Perlis State Legislation recently approved a bill that allows for a parent or guardian to determine a child’s religion. This move created a lot of uproar among the non-Muslim community in Malaysia. Waytha Moorthy even said that HINDRAF is ready help pro bono with regards to the matter. Despite being outlawed HINDRAF still commands a strong voice against the government and issues pertaining Islam.
The move by Perlis is seen as a threat towards a more liberal understanding of the word “parent” in Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution, said Kulasegaran of DAP. The clause reads,
“For the purposes of Clause (3) the religion of a person under the age of eighteen years shall be decided by his parent or guardian.”
As it is, the word used is “parent or guardian” and not “parents or guardians”. Claiming the Bill to be Ultra Vires to the constitution would not be fair. In fact the Bill is within the borders set by the Federal Constitution for the States. In case a Bill is indeed in contradiction then the Federal Government can take action, as to what happened in Kelantan in the mid-70s.
Since that is not the case, then rest assured everything that needs to be kept in check has been kept in check. We have to remember that the preparation of legal documents is a very meticulous process. Each and every word is carefully scrutinised before being used. Likewise the selection of words used in the Federal Constitution have gone through due process.
Apart from that, as mentioned in Article 4 of the document, Federal Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Despite the permission that exists for any state to approve such a bill as Perlis, there are those who oppose. The idea of a democracy is that the majority gets to decide. For example in India, the Muslim population comprises of about 14.2% of inhabitants. However when a ruling is made at the State or Federal level, it is obeyed.
This obedience is due to a simple reason, democracy. Anyone who chooses to live in a nation has to abide by the legal system(s) present. That said, it has to be remembered that in order for a State Legislation to be passed, the Sultan has to sign the preceding documents.
Only when the agreement of the Malay Ruler(s) is obtained, can a ruling be enforced. Going against state legislations in States with a Sultan is a kin to opposing the entire institution of the Malay Rulers. It has to be noted that before the Federal Constitution existed, there were the State Constitutions. In all state Constitutions Islam is the religion of the state with the exception of Sarawak.
Hence all the rules and regulations that are to be implemented at either the state or Federal level have to bear in mind the position of the Malay Kings. In essence the powers that the Malay Rules poses over their dominion is still similar. Actually, each of them had an entire nation state to themselves before the existence of the Federation of Malaya.
They still retain most of what they had before independence. We should respect their authority over the matters that are under their jurisdiction. After all in Rukunegara, there is a phrase “kesetiaan kepada raja dan negara”. Lest we have forgotten the oath we once took.