03/14/2006, 00.00
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Minority Muslims defend the constitution against Sharia

Although the law should uphold freedom of religion, the Sunni majority applies the Sharia to everyone and discriminates against minorities.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/SCMP) – A March 12 forum organised by 15 Muslim associations, human rights groups as well as the Malaysian Bar Council reiterated the need to valorise and uphold the current constitution against the encroachment by Sharia law in Malaysia.

"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 Cyrus Das, a well-known lawyer.

The constitution, which is a legacy of British rule, had lost much of its lustre . . . until now, that is. Its article 11 for instance upholds freedom of religion, but in day-to-day life the Sunni majority discriminates against people of other faiths, including Muslim minorities. For this reason, the forum is launching a nationwide petition to reassert the primacy of the constitution as the country's supreme law.

Even though "we are Muslims, they [the Sunnis] raid us, seize our books and even stop us from praying," said Miljuan Hadjiran, an Ahmadi Muslim, who spoke before an audience of a thousand people.

"They won't let us enter a mosque and they won't let us build our own either. They laugh and show the Qu'ran when we cite Article 11 of the constitution that guarantees freedom of worship," he said.

For Ahmadi Muslims, the founder of their movement, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was the Mahdi, whilst Sunni Muslims reject this claim. For them, Muhammad was the last prophet. This is why the National Fatwa Council can condemn Ahmadis to prison or fines, or force them to abjure and be "rehabilitated".

Speaker after speaker at the forum noted that Islamic laws, once centred on personal and family matters, are now increasingly being used more broadly. Examples are legion.

In July 2005 for example, Islamic clerics unleashed mob violence against the followers of Ayah Pin, a small, syncretistic cult centred on worshipping giant teapots. Muslim clerics and the police had their village of Batu flattened with bulldozers and the hundred or so followers arrested and thrown in jail where they are still waiting for trial.

A few months ago, Muslim religious authorities imposed a Muslim funeral on a convert from Hinduism despite his wife's objections. The civil court called upon to decide the case refused to hear it claiming it did not have jurisdiction, whilst the Sharia court rejected the wife's application on the grounds that she was not Muslim.

"Politicians, judges and civil servants [. . .] see themselves as Muslims first and citizens second," said lawyer Malik Imtiaz.

"There is an urgent need to remind people that Malaysia is not an Islamic but a secular state and the constitution is supreme law of the land," he said. "Sharia should not be applied to all citizens". (PB)

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