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DECEMBER 26 — Our Association of Churches in Sarawak has recently expressed its irk with the statement made by Minister of Education Maszlee Malik in parliament, urging Islamic teachers in Sabah and Sarawak to make these two states their “Medan Dakwah” of Islam.
Standing with the people of Sarawak, Sarawak Evangelical Christian Association upholds our state’s unique right to “complete freedom of religion.” This is an ideal that was espoused by all the parties that were involved right from the time of the Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Committee (MSCC) meetings, which subsequently led to the formation of Malaysia.
These top leaders of the five territories, who came together in 1961 and 1962 to explore the concept of the new federation under the MSCC, all held high ideals of the kind of country we wanted to establish together.
This committee played a very important role in the journey to the formation of the federation. The report written by the MSCC, which became known as the Memorandum on Malaysia (MoM), contained foundational terms of reference that the subsequent Cobbold Commission relied upon to carry out their tasks.
One key consensus of all the parties to MA63 was to ensure the continuity of the prevailing way of life the people would enjoy under the new federation. Our delegates to the whole negotiation process voiced strongly the need to keep the Sarawak way of life.
To protect us against possible disruptions to our unique way of life in the federation, we fought hard for safeguards of specific rights in those areas of our society which we believed were vital in keeping this way of life.
The issue of religion in the new federation was raised right from the first meeting of MSCC and featured prominently in MOM as it was a key determinant of societal life. We quote an excerpt from the report on this:
The committee directed a great deal of its attention to the question of Islam as the religion of the Federation. It is satisfied that the acceptance of Islam as the religion of the Federation would not endanger religious freedom within Malaysia nor will it make Malaysia a state less secular. The present Constitution of the Federation of Malaya which would serve as the basis of the new federation, has adequately guaranteed that other religions can be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation. Every person will have the right to profess and practise his religion... No person in the federation of Malaysia will be required, except in accordance with the laws of his own religion, to receive instructions, or take part, in any ceremony or act of worship of any religion. All these rights which are in fact universally enjoyed at present in the Federation of Malaya will be enshrined in the constitution of the Federation of Malaysia.
It remained a prominent focal point throughout the process of the formation of the federation; in the Cobbold Commission Report, Inter-government Committee Report, and finally in the Malaysia Agreement (MA63).
In short, Sarawak has been granted a special safeguard in religion — “complete freedom of religion,” a term repeatedly and fervently discussed in the meetings leading to the signing of MA63.
Preserving this kind of religious freedom is therefore key to keeping the Sarawak way of life. We have been fighting hard for a long time for this in the face of increasing restrictive measures against this freedom in our state.
As they begin the process of consultation on the restoration of our state’s rights, we call upon both the federal and state governments to give due attention to issues that affect the kind of religious freedom Sarawak was promised.
Sarawak’s unique religious freedom is enshrined in the federal and state constitutions, which provide ample space for the adherents of each religion to profess, practise and propagate their faith.
It is therefore unthinkable for the government to use any of its ministries or government agencies to support the agenda of just a specific religion, albeit Islam being the official religion.
We cannot accept the minister’s subsequent explanation in his attempts to defuse the furor created by his remark, by explaining what he had a broader meaning for the term “Medan Dakwah” that he used in parliament.
A quick reference to any dictionary will tell us that the word “dakwah” is none other than the rally cry for Islamisation of the two East Malaysian states. We are sure that, after his remarks, Maszlee cannot unequivocally assure the people of Sarawak that there is really no ongoing Islamisation agenda in the education system in our state.
The reality is that the government has been, and still is, overtly and persistently favouring one religion over the others in its policies and allocation of resources. This has been the case right from the early stage of the federation.
Non-Muslims have been facing the increasing erosion of their religious space over the years.
The long-drawn “Allah” court cases and the “Alkitab” saga in 2011 are two clear examples of situations where the people of Sarawak have to fight for their right to practic their faith.
* Press statement by the Sarawak Evangelical Christian Association
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.