Photos by HAKAM
KUALA LUMPUR, May 23 ― Those seeking for Shariah law to override the Federal Constitution should put this to a referendum instead of trying to interpret the country’s supreme law to suit their intentions, former Malaysian National Human Rights Society (HAKAM) president Malik Imtiaz Sarwar said today.
Imtiaz also warned that arbitrarily interpreting the Constitution’s meaning would destabilise the country, adding that such open readings of the document could just as easily be reversed at a later date.
“Some of you might want Shariah laws to be the supreme law of Malaysia and if that were possible through a constitutional amendment or a referendum, then so be it.
“But it doesn’t mean you reinterpret the provisions put in place in 1957 and reinforced when Sabah and Sarawak who joined us as a nation on certain footing, we reinterpret as convenient,” the senior lawyer told a forum here.
He said that the idea that the Federal Constitution is a “living document” did not mean that the meaning of the supreme law’s provisions could be “reinterpreted” at will.
“If you could shift ground just because you felt like it, just because you thought it was useful, just because you thought it was convenient today, then bear in mind that the same shifting of ground could happen tomorrow, the day after tomorrow,” he added.
Imtiaz warned that this would effectively mean that different constitutional values and principles would be applicable from day to day and would leave Malaysians without a stable system.
“You can’t build something on foundations of sand. When we say the Constitution is supreme, we mean just that, it’s the supreme law. Everything has to be tested against it,” he said.
Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi, emeritus professor of law from Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), said that “constitutional literacy” here needs to improve and suggested that there be “constitutional patriotism”.
“In this country, there is no respect for the Constitution,” the constitutional law expert said, contrasting it with the Americans’ reverence for their constitution, adding that the highest law of the country here was treated more like a document to be trotted out from time to time and then forgotten.
The “Human Rights and Religion: Are the two compatible?” forum, which is jointly organised by HAKAM and the University of Malaya (UM)’s law faculty’s human rights research group, also featured senior lawyer Philip Koh and UM law lecturer Dian Diana Abdul Hamed Shah as commentator and speaker respectively.