KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 16 — Spurred by an open letter by 25 former civil servants, a group of like-minded Malaysians have launched an online petition to support the need for public discourse on the position and application of Islamic laws.
Calling the petition “I am #26”, in reference to being the 26th signatory of the open letter, the group aims to get as many Malaysians as possible before it forwards the petition to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
“The reason why I started this was clear. I would like to know more about the rules that govern my life,” Lyana Khairuddin, who spearheaded the petition, told Malay Mail Online in an interview.
According to the 31-year-old, it has been too often that Malaysians only find out about laws that apply to them when they read the papers, and not before they are passed.
“That’s oppressive to me. Why can’t we have a consultative process?” she asked.
The petition was uploaded online on global petition platform Change.org, and was backed by the 600-strong private online group Aura Merdeka, which champions open discourse among Malaysians.
“It is a principal feature of the Islamic faith that the ‘middle way’ be the path that Muslims adhere to. When Muslims deal with one another, they should incline towards clemency and mercy, not wrath and severity,” said the petition.
“It is in this spirit that we call for this consultative process, and as Malay, Muslim citizens of Malaysia, we want to see a Malaysia that is just, progressive and worthy of becoming a developed nation.”
Lyana said the petition was uploaded on midnight yesterday, December 15, roughly a week after the original open letter was distributed to the media nationwide and after three days of drafting.
“[I thought] there are [other] Malaysians who think like this too. Can we also sign this, in some way to say it’s not just the 25 retired civil servants” said Lyana, who also teaches in a local public university.
Lyana then revealed she was inspired to gather supporters of the open letter after reading a column published in Malay Mail Online on Sunday backing the 25, who were dubbed “prominent Malays”.
“When I put it up, I did feel, what if I was the only one who signed this?” Lyana related, giggling.
Her worry was however unfounded, as the petition is now gathering steam, with over 2,300 signatories at the time of writing.
In a strongly-worded open letter earlier this month, 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 reflects a “serious breakdown” of the division of powers between the federal authority and the states.
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.
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 rights groups of colluding with enemies of Islam to put its religious institutions on trial in a secular court.