PETALING JAYA: DAP secretary-general Loke Siew Fook has sought to downplay the controversy stemming from Beruas MP Ngeh Koo Ham’s proposal to include non-Muslim constitutional experts in a committee studying the conflicts between shariah laws and the Federal Constitution.
Ngeh’s proposal follows a Nov 21 announcement in the Dewan Rakyat by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who said the government had approved the formation of a special committee endorsed by the Conference of Rulers to enhance the standing of the shariah court.
Insisting that the party is not trying to interfere in Islamic affairs, Loke explained that the committee was formed by the National Council for Islamic Religious Affairs, and not by the Cabinet.
“I would like to clarify that Ngeh’s suggestion for the appointment of non-Muslim legal experts to be part of the committee is a mistake regarding (his understanding about the) authority behind the establishment of this committee,” he said.
“The committee was established by the National Council for Islamic Religious Affairs, which is chaired by the Sultan of Selangor, with the aim of advising the council with proposals to strengthen the responsibilities of the shariah court.
“I am aware that Ngeh’s statement may stir controversy by suggesting DAP is trying to interfere in Islamic affairs. This is not true at all. DAP respects the wisdom of the Sultan of Selangor in making any decision regarding Islamic affairs.”
Loke also said although the committee reports directly to the council, any of its recommendations which involve amendments to the law must be brought to the Cabinet.
He said non-Muslims need not be concerned about the composition of the committee as any legal amendment involving the rights of non-Muslims must be scrutinised and decided by the Cabinet before following the “usual parliamentary process”.
In a statement yesterday, Ngeh, who is a lawyer by training, said he noticed that all members of the committee are Muslims.
He said it was important to appoint non-Muslim constitutional experts to the committee so that non-Muslim views about proposed adjustments to the constitution will also be taken into account before a proposal for any change in the law is made.
His proposal was slammed by Umno leaders such as Umno Youth chief Dr Akmal Saleh and Abdul Halim Suleiman, the secretary of the party’s Johor chapter.
Religious affairs minister Na’im Mokhtar today said Ngeh’s proposal was “completely unfounded”, adding that all members appointed to the committee are highly qualified in constitutional, civil and shariah laws.
He urged all parties to avoid making statements that might stir public concern.
“Everyone should place full confidence (in the committee) and give it the opportunity to carry out its role professionally and effectively,” he said in a Facebook post.