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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Sabah’s autonomy on religion

By SSK

The issue of religion, in particular regarding Islam, is a sensitive issue, made worse of late due to the Allah issue and Bahasa Malaysia Bibles controversy. What is happening in some states in West Malaysia is of concern to Sabah. The main concern is that what is happening in West Malaysia may soon happen in Sabah if the issue is not clarified.

To understand the issue of religion in Sabah we must revert to the Cobbold Commission and the 20-Point Memorandum where it says that while there was no objection to Islam being the religion of Malaysia there should be no State religion of North Borneo, and the provisions relating to Islam in the present Constitution of Malaya should not apply to North Borneo.

The British members of the Commission were of the view that the non-Muslim community wanted complete religious freedom concerning worship, education and propagation in North Borneo and that the provisions of the Federal Constitution regarding Islam should not extend to North Borneo and that the State Legislature should be the authority that decides what happens.

Article 5A of the Sabah State Constitution says, “Islam is the religion of the State; but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in any part of the State.”

Article 5B(1) says that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is Head of Islam in Sabah but Article 5B(2) says the State Legislative Assembly shall be responsible for making provisions for regulating Islamic religious affairs and for constituting a Council to advise the Yang di-Pertuan Agong in matters relating to Islam.

Despite having Article 5A and 5B, Articles 11(1) and 11(4) of the Federal Constitution is retained to guarantee religious freedom and to allow State Law to control or restrict the propagation of any religious belief among Muslims.

In other words, this would mean there is a certain degree of autonomy in Sabah and the Sabah State Assembly can formulate its own policies, which may differ from that of the West Malaysian states, but just as long as it does not contradict the Federal Constitution. This results in the preservation of the freedom of religion in Sabah, with limited exceptions for the propagation of Muslims, and the Sabah State Assembly retaining the power to decide on the ‘rules of engagement’ and recommend these rules to the Agong.

Overall, there should be no confusion on this matter as far as Sabah is concerned and there are no restrictions to Christians in Sabah using Allah or publishing Christian literature, Bibles included, in Bahasa Malaysia. So let us not allow the controversy in West Malaysia to spill over to Sabah because Sabah has specific laws on what should and should not happen.

And this is the guarantee we must give to the people of Sabah.

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