Ex-CJ Ahmad Fairuz draws flak over controversial lecture

Bebas says he misrepresented Muslims and legal figures say he misinterpreted the Federal Constitution.

(FMT) – Former chief justice Ahmad Fairuz Abdul Halim has earned reproach from several quarters for remarks he made yesterday at a lecture titled “Islam as the Law of the Land”.

Referring to Fairuz’s assertions that all Malays would welcome the imposition of hudud and that they did not care about equality, Azrul Mohd Khalib of the rights group Bebas said he had made “sweeping statements” that “totally misrepresented “Malaysian Muslims.

Former law minister Zaid Ibrahim and human rights lawyer Syahredzan Johan attacked Fairuz’s view that any Malaysian law contradicting the Quran and prophetic tradition would be null and void.

Zaid said Fairuz stood on “no basis whatsoever” in interpreting the Federal Constitution the way he did.

Fairuz’s argument centred on Article 3 of the Federal Constitution, which states that Islam is the religion of the federation, and Article 4, which states that laws contradicting the constitution are void. He noted that the Quran and the Sunnah (prophetic tradition) are the main sources of Islamic law.

Syahredzan said the former chief justice appeared to have interpreted Article 3 as meaning that Malaysia is an Islamic state. That would be erroneous, he added.

“If this was the case, there would be a clear provision stating so,” he said. “Article 3, read together with Article 4, means that Islam has a special position in the country compared to other religions, but it does not make Islamic law supreme.”

Azrul said opponents of PAS’ proposal to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act should see Fairuz’s speech as an indication of the threat posed by those supporting the proposed amendments.

“A former chief justice’s rejection of the Federal Constitution in favour of archaic religious laws should tell right thinking Malaysians that there is something horribly wrong and alarming going on in our country,” he said.

He added that Fairuz’s opinion should be “overwhelmingly rejected” as “we would reject groups such as Isma and Perkasa. Keep them far away from our multi-ethnic society.”

He said Fairuz’s opinion and others similar to it confirmed the suspicion that PAS and its supporters would not stop at strengthening the shariah courts’ punitive powers. “They seek to change the very nature and identity of our country and get rid of our secular institutions.”

Zaid said it was “tragic” that lawyers like Fairuz had become preachers and were “willing to disregard the principles of the Federal Constitution”.

“That’s why we have to appoint a good lawyer as chief justice. Otherwise, we’ll have more of the same.”

Referring to Fairuz’s interpretation of Article 3, he said, “The Islamists in the judiciary have gone overboard in giving weight to the word ‘official’ as in ‘official religion.’”

He said the proper definition of the word “official” had been explained by former prime ministers Tunku Abdul Rahman and Hussein Onn. “It’s just ceremonial. We are not a religious country by the Constitution.”