Muslim minorities push to protect constitution

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 March, 2006, 12:00am

Financial consultant Miljuan Hadjiran, 38, just wants to practise his religion as he sees fit - but the Islamic authorities will not allow it.

'We are Muslims but they raid us, seize our books and even stop us from praying,' said British-educated Mr Miljuan. 'They won't let us enter a mosque and they won't let us build our own either.'

To the conservative Islamic authorities, Mr Miljuan and his colleagues are deviants because they follow the Ahmadiyya sect which believes in the coming of the Mahadi, the final prophet. The very idea is anathema to the country's conservative Sunni majority who believe Mohammed is the last Prophet. They are increasingly coming down heavily on Muslims who don't strictly toe the mainstream line.

Mr Miljuan was speaking at a forum on Sunday night, attended by 1,000 Muslims and non-Muslims, where he and others spoke of unrelenting harassment.

The forum, called by the Malaysian Bar Council in conjunction with 15 human rights NGOs, also launched a nationwide signature campaign to reaffirm the constitution as the country's supreme document.

The event was attended by academics and lawmakers from both the government and opposition but mainstream newspapers, which are pro-government, played down the event.

'It's time to take [the constitution] down from the shelf, dust it and use it on a daily basis. The Federal Constitution must be treated as the most important document in our life because it is the supreme law,' said prominent lawyer Cyrus Das.

But for people like Mr Miljuan, just a declaration from the National Fatwa Council branding them a 'deviant' can bring swift punishment - jail, a fine or rehabilitation until one recants.

'Whatever happened to freedom of worship?' said Mr Miljuan who works for a large unit trust company. 'They laugh and show the Koran when we cite Article 11 of the constitution that guarantees freedom of worship. I have decided to speak out,' he said. 'The constitution is not a laughing matter.'

While Muslims like Mr Miljuan relent the browbeating ways of the mainstream Sunni majority, non-Muslims are opposing what they say is the 'silent and insidious' encroachment of sharia laws into their lives.

And both groups are finding refuge in the constitution, a document inherited from the British colonials, but not highly spoken of until now.

At the forum, academics and Muslim lawmakers spoke about how Islamic values and laws, once confined to personal and family matters, is gradually superseding the constitution.

Freedom of worship became a hot issue after Muslims clerics unleashed a mob on a seemingly harmless cult last year that worshipped giant teapots, flattening the entire commune with bulldozers.

Some 100 followers of its founder Ayah Pin, who preached a synthesis between Islam and other religions, are either in jail or on bail awaiting judgment as deviants.

Their plight has galvanised and angered moderate Muslims and human rights activists into demanding protection for minorities.

In another controversial incident, a soldier who had allegedly converted to Islam was buried as a Muslim over the objection of his Hindu wife. A civil court refused to intervene for the wife saying it had no jurisdiction and that non-Muslims had no remedy under the law in such cases.

'The minds of politicians, judges and civil servants who took an oath to protect the constitution have become clouded ... they see themselves as Muslims first and citizens second,' said lawyer Malik Imtiaz, a key campaigner for secular rights.

'There is an urgent need to remind the people that Malaysia is not an Islamic but a secular state and the constitution is supreme law of the land. The erosion of fundamental rights and the rise of sharia is a situation for all citizens to be worried about. The silent majority must speak up.'