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The IFC Bill: An Anti-Islam Wish List

 Baharudeen Abu Bakar,  Harakahdaily

As expected, the draft bill for the setting up of the IFC vindicates all the objections to the IFC made by Muslim NGOs, and proves that its Steering Committee members, and second fiddlers in the English language Press, particularly The Sun and The Star, have attempted to mislead the Malaysian public.

Before considering the effect of the bill, it would be appropriate to repeat the objections.

The 1st ground of objection to the IFC is that it aims to give:

a) Muslims ‘rights’ not given by their religion, most seriously the ‘right’ to apostatize; and

b) non-Muslims (and some Muslims),comprising members of the Commission, the power to decide whether or not a Muslim murtad wannabe may exercise such a ‘right’.

ACCIN came to this conclusion based on the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism’s-the MCCBCHS- memorandum, the evasiveness of the Steering Committee to the objections raised much earlier, and the interview with its President by the Sun of 28- 29th January, where he was unabashedly frank about non-Muslim objection to, and frustration with, Islam in not allowing apostasy so that their former co-religionists may return to the fold.

The memorandum also questions and objects to:

a) any effort made by Islamic authorities to dissuade murtad wannabes;

b) the acknowledgement as Muslim, by the Shariah, of persons one of whose parents only is Muslim;

c) a person being regarded as a Muslim before he professes Islam as his religion, presumably at a suitable age of discretion; till then there is no need for the disclosure of his religion on his I.C.

This clearly means that ‘Muslims-by-birth’ should cease to exist as a category.

The 2nd ground of objection is that the IFC allows interference in the teachings of Islam or, for that matter any, religion by others who do not belong to it.

Religious freedom under the Federal Constitution does not include the right to interfere with, to question or challenge the teachings of another religion or even champion the religious rights of others. Article 11(1) says: “Every person has the right to profess and practice his religion.”

Non-Muslims may champion religious freedom but only in respect of the religions they profess. Non-Muslims have no right to demand that Muslims, even reverts to Islam who have had a change of heart, be allowed to apostatize. This restraint, imposed on followers of all religions, and on Muslims by Islam (Surah Al- Kafirun) has to be observed for the sake of “religious harmony".

The 3rd ground of objection is that the IFC, comprising non-Muslims and Muslims, is to be a court-like body with powers to make decisions on religious rights and Islamic teachings, and other departments of Government are expected to comply with its pronouncements.

The 4th ground of objection: Interference with existing constitutional arrangements on administration of Islamic matters.

Questions relating to the practice of Islam are dealt with by statutorily-established government bodies: the Malay Rulers, the Majlises Agama of the States and W.P., the Shariah Courts and other specialized bodies e.g. Tabung Haji.

The jurisdiction of these bodies is comprehensive and another organization cannot be set up without it encroaching on the existing Islamic bodies.

‘Religious Freedom’ and/ or ‘Religious Harmony’

The Federal Constitution seeks to achieve both. ‘Religious freedom’, according to Article 11 of the Constitution, is the right of the follower of a religion to practice his religion according to its teachings.

And ‘religious harmony’ is ensured for Muslims by not allowing other religions to be preached to Muslims, and, for Muslims and others, by not allowing:

a) the payment of any tax for the purpose of a religion one does not belong to (Art.11(2);

b) a person to undergo instruction in or take part in any ceremony or act of worship of a religion other than his own (Art.12(3); and

c) any act contrary to any general law relating to public order, public health or morality. (Art. 11(5)

International Norms to govern all religions?

The IFC bill, however, introduces a new concept of ‘religious harmony’ in contradistinction to ‘freedom to practice one’s religion without interference from the followers of other religions.’

As defined in the IFC bill, ‘religious harmony’ is the “exercise by any individual or community of persons of his or their freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief” (not necessarily according to the teachings of any religion) but “as prescribed by international norms” listed in the bill (Sec.2)

The international norms are:

• Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948

• Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (Ratified by Malaysia on 5thJuly 1995)

• Convention on the Rights of the Child

• Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief

• Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious or Linguistic Minorities

• Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action

The Declaration came into existence when Malaysia was not yet an independent, player on the world scene and had no say in its formulation, and has not ratified it since becoming independent.

Considering the vast number of matters covered by the Declaration, going well beyond religious freedom, which requires considerable circumspection on the part of governments everywhere, the IFC bill is an attempt, by a sleight of hand as it were, to make the Declaration a part of the law of the land without regard for its impact.

The concept of ‘religious harmony’, is not to be found in any of the international documents, as they do not deal with religious freedom in the context of its exercise vis-à-vis other religions. The international norms deal with the right to freedom to practice one’s religion, and has been taken out of its context and placed in a’ inter-faith’ context for the purpose of the IFC.

Islamic law is in many respects vindicated by international law and comparatists have often expressed their amazement at its advanced state in respect of communal relations even in the case of the treatment of people who wage war against Islam e.g. the law of war and peace as the Crusaders discovered in the Middle East and took back with them ushering the age of chivalry.

However, Muslims are not willing to concede as superior to the law of God, the international norms of modern times, developed, initially, as the national laws of Western nations to rationalise the conduct of their people as ‘human rights’, and then projected onto the world.

As far as Malaysia is concerned, Muslims will not concede any ground where the applicable law, from even before the coming of non-Muslims, has been Islamic law for enough concession has been made.

The bill makes no distinction between Muslims and non-Muslims. To a Muslim this implies that the law governing the practice of Islam is not the Shariah and Islamic teachings but ‘international norms’ made by Man, in other words the revelations from God are to be observed only to the extent that they are consistent with international norms; God is to be governed by Man and not Man by God.

This is tantamount to having God on one’s terms; if one can do that, then he is not taking about God at all or thinks he is God! This violates the fundamental concept of tauhid: There is only one God; and there being only one God, He is the God of everything.

Freedom of Religion or Freedom within/from Religion?

Individuals are to be given total freedom to practice their religions as they choose to i.e. not so much freedom to practice one’s religion according to its teachings as freedom within religion to practice it as one wants to which includes practising against the teachings of one’s religion while claiming the right to be regarded as a follower.

According to the minutes, the Chairman of the Steering Committee at their meeting on 26th June 2005, finessed away freedom to practice one’s religion:

“There will be an appointment panel that would select the 16 members for the Commission who understand inter-faith and free religion.. This would be a neutral Commission whose ideals are to provide a foundation for policy considerations and the articulation of rights issues in inter-faith discourse…There was no concern at all that it would derail certain religious issues because the Commission is to focus on the aspect on the freedom or rights issues as opposed to religious or faiths in religion…”.(sic) 

Islam as the religion of the Federation

Article 3 which deals with the status of Islam is given proforma mention in the Preamble (para 2) to the bill which is not the operative part of a statute. Is it therefore only window-dressing?

Given the unrealised potential of this provision, and the wholesale importation of international norms by the bill, is this a move to ensure that Islam has only the ‘arid, barren, naked honour’ of being the religion of the Federation with no prospect of the provision being fleshed out?

No wonder the IFC promoters were able to assure everyone that Islam would retain its present status. Yes, in a hollowed-out sense.


The murtad issue is a matter for Muslims only, to be resolved according to the Shariah by the appropriate Islamic administration body. The Islamic position has been clear for more than 1400 years, and those who contemplate becoming Muslim have been forewarned, and came back to Islam open-eyed:

“As for anyone who denies God after having once attained to faith- and this, to be sure, does not apply to one who does it under duress, the while his heart remains true to his faith, but (only to) him who willingly opens up his heart to a denial of the truth: upon all such (falls) God’s condemnation, and tremendous suffering awaits them …” (Surah An-Nahl: Ayat 106) (Translation from Muhammad Asad in The Message of the Qur’an)

There are 12 other verses to the same effect in the Qur’an and several ahadith.

In the build-up to the IFC conference, the Chairman of the Steering Committee had repeatedly stated that the IFC was not for the purpose of enabling Muslims to be given permission to renounce Islam. As it turns out, the Chairman had been economical with the truth.

One of the prescribed sources of international norms - The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)- states “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion …” (Article 18 of the Declaration).

The conflict with Islamic law is clear. It was never the intention of the Declaration to interfere with the teachings of religions by standardizing them: As other religions seem to allow apostasy, Islam should too. The implication of this provision is that while a Muslim is expected to pray, marry, pay zakat and generally conduct himself according to the teachings of his religion, the fundamental question of his status as a Muslim is to be determined by all the laws of the world except those of Islam!

The National Registration Department would no longer be able to refuse applications by Muslims to change their names to non-Muslim ones on the grounds that it is an attempt to apostatize. Such a refusal would amount to ‘infringement of religious harmony’, and the Department maybe told by the IFC not to do such things!: “All organs of State shall have regard to the findings and recommendations of the Commission” - sec 19 (3).

If the department does not carry out the IFC’s ‘recommendation’, it can expect to be attacked for acting against ‘religious harmony’, pitting one arm of the government against another. Or an application may be made to court, (with the ‘aggrieved’ person represented by a lawyer from the Steering Committee) for a declaration or even an order against the department that the recommendation be carried out.

Most objectionable of all is that the application to apostatize is to be made by Muslims to a Commission that comprises of non-Muslims as well .This gives statutory legitimacy to the most direct form of interference, and it is not at all acceptable even if non-Muslims would give reciprocal rights to Muslims in matters that affect their religions.

The draft bill does not provide that where the matter in question affects Muslims and Islam only, the non-Muslim members are to withdraw from the deliberations.

Even more revealingly, notwithstanding all the persistent Islam-based objections by Muslims and the just-as-frequent denials by the IFC-promoters of interfering with Islam, there is no provision excluding Islamic matters, already within the jurisdiction of the Islamic administrative bodies, from the IFC’s jurisdiction. Such exclusions are not unusual. The Suhakam legislation precludes it from considering matters which are already before the courts.

Functions of the IFC; to investigate and ‘recommend’

The IFC is not merely a ‘dialogue body’, as claimed. According to the draft bill, one of “the functions of the Commission shall be…to receive, address … complaints or grievances brought by persons, bodies or organizations in connection with the individual’s right to profess and practice his religion or faith of choice”(sec 11 (1) (d)) and for that purpose, “the Commission may on receipt of a complaint made to it by any person” (Muslim or non-Muslim ) “inquire into allegations …,procure and receive evidence … openly and in secret, (and) “make recommendations.”

The IFC is also authorized to take expert opinion on religious matters (such as the extent of freedom of religion available to Muslims) i.e. to decide on intra-faith matters.

The provisions are wide enough to enable the MCCBCHS to submit on behalf of Muslims intending to apostatize, a complaint that they should be allowed to do so by the Islamic authorities. And the Commission, comprising Muslims and non-Muslims, will go through the motions of taking expert opinion on the Shariah, and recommend that they should be allowed to do so, as international norms say so!

The assurances given by the Steering Committee chairman that the IFC will not have adjudicatory powers is only have the truth. The IFC bill gives it the powers to resolve disputes, and its recommendations are, as seen above, to be observed.

Qualification of Commissioners

Muslims on the Commission, no matter how many or learned in Islam, will serve no useful purpose as they will have to decide according to international norms For that matter, the IFC bill does not provide, as may be expected, that the Commissioners would represent the religions practised in the country. A rather vague formula of words is used for their qualification: “The membership of the Commission shall reflect the diversity of the Malaysian population”(Sec. 9 (3)a)

As, seen above, the IFC is less concerned with freedom to practice one’s religion than with freedom within one’s religion, representatives of religions are less important. They were talked out of the roles they expected to play, again, by the chair of the Steering Committee: “There will be an appointment panel that would select the 16 members for the Commission who understand inter-faith and free religion …”

“Everyone except the Majlis (MCCBCHS) representatives here agreed that there was no need to have each of the religious organizations to have direct nominations onto the Commission rights).”

Little wonder than that the members of the MCCBCHS were concerned; they were not going to be represented and their religions were going to be subordinated to free religion. One can almost sympathise them for their predicament at the hands of a clever lawyer; hijacking from them the process they had initiated, and taking it away in a different direction.

(The disappointment must have been particularly acute for the Malaysian Hindu Sangam as its President had not too long ago resigned his position on the exco of the MCCBCHS citing the distortions and lies spread by the Christians about Hinduism in trying to gain converts.)

Conflicts rather than Harmony

The IFC bill, if enacted in its present form, will give rise to serious conflicts between various arms of government: between federal departments; federal and state departments; elected leaders and the Malay Rulers.

As far as law is concerned, there will be conflicts between the Shariah, international norms, the Constitution and other legislation.

It is for obvious reasons therefore that there is no organization of the nature of the proposed IFC any where in the world. There is likely to be more religious disharmony than harmony and Muslims, having stated their objections to the IFC, cannot be blamed for the consequences.


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