The following is extracted from Today Online.
Is Malaysia an Islamic state? Opposition, non-Muslim groups challenge statement
Friday • July 20, 2007
KUALA LUMPUR — Opposition and non-Muslim groups have challenged the Malaysian government's statement that the country is an Islamic state, local media reported yesterday.
Citing historical documents and legal precedent, politicians and lawyers are among those who have strongly disagreed with Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak's recent remarks saying Malaysia has never been a secular state.
The development follows high-profile unsuccessful bids by individuals seeking to convert from Islam to another faith.
The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) has said that there is ample evidence that Malaysia is a secular nation, according to the New Straits Times.
The MCA said the evidence for Malaysia being secular could be found in numerous historical documents — including those relating to Malaysia's journey towards independence and the drafting of its Constitution, such as the Reid Report and the Cobbold Commission — as well as a 1988 Supreme Court decision.
After reviewing the documents used in the drafting of the Federal Constitution, the party's secretary-general, Mr Ong Ka Chuan, said on Wednesday that these documents "showed that a secular state is the foundation of the formation of Malaya and this consensus was made by our forefathers".
Mr Ong was responding to the deputy premier's remarks on Monday, where he told reporters: "Islam is the official religion and we are an Islamic state. We have always been driven by our adherence to the fundamentals of Islam."
Mr Najib added that the Constitution guarantees religious freedom and other rights to ethnic minorities.
MCA central committee member Wong Nai Chee, who is also a Member of Parliament, cited legal precedent as evidence that Malaysia is not an Islamic state.
Mr Wong was quoted by The Star as saying: "The constitutional position of Malaysia being a secular state has also been confirmed in the 1988 Supreme Court decision in the case of the Public Prosecutor versus Che Omar. Therefore ... we cannot see how it can be interpreted differently now."
The president of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism, Mr A Vaithilingam, also urged the government and all Malaysians to respect the social contract agreed to in 1957 — when Malaysia gained independence from Britain — which promises equality for all citizens.
The president of Malaysia's Bar Council, Ms Ambiga Sreenevasan, said the Federal Constitution, system of government and administration of justice showed unequivocally that Malaysia was not an Islamic state. The country has civil courts and Islamic courts.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is a keen advocate of Islam Hadhari (or civilisational Islam), a moderate form of the faith, which also encourages Muslims to embrace education, science and technology.