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Dangerous precedence in Selangor Sultan’s involvement in the Damansara Church case

The decision to use the Sultan of Selangor to make decision with regards to the incidence of alleged proselytization at the Damansara Utama Methodist church dinner has set a dangerous precedence because of several reasons. The people of Malaysia, regardless of the ethnic background and creed are all directly involved and affected by this historic case in which the Sultan, as the head of Muslim affairs in Selangor, make a legal decision on the very sensitive matter.
While I doubt that the Sultan is truly informed on all aspects, implications, ramifications and potential repercussions of the case, what has been done has been done, and we have to proceed to deal with it, possibly for many years to come. The king may reverse the situation if he rescinds his ruling but this seems unlikely to happen. So the first question that needs to be asked is why hasn’t the syariah court given the opportunity to contribute to the solution of the case? Since the case also involves non-Muslims, shouldn’t the civil court also be involved? We realize of course, that it the two courts joined the tussle, it would lead to a confusion about which law to apply on whom. Should the Muslims be dealt with with syariah law and the Christians be dealt with by applying civil law? But how would one settle the case with two laws clashing on a case that could potentially result in differing judgments made on two different parties, or both parties becoming affected by ruling of laws that shouldn’t apply to them? It would be a classic case of religious rights and freedom in which two irreconciliable laws try to dominate without any acceptable resolution! All it would do would be to cause an international embarrassment and shame to the country’s ridiculous two-layered legal system!
So now we have a situation in which the Sultan has been used as an instrument of solution, which immediately results in many people raising issues about what’s right and wrong. The royal ruling was made without any legal basis because he made it only as the leader of Islamic affairs in the state. There was no trial to decide who was guilty or not guilty. As a result the ruling in which the Sultan supported the raid by JAIS but assuring all that none would be charged, although the 12 Muslims who attended the fund-raising dinner would be given counseling, is spurious. The immediate assumption is that DUMC is guilty and that there was an attempt to proselytize. This then makes DUMC appear guilty, and so is in a defensive position while it is expected to keep silent and let the whole thing cool down. But it is not to be. Various parties are voicing out their unhappiness. The response from Sarawak is that one’s religion is one’s personal affair with God and none has the right to interfere in it.
The other issue is the question of JAIS’ right to flagrantly enter a church and disrupt its activities. Ng Kam Weng, of The Micah Mandate writes that “the jurisdiction granted by Article 11(4) of the Federal Constitution was to permit the state to control or restrict the propagation of religion among people professing to be Muslims. This must be read in the context of the Article itself which fundamentally provides for every person the freedom to profess, practice and propagate his religion…. There is no legal provision under the Propagation Enactment that allows Jais officials to intrude into the premises of DUMC, much less carry out a raid. From my reading of the Selangor Enactment (1988), the closest possible justification that can be offered by Jais are Sections 12 and 13, which specify that ‘an authorised officer may investigate the commission of any offence under this Enactment and may arrest without warrant any person suspected of having committed any such offence.’”
By this, clearly JAIS is in the wrong and should be judged for a contravention of provisions of the Federal Constitution and the Propagation Enactment. I agree with Bob Teoh, an online commentator, that JAIS “cannot hide behind its spurious actions and be exonerated from its controversial intrusion into a charity dinner held at a church…. It must be held accountable for its actions because it strikes at the very heart of criminal jurisprudence, law enforcement, and administration of justice — Islamic or otherwise. Jais cannot (be)…allowed to get away with it through flawed reasoning…. Jais descended upon a charity function…without invitation, permission or due authority….  Conducting a search without a warrant or an order from the court is considered an extra-judicial action. Is Jais, therefore, exempt from due process? And if so, why?”
The simplistic method of using the Sultan to supposedly settle the whole thing down is clearly illegal and is a denial of the due process of law. What should have been done was to allow the due legal process to be carried out, especially because this is a test case for the country’s dual legal system. Such a process may be protracted and expensive but it is necessary to give our judicial system a sense of honesty and transparency, and an opportunity for clarification and resolution for the long term legal benefits of all Malaysians. Unfortunately, because of the simplistic approach, we are all left hanging with the doubt and dissatisfaction. Because of this the civil-syariah dilemma will continue unresolved, and several questions will continue to haunt us. Will any church building be safe from raids by Islamic enforcement teams from now on, with or without reasonable cause? Which law should now precede in cases involving proselytization, or cases in which Muslim voluntarily joins a church to become Christians (without the church being aware that they are Muslims)?
The other danger in this precedence is the now questionable position of the Sultan as the king of all the people of Selangor. He is installed as people’s king, not merely the king of the Muslims. By taking side in a religious issue, he has established an unwanted position as a king who is a protector of Muslims and no longer favouring the Christians. By making the decision he has also entered into the soiled realm of politics. Royals are supposed to be above politics being the patron and protector of all his people regardless of their race and religion. Sadly, in the case of Selangor, this may no longer be the case.

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