COMANGO is a coalition of Malaysian NGOs purporting to represent the secular human rights groups, as well as “intelligent” liberal Muslim point-of-view. MuslimUPRo‘s objection to COMANGO’s retrograde agenda can be seen in MuslimUPRo’s earlier memorandum to the Government as well as media statements and other writings.
When the Prime Minister fulfils the promise in his recent Maal Hijrah address to respond to COMANGO’s various demands, he will have to deal with some issues which Muslims Scholars themselves have not fully agreed upon over the years. For example, COMANGO demands in their 11th March 2013 report the freedom to commit apostasy as a right to religious freedom. This was made clear in paragraph 1 of the report, where they had urged the Malaysian government to ratify the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The main problem is with Article 18 of the ICCPR , which provides for freedom of religion, and when read with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), clearly shows that the freedom of religion it asks includes the freedom to leave one’s religion.
The UN Human Rights Committee in 1993 issued an authoritative General Comment on Article 18 of the ICCPR which asserts that “the freedom to ‘have or to adopt’ a religion includes ‘the right to replace one’s current religion or belief with another…“. While Manfred Nowak, in his authoritative commentary, writes that “there can be no doubt that the freedom to adopt a religion of one’s own choice includes the right to withdraw one’s membership in one religious society and join another (Manfred Nowak, UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: CCPR Commentary – Kehl and Arlington, VA N.P Engel, 2005).
In the Malaysian context, this goes against the rights of Muslims as enshrined in the Shariah, as well as the contemporary legal position provided for by Article 3(1) and Article 37(1) Fourth Schedule of the Federal Constitution.
By thereby denying the jurisdiction of the Shariah Court in determining one’s status of Islam, COMANGO attempts to personalize this long-held, widely disputed issue that is now heavily influenced by the “Consumers’ Rights” philosophy so dear to the heart of secularists. COMANGO wants to include religion as a consumer choice from off the shelf of the world’s religions. This demand is in the nature of a matter in which…”the devil rushes in where Angels fear to tread”. Early Muslims were indeed severely threatened by those who left the religion, because these persons often then attacked Muslims aggressively and endangered their very lives. So of course the forbidding of apostasy made perfect sense in those days.
However, like many such aspects of Islāmic Law derived from our beloved early Muslim Ummah, it takes very advanced and well-educated scholars to argue the point in the context of the secular “New World Order” of the United Nations. Then, the “default” culture enters in, and whatever the secularists want automatically displaces the need for Muslims to wait and search for effective solutions to their ideological conflicts with the secular world. We cannot speed up our own internal debates; however, we must not be forced to abandon them either. Many of them are derived from Revelation and cannot be simply abandoned, like that.
COMANGO has also called for the abolition of Shariah, which is being enforced in some Muslim communities around the world. In the case of Malaysia, Paragraph 9 of the report questions the enactments of Shariah Criminal Offenses, particularly paragraph 9.5 which urges the repeal or amendment of the Shariah criminal offenses and enactments that are allegedly claimed as “denying the rights to privacy”. In Hudud, we have the long-standing allegation of “excessive cruelty” in the punishments for adultery, thievery, inebriation, and so on. Although Islāmic Legal Schools cannot agree on such matters, yet there are many good reasons for attempting to replace the thoroughly discredited secular system of criminal punishment, which actually increases criminality through incarceration, whereas Muslim social humiliation as an alternative deterrent to criminal behaviour has not yet even been extensively researched by Muslim Social Scientists.
COMANGO has also painted a negative picture of da’wah (missionary) efforts by the government with the Malaysian Orang Asli. While we disagree with the wrong perception portrayed in their report, we believe that there is a vast room for improvement that Muslims could undertake to clear the misunderstanding. Here again, Muslims who have often only been educated properly for the last one or two generations, have yet to face many of the core issues of da’wah method. For example, it can be argued that one of the best da’wah approaches is performed by Muslim converts, and not by born-Muslims who have no experience whatsoever in confronting or understanding the non-Muslim, or secular mentality. We have not done extensive research needed to do da’wah successfully, since 9/11 have made it more difficult to invite others to become Muslim by Qur’an and Sunnah alone. The very process of Revelation is not understood or accepted by many in this world (a few of whom are prone to categorize it as a symptom of schizophrenia), so how can we argue theological positions in the face of this initial denial of the very deepest foundation of our beliefs?
COMANGO has also demanded that the government recognise SOGI-based (Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity) rights, namely the rights of LGBTIQ (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgendered, inter-sexed and queer persons) and the right to consensual adultery. The claims of the LGBTIQ group allegedly being denied their rights are raised in paragraphs 6.1.1 and 6.1.2 of their report. There are also pressures to abolish section 377A of the Penal Code (homosexual acts involving either men or women).
Again, scientists do not yet understand the biological or sociological aetiology of same-sex behaviour, or even or adultery for that matter, so how can we go against our Revealed Religion by allowing them?
Some of our Islāmic scholars may be slow to face the needs of modern youth and society, as many critics have suggested in their writings. Yet, however long it takes, it must be done. Meanwhile, we MUST not be forced to accept the secular “default” positions on these issues, for fear of punishment in the Hellfire itself. No believer can doubt the possibility of such punishment. And we Muslims are commanded in Al Qur’an to witness to the rest of humanity on these dangers to our spiritual being. We pray that with Allah’s continued guidance, and following the footsteps of our beloved Rasulullah s.a.w, we will be able to undertake such duty effectively.
Azril Mohd Amin is vice president, Muslim Lawyers’ Association of Malaysia and head of delegation, Muslim Organisations in the UPR Process (MuslimUPRo)
- Malaysia’s 2nd Evaluation under the Universal Periodic Review, 24th October 2013 (azrilmohdamin.com)
- COMANGO’s siege mentality (azrilmohdamin.com)
- Notes from Geneva – 19th October 2013 (azrilmohdamin.com)
- The new ‘human rights-ism’ (azrilmohdamin.com)
- Strenghtening the Muslim position at the Universal Periodic Review (azrilmohdamin.com)
- MuslimUPRo’s Media Statement 10th October 2013 (azrilmohdamin.com)