Suhakam protects LGBT on equal education, employment, housing, dignity and healthcare,” she said.

“They also tell us they do the same. We are on the same page but the words used are different.”

She said Suhakam would not interfere in matters of religion, such as raids by Islamic agencies to nab unmarried Muslim couples committing khalwat, or punishment meted out on children at tahfiz schools.

“But we create awareness on how to knock on the door, that when they refuse to open the door, we should not kick it open but inform them to get ready as the officers are entering,” said Nik Salida.

She said Suhakam would advise religious schools to follow a standard operating procedure in caning students for indiscipline.

“We are not saying don’t cane. But it is not allowed if it is not in accordance to SOP.”