Home 2008: 6 To find just and meaningful solutions

To find just and meaningful solutions

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The Bar Council is not questioning the provisions of Article 121(1A), which confer Syariah jurisdiction over Muslims on the Syariah Courts. Its  concern centres on the manner of dealing with the current conflicts. There must be a concerted effort by the Government to address these issues constructively and not pay mere lip service to the concerns of many.

The Bar Council’s forum scheduled for tomorrow will proceed.  The concerns of some quarters including a number of cabinet ministers such as the Deputy Prime Minister, Dato Seri Razak, Dato Hamid Albar and Dato Zahid Hamidi, various NGOs and PAS are noted.

We reiterate that our concern is to address the issues of conflicts of laws facing families caught between the separate jurisdictions of civil and Syariah laws.

The Bar Council is not questioning the provisions of Article 121(1A), which confer Syariah jurisdiction over Muslims on the Syariah Courts.  The coexistence of two separate legal jurisdictions is not a new or uncommon phenomenon and there are naturally issues of conflicts of laws arising from the different jurisdictions.

We recognise and respect Article 121(1A); however, there is a strong viewpoint that it is unjust to compel anyone to be subjected to laws and courts that are based on a religion that they do not profess, and this viewpoint must be addressed.

Our concern centres on the manner of dealing with the current conflicts.  There must be a concerted efforts by the Government to address these issues constructively and not pay mere lip service to the concerns of many.

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Although the Bar Council is heartened by the Prime Minister’s recently-reported statements calling for more interfaith dialogues to be held in order to promote and ensure religious harmony among Malaysians of diverse beliefs and we welcome his assurance that there is space for such dialogues, we urge that more be done by way of constructive dialogue and meaningful debate with all the relevant stakeholders to arrive at a just and amicable solution.

However, the Bar Council is troubled by the continuing calls from certain quarters that its forum tomorrow be cancelled.  These statements that claim the forum will create misunderstanding, anger and tension, are in stark contrast with the PM’s assurances.

The Bar Council reiterates that the forum will not dispute Article 121(1A), nor question Islam or its status as enshrined in Article 3 of the Federal Constitution. The forum is not about conversion per se, as the Bar Council endorses the absolute right of individuals to embrace Islam. Instead, the forum will address the ancillary issues that arise from such situations and will emphasise the need for laws, and a judicial system, that protects everyone equally.

The way forward to resolving any dispute or issue is to firstly promote greater understanding of the views of all the parties involved.  We accept and understand that matters relating to faith and race are always sensitive and emotive.  However, regardless of the sensivity, we must strive to move forward to achieve a just, fair and amicable solution to the problems faced by so many individuals.

The stifling of debates, talks and discussions would be counter-productive and would only fuel hate, fear and insecurity within the affected communities.

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The Bar Council agrees with the Prime Minister that there is a high degree of respect and tolerance in Malaysia, and Malaysians are able to “discuss various issues, especially on religion, without having the fear of repercussions from any other party”.  Malaysian society is mature and responsible.  It wants to, and is ready to, exchange views in public, even on difficult issues, in efforts to further strengthen national unity and foster interfaith harmony.

Discourse on issues confronting the nation cannot take place only at official levels, behind closed doors, but must be inclusive and involve the public and those whose lives are affected by them.  Calls to halt discussions on any issue imply that there are aspects to those issues that the public does not have a right to know about, which is counter to the principles of the open, progressive and democratic society that we have evolved into.  We believe that it is the continued suppression of open and respectful discourse, not public forums, that will cause tension and jeopardise national unity.

The Bar Council advocates the democratic rights of all individuals and groups, and defends their freedom to assemble, to associate and to express their views.  We are taking the necessary precautions to ensure that the dialogue takes place in a controlled and constructive manner, by holding the forum in a closed setting and by requiring participants to register for the event.

The forum is open to everyone.  The Bar Council urges supporters and critics alike to attend the forum and to air thair views so that together, we can strive to seek just solutions to the issues faced by our fellow citizens.

Ragunath Kesavan
Malaysian Bar
8 August 2008


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