Islam in Malaysia: Constitutional and Human Rights Perspectives

This paper seeks to examine the constitutional and legal implications of Islam in Malaysia with a focus on fundamental liberties and particular reference to freedom of religion; conversion of non-Muslim minors to Islam; Hudud law, `Islamic dress,' offenses against precepts of Islam; and, women, Heads of State and Islam. These areas are chosen as a result of cases in civil courts contesting fundamental liberties, and debate in the public domain. The problems which have surfaced revolve around the following concerns: subjecting non-Muslims to Islamic law or principles; subjecting Muslims and non-Muslims to an Islamic fiqh principle contrary to humanistic principles; the problems of a dual legal system with attempts to demarcate jurisdiction but at the cost of fundamental liberties; and, the relevance of the ``Islamic state" vs. ``secular state" issue in rights adjudication. The courts appear to be in a conundrum when dealing with these cases, and this suggests a conflict in the application of Islamic and civil laws. These issues are not new; they have persisted for a long time. Recently court decisions have aroused a public perception that the problem is one of Islam versus the non-Muslim. This tends to be perceived in ethnic terms as well, specifically as a contest between the Malays, who are mostly Muslims, and other races. The author calls for increased secularization in Malaysia as a way to resolve these issues.