Under fire, minister says Constitution doesn’t limit Shariah laws

Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom warned that the public will resort to vigilantism if there are constant judicial reviews and challenges between civil and Shariah courts. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom warned that the public will resort to vigilantism if there are constant judicial reviews and challenges between civil and Shariah courts. — Picture by Choo Choy May

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KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 8 — The Federal Constitution empowers Shariah laws and does not limit the Islamic code, minister Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom argued today in response to an open letter from 25 former senior civil servants calling for open debate on religious issues.

The minister in charge of religious affairs also warned that the public will resort to vigilantism if there are constant judicial reviews and challenges between civil and Shariah courts.

“From the beginning, the Constitution allows the existence of Shariah courts. Shariah courts were birthed from the Constitution,” Jamil told reporters during the International Seminar on Aqwah 2014 here.

“Why do we want to flip this over by saying Shariah courts are subjected to the Constitution? … We should not entangle the issue.”

“We do not agree if cases involving Islam want to be decided in civil courts … It is against an early understanding we had since Independence,” added the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department.

In a strongly-worded open letter last night, a group of 25 influential Malays called on the federal government to review Shariah criminal offences and assert the supremacy of the Federal Constitution over Islamic state laws in the country.

The group, dominated by some of the country’s most senior-ranking civil servants who have since retired from duty, expressed its dismay over the unresolved disputes on the position and application of Islamic laws in Malaysia, which it said reflect a “serious breakdown” of the division of powers between the federal authority and the states.

It also trained their guns on Jamil for suggesting that there is an effort to put religious institutions on trial in a secular court, and accused him of making inflammatory remarks that undermine Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s call for moderation.

The group also alleged the lack of public awareness on the legal jurisdiction and substantive limits of the powers of the religious authorities and administration of Islamic laws in Malaysia, even among top political leaders.

The Federal Constitution is the supreme law of the land and any law enacted, including Islamic laws, cannot violate the Constitution ... All Acts, Enactments and subsidiary legislations, including fatwa, are bound by constitutional limits and are open to judicial review,” it claimed.

The 25 signatories included several former secretaries-general of the most powerful ministries, including Tan Sri Abdul Rahim Din (Home Ministry), Tan Sri Ahmad Kamil Jaafar (Foreign Ministry), and Tan Sri Dr Aris Othman (Finance Ministry).

Other significant Malays who lent their names to the letter addressed to all Malaysian had previously held the post of director-general in several ministries and government agencies.

A Court of Appeal landmark decision declaring a Negri Sembilan anti-cross-dressing Shariah law as unconstitutional, and the constitutional challenge of Muslim women’s group Sisters in Islam (SIS) against a Selangor fatwa against “liberalism and religious pluralism” has ruffled the feathers of conservative Muslims in recent weeks.

Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, the minister in charge of religious affairs, had even claimed there was a “new wave” of assault on Islam here, and accused SIS and Muslim transgenders of colluding with enemies of Islam to put its religious institutions on trial in a secular court.

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