KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 15 — Muslim-only laundromats are not illegal as the constitutional provision barring discrimination only applies to the government, former Chief Justice Tun Abdul Hamid Mohamad said.
Abdul Hamid — who was one of the judges on the Court of Appeal panel which decided in 2004 that Malaysia Airlines had rightly terminated a flight stewardess, Beatrice Fernandez, when she became pregnant — said Article 8(1) of the Federal Constitution that guarantees equality before the law and Article 8(2) that prohibits discrimination do not apply to individuals.
“The laundromat owner is an individual, not a government authority. The constitutional provision on equality (Article 8) does not apply to an individual. That provision only applies to the government,” Abdul Hamid wrote on his blog last Friday.
Article 8(2) prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, descent, place of birth, or gender in government appointments or employment, “or in the administration of law relating to the acquisition, holding or disposition of property or the establishing or carrying on of any trade, business, profession, vocation or employment”.
In the Beatrice Fernandez case, the appellant had sought a court declaration that the collective agreement between the Malaysia Airlines employees union and the national carrier — which required her to resign upon becoming pregnant, failing which the company had the right to sack her — contravened Article 8 of the Federal Constitution.
However, the Court of Appeal ruled that an individual may have remedies under private law if their “fundamental right” was violated by another private individual, but constitutional remedy would not be available as the concept of a “fundamental right” involved State action. The Federal Court later upheld the appellate court’s decision.
“The laundromat owner is a businessman. They can choose to do business with whoever they want to. They don’t have to give anyone any reason,” Abdul Hamid said.
He said customers or future customers could not be blamed if they disliked using the same washing machines as non-Muslims.
“Maybe they will feel disgusted or dirty thinking about underwear that have been worn by people who do not wash off urine, faeces or menstrual blood, or towels that may have been used to dry off dog fur, put into the same washing machine even if they are washed separately,” said the former CJ.
He claimed that many Muslims were reluctant to rent their houses to non-Muslims because they did not want dogs, pork or alcoholic beverages brought into their homes, or to have such food and drink placed in their refrigerators.
“Don’t be too sensitive towards the feelings of non-Muslims until non-Muslims are not sensitive towards the feelings of Muslims. This is a joint responsibility,” he said.