By Mohd Hishamudin Yunus
My colleagues at G25 and I are deeply saddened by the recent action taken by Jawi against Dr Mustafa Akyol (a well-respected and prominent Turkish Islamic scholar, who was on a lecture tour in Malaysia) and Dr Farouk Musa (head of the Islamic Renaissance Front, or IRF) in regard to the talk that Dr Akyol gave at a forum organised by the IRF.
The action by Jawi was under section 11 (with respect to Dr Akyol) and section 43 (with respect to Dr Farouk) of the Shariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act 1997.
With the greatest respect to Jawi, I am at a loss to understand as to how a public discourse on Islam could be taken to be ‘teaching’ within section 11 of the Shariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act. On the contrary, such a discourse should be encouraged so that Malaysians of whatever religious faith would have a better understanding of the Islamic religion.There can be no doubt whatsoever that the forum, as well as the views as expressed by Dr Akyol in his talk, were organised or given with the best of intentions, let alone to break any law whatsoever.
Such action by Jawi undermines our freedom of speech as guaranteed by Article 10 of the Federal Constitution and the Rule of Law as decreed by our Rukun Negara.It also undermines academic freedom and intellectual discourse on matters pertaining to Islam. It also mars Malaysia’s hitherto international reputation as a moderate Islamic country.
Our forefathers in drafting the Federal Constitution had envisioned a moderate form of Islam for Malaysia.
Whilst it is true that, by virtue of Clause (2) of Article 10 of the Federal Constitution, parliament has the power to restrict freedom of speech for the purpose of preserving public order, nevertheless, in my humble view, the word ‘teaches’ in section 11 of the Act is not at all defined, and as the provision is too broadly worded it could be argued with some force that it is not in proportion to the ‘public order’ mischief it intends to address.
Such a broadly worded provision as section 11 may also be open to abuse.
I join IRF and other civil society organisations in respectfully urging the federal government and the state governments to seriously undertake a review of all Islamic law Acts or Enactments to ascertain as to whether or not there are provisions that do not accord with the fundamental liberty provisions of the Federal Constitution, and hence are unconstitutional.
I also respectfully urge Jawi to reconsider the harshness, constitutionality and legal appropriateness of its action against both Dr Akyol and Dr Farouk.
Dato’ Seri Mohd Hishamudin Yunus is a retired Court of Appeal judge and a member of G25 Malaysia.
The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.