KUALA LUMPUR: Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has denied that Malaysia is an entirely secular state, saying the term must be properly understood.
He said that based on his personal understanding, the concept of “laïcité” secularism, where there is total separation between state and religion, is “not acceptable”, not only for him as a Muslim, but for all Malaysians.
“The state has its secular elements. But religious values must be embedded (in the system). That is our standing,” he said during a question-and-answer session at the International Malaysia Law Conference here today.
“Once you start declaring Malaysia as a secular state, then people will say, what about Islam as the religion of the federation?
“What about the Islamic department and how do you reconcile that with the sultan being the head of religion in the state?”
Laïcité is a French concept of secularism that discourages religious involvement in government affairs, especially religious influence in formulating policies.
Anwar said the masses and the majority of Muslims have been told that secularism means a complete separation of state and religion, based on the influence of the Roman empire and European history.
“That’s not how it should be understood,” he said.
“If you want to popularise the term, then fair, but make sure that the term is understood and learned by the masses, otherwise there is a disconnect between the narrative and discourse brought by the ruling elite and the sentiments of the masses.
“The general Muslim masses take secularism as something anti-religion. That’s why when I said we are not secular, I am referring to that context.”
Anwar said Malaysia is also not an autocratic state where Islamic laws are imposed on non-Muslims.
He was responding to Andrew Khoo, co-chair of the Bar Council’s constitutional law committee, who asked why Anwar previously stated in an interview with RTM that secularism cannot be recognised by the unity government.
In January, Anwar said on RTM’s “Naratif Khas Bersama Perdana Menteri” that the concept of a secular state and communist ideology will never be recognised by the unity government.
Describing the matter as “delusional”, he said it was only raised by certain parties to spread lies.
Increased allocations for National Legal Aid Foundation
Separately, Anwar announced that the government will increase allocations to the National Legal Aid Foundation (YBGK) by RM10 million.
He said the additional funds would help increase the people’s access to justice, as the foundation is the largest provider of legal aid in the country.
“The RM10 million is for the poor who cannot afford to pay legal fees. I’ve seen many instances where some involved in small cases are unrepresented by lawyers,” he told reporters .