Published in The Malaysian Insider today.
When it comes to philosophical as well as religious differences in the interpretation and implementation of human rights, the tale of David versus Goliath may be resorted to for inspiration.
The tale is a timeless one for its relevancy is not confined to antiquity but may also be applied in this day and age as well as in this part of the world.
Seen in today’s context, Malaysia may be thought of as the Asian and Islamic “David” struggling against the “Goliath” of the secular West as well as its many supporters and cheerleaders.
Modern statistics show that approximately 75% of media circulation worldwide, in particular with respect to human rights, is from West to East. This means that our own Malaysian perspective on human rights or any other matter is easily drowned in the Western tsunami of data and argument.
Nevertheless, from the tale we know that David eventually wins the battle, with a small sling shot against Goliath’, notwithstanding the latter’s huge size and fighting ability.
To many of those in the greater Islamic ummah as well as others of non-Western persuasion, “Little Malaysia” is still the only “viable” Muslim country with its own take on things, particularly with respect to the practice and implementation of human rights.
It is because of this that Malaysia must demonstrate its ability in the human rights sphere and to this end, we aim to formulate a plan called the National human rights Action Plan (NHRAP) to function as a blueprint that is both acceptable in this part of the world, gradual enough in its implementation having regard to local customs and sensitivities as well as striking a balance between rights and responsibilities.
A balanced and moderate perspective on human rights is preferred for Malaysia as opposed to say, the “absolute freedom of speech” championed by France and the US’s insistence on “freedom of gender identity”.
As a nation, Malaysia is chiefly governed by its Federal Constitution, wherein Article 3(1) thereof stipulates that Islam is the religion of the state. Naturally therefore, its tenets must be given utmost priority by all aspects of Malaysian society, from the highest ranked in government down to the common man.
This commitment to upholding Islam would naturally include the implementation of revelation as contained in the main sources of Islam being the Quran and the Hadith, in and throughout the public sphere.
Those who denigrate or marginalise this religious revelation do not understand or simply refuse to appreciate that this constitutionally mandated Malaysian commitment to Islamic Law would thus lead to the necessity of ensuring that human rights that need protecting within the context of Malaysia is one that is amenable to the teachings of Islam.
Naysayers may expect the Federal Constitution to be literally amended, its basic structure with respect to Islam cast aside, to enable their own secular understanding of Judeo-Christian concepts of human rights disconnected from Islamic religious values.
However, apart from Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution which specifically binds the Malaysian social and legal practices to Islam as the religion of the federation, Article 37(1), Schedule 4 of the Federal Constitution, also obligates the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong to protect the sanctity of the Islamic guidance and value system within the Malaysian political entity at all times.
Our NHRAP, therefore, must seek to improve and sustain human rights within Malaysia that is in keeping with the above. It should strive to provide objective evaluations of the state of our human rights insofar as possible, given the religious, cultural and historical parameters of this country.
It should also strengthen relevant governmental structures and promote greater respect for the rule of law, also a value forming a cornerstone of our constitution.
It should integrate human rights principles into national programs such as economic development, ease of doing business, education advancement, affordable healthcare, accessible social services, and transparent administration of justice.
It must enhance greater conformity, wherever possible, between national and international human rights standards without abandoning the basic values already embodied in our Constitution, the commitment to Islam being one of them.
It must also raise Malaysian consciousness of human rights and inculcate a stronger culture of respect for human rights in society.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Nancy Shukri, has aptly reminded NGOs and civil societies to pursue the Malaysian mould if they wanted to voice their opinions on NHRAP. She also urged all parties to be civic-conscious when voicing their opinions on the plan in the social media, so that these opinions would be accommodating rather than belligerent.
Nancy added that NGOs and civil societies should not merely emulate foreign human rights groups where the society was different from that in Malaysia, stating in her usual frank tone, “Do not be influenced by human rights groups in other countries. Let us have our own Malaysian agenda and form a human rights plan for the good of the country.”
Malaysia’s position in the present history of the advance of human rights protections in human history would lie in evoking a truly equitable international consensus, as Nancy suggests, in a civil and civilised way, as is also advised by the Quran when addressing groups of non-believers with moderation and politeness, and the way of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) dealt with non-Muslim citizenry through the world’s first ever written constitution, the Medina Charter.
The Prophet brought his wisdom into practice without insisting on an instantaneous or fascist tyranny of the changes wrought.
Nancy suggested that Malaysia’s way forward would be to recognise and implement NHRAP in five main stages, namely, preparatory, development, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. These five phases are equally important in ensuring positive outcomes.
The Malaysian government has already embarked on the first of these stages. It is also crucial for the government to ensure, as far as possible, that the NHRAP process involves the active participation of all relevant stakeholders, such as government agencies, civil society, enforcement agencies, national human rights institutions, parliamentarians, the judiciary, the private sector, and the media.
The secular West, by insisting on its version of “human rights for all”, must not be allowed to redraw the social and spiritual lines marking various groups of human civilisation for their own satisfaction and benefit.
Muslims themselves have been described as a society of “sacred borders”, which certainly starts with our borders around Mecca, as well as between the human genders.
As we march into 2016, Malaysia now has the opportunity to provide a model of holistic human rights accommodation with the West, by also encouraging other non-western countries in expressing their own unique NHRAPs.
It must, therefore, not let in seizing this opportunity, and discharging the same with valour. – December 31, 2015.
Azril Mohd Amin is a Kuala Lumpur-based lawyer and chief executive of Centre for Human Rights Research and Advocacy (Centhra).