Is Malaysia Really Secular?


STAMFORD Raffles once wrote to his missionary cousin Reverend Thomas Raffles that Borneo be given vigorous campaigns by the missionaries as “the island is inhabited by a race scarcely emerged from Barbarism” (Buitenzorg, 10th February 1815, Mss. Eur. F.202/6).

He wrote the above after the latter had sought to spread Christianity among the population of the Malays in the Malay States.

Raffles, in his letter also said, “Religion and laws are so united (that the introduction of Christian beliefs will bring about) much mischief, much bitterness of heart and contention”.

Islam has been the religion of the land since its introduction in the 12th Century A.D.   1,000 years before that it was Hinduism with temples built in the Sungai Batu Pahat, south of Gunung Jerai.

This was preceded by a much earlier civilisation in Sungai Batu, Kedah that practised some form of animism with temples that had southerly staircase directions aligned with Gunung Jerai.

After that, the rulers of the respective states embraced Islam. As a result, the Syariah law, such as the Undang-Undang 99 Perak, the Batu Bersurat Terengganu and the Hukum Kanun Melaka, was established.

Those who think that Syariah law exists only after the introduction of the Common Law are gravely erroneous.

In 1908, Richard James Wilkinson, a British colonial administrator who, with the backing of Sultan Idris I, was responsible for the establishment of the Malay College in Kuala Kangsar, and who was also a scholar of Malay and history, wrote on the status of Islamic law in the Malay states:

There can no doubt that Moslem law would have ended up becoming the law of Malaya had not British law stepped in to check it.” (William R. Roff, Patterns of Islamization in Malaysia, 1890s-1990s: Exemplars, Institutions and Vectors, Journal of Islamic Studies Vol. 9, Is. 2 (1998), 210-228, at 211).

This was reinforced by two British judges in the landmark case of Ramah binti Ta’at v Laton binti Malim Sutan 6 FMSLR (1927).