The Guardians of the Motherland: A Critical View of the Lina Joy Judgment
Lina Joy v. Majlis Agama Islam Wilayah Persekutuan & Others; Federal Court, Putrajaya; Ahmad Fairuz CJ, Alauddin Mohd Sheriff FCJ, Richard Malanjum FCJ; 30 May 2007
The Constitution is not just a lawyer’s document. It is the vehicle of a community’s legal, political and social life. More than any other law, a Constitution is the repository of the nation’s dreams and demands, its values and vulnerabilities.1
– Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr. Shad Saleem Faruqi
Life and dreams. In my very humble opinion, there will be no life when there is no peace. When there is no peace, there will be only one dream: to achieve peace.
We have peace now.
As imperfect as the peace may be, it is still a quantum leap from the days of May 13 racial riots or the days of Emergency. It is still light years ahead of the conditions in Palestine. The late Sir Henry Gurney was once the Chief Secretary to the Palestine Mandate Government. After serving the Empire in Palestine, he was then transferred to assume the post of High Commissioner in another Muslim-majority British-occupied territory, called Malaya.
The similarity between Palestine and Malaysia can stop when social life is mentioned. Palestine is a Muslim-majority territory and the Muslims are Arabs. Arabs are known to be abrasive people with an equally abrasive culture, which is one of the reasons why the Christians were reluctant to accept that Muhammad, an Arab, is the last prophet of God. The fact that the gentle teachings of Islam could transform the barbaric nature of the Arabs is a miracle in itself.
But although not barbaric anymore, the Arabs still cannot be considered as gentle people. The fall of the Ottoman Empire marked the creation of Arab nation states based on tribal boundaries. These states however, cannot stand the sight of each other. In an Arab League summit, a representative will call another ‘dog’.2 In the United Arab Emirates, the Abu Dhabi emirate is the fiercest competitor of the Dubai emirate. When Dubai fell under the weight of heavy debt, Abu Dhabi gave $10 billion as financial aid3 which reeks of sarcasm.
In Muslim-majority Malaysia, the Muslims are Malays. Malays are perceived as weak people. They were conquered by foreign powers for almost half a millennium. They are small in stature. But physical superiority does not count for much in this era. The Malays has a saying “Semut dipijak tidak mati, gajah diarung bergelimpangan” (Ants will not die when stepped on, elephants will lie dead when swarmed over”.
Centuries of life under the rule of foreigners had taught the Malays survivability. Malays become more accomodating and tolerant towards foreigners and immigrants. One will be hard-pressed to find any other Muslim-majority community which practices a similar level of tolerance towards foreigners. A recent survey conducted by HSBC ranked Malaysia as 9th in a list of friendliest countries, the highest-ranked of any Asian nation.4 Besides the friendliness of the local people, another criterion for judging a country’s friendliness is how simple it is for foreigners to live and integrate themselves in the local environment. This British recipe of a Muslim-majority, multi-racial nation would not have worked without the Malays. It didn’t work in Arab-Muslim Palestine.
But with success, comes more ambitions. And they can be misguided. Islam idealists think they can achieve more than what have already been achieved by a Muslim-helmed government in a multi-racial nation. They now want more: for Malaysia to become an Islamic utopia. The non-Muslim idealists and liberal secularists too, want more. They think that with 50 years of independence from the British, Malay Muslims should be ‘mature’ enough to accept apostasy as part of religious freedom.
What these overzealous idealists have overlooked is that ideals cannot always be translated into reality.
The case of Lina Joy is one such occasion where boundaries were pushed hard by idealists. It is high profile enough for almost every Malaysians to know the facts. Yes, ‘idealists’ will point out that the controversial Tun Ahmad Fairuz (who retired two months after the ‘Lingam tape’ controversy first reported by the alternative media, Malaysiakini; five months after delivering this judgment) came out with the judgment. Yes, ‘idealists’ will point out that the two Muslim judges were chosen to preside over a case of Muslim-Christianity conversion. Yes, ‘idealists’ will point out that the only non-Muslim judge in the panel, a Christian, delivered a dissenting judgment.
Being a Malay myself, in my very humble opinion, for all the acceptance and tolerance of the Malay people, the one thing that cannot be accepted by the Malays is for Islam to be challenged on their ‘ibu pertiwi‘, their ‘tanah tumpahnya darah’. Idealists can dream. Arabs will fight with each other. The learned, experienced and realistic Malay judiciary can decide by themselves the future of their own people. And motherland.
And they will.
1. Shad Saleem Faruqi, Document of Destiny, Star Publications, 2008.
2. “Is It Farewell to Arab League?,” Diplomatic Observer, http://www.diplomaticobserver.com/news_read.asp?id=770
3. “Abu Dhabi gives Dubai $10bn to help pay debts,” BBC News, 14 Disember, 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8411215.stm
4. “Malaysia Among Ten ‘Friendliest’ Countries,” BERNAMA.com, 15 April, 2011, http://www.bernama.com/bernama/v5/newsindex.php?id=579300