UDHR and the position of Islam in Malaysia’s Federal Constitution

This paper examines the issue of the relationship between the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Malaysian Federal Constitution. Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution specially singles out Islam as the religion of the Federation of Malaysia. This provision therefore, prima facie, conflicts with the provisions of the UDHR which require that people are not discriminated against on the basis of, among other grounds such as religion.

This paper argues that even though the provisions are in conflict with the provisions of the UDHR, they are however necessary. The necessity of the Malaysian Federal Constitution’s declaration that Islam is the religion of the Federation founds on the basis of the fact of cultural relativism within the realm of international human rights. It argues that most global human rights instruments, such as the UDHR, are designed as per the standards of the Western democracies.

As a result, most non-Western countries find deficiencies with certain aspects of such instruments which they feel are not in sync with their own realities. Consequently, such countries tend to limit the international human rights instruments to what they consider respecting the unique circumstances of their own countries.

Therefore, this paper presents the view that notwithstanding the conflicts between the Constitution of the Malaysian Federation and the UDHR owing to the special role of Islam in the Constitution, such special mention is a limitation of the UDHR so as to fit into the unique circumstances of the Malaysians who are largely Muslims.

This special mention of Islam in the constitution of the Federation is both appropriate and in order, in that it reflects the historical background that creates a middle-ground approach in optimizing the role of religion in a modern democracy.

To read the full paper, please click here.

5 responses

  1. The question of human rights is a recent phenomena. At the time when the Malaysian Constitution was written, there was no such thing in existence. Hence, words like human rights, secularism, liberalism, etc. never became part of the Constitution. Why is this brought at this juncture? It is all about a back attempts to re-gain the the lost colonies, using a third party to do the job. Thus the Arab Spring, the 9/11 and many more to come and invented.

    Islam became part of the Malaysian Constitution by virtue of it having been in practice even before the Constitution was made. Islam is part and parcel of Sultanate Malaysia. Because of its importance the majority of the populace, Islam was given as special place and clearly spelled out as the Religion of the Federation. Whilst other religions are allowed to be in practice in peace and harmony. Non Muslims are prohibited to propagate their religions in any form to the Muslims. This very provisions were also in the enacted in the Sultanate States, apart from other provisions related thereto in a very clear terms.

    Why were these Islamic provisions were not questioned in the past? It is only questioned when the Government relaxed its stringent laws at the “persuation” of the opposition Parties.

    Whereas these very stringent laws are not only still intact in Singapore, but also improved upon the US to deal with the so-called “terrorists” created by them.

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