KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 25 — Malaysia has no laws that force people to have a religious affiliation, a minority faith group told a deputy minister who claimed that atheism was illegal.
Jagir Singh, chairman of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST), said that atheists are therefore free to profess their beliefs.
“Article 11(1) [of the Federal Constitution] gives the right to every person to profess and practise his religion. It is noted that a deputy minister has stated that it is not equal to freedom of religion, that is, every person must have a religion. There is nothing in the Federal Constitution, or any law in Malaysia that says every person must have a religion,” Jagir said.
On the Rukun Negara which lists “belief in God” as one of its principles, Jagir said it was included as most Malaysians were already professing their belief in religion.
According to the lawyer, the principle also meant that there was already due recognition that there were also some without any religious beliefs.
“Of course most Malaysians have [a] religion. This fact was recognised in the Rukun Negara. The first point being ‘belief in God’. It ascertains that most Malaysians have a religion,” said Jagir.
“This was the reason they included it as ‘kepercayaan kepada Tuhan’, and thus recognising that there may be some without religion .
“It must be remembered also, that Article 5(1) of the Federal Constitution provides that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty. To be atheist is not against any law,” he added.
Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki claimed Thursday that atheism was a “very dangerous” ideology that went against not only the Rukun Negara that prescribes “belief in God” as one of its tenets, but also the Federal Constitution.
He further alleged that freedom of religion as enshrined in the Constitution did not include the freedom of unbelief.
The deputy minister in charge of Islamic affairs also said that any individual who practises and spreads atheism can be punished for going against the Constitution.
The senator said atheism can be punished under both Shariah and civil laws like the Sedition Act.
Despite his claim, Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution only states that “Islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation”.
Meanwhile, Article 11(1) states that “Every person has the right to profess and practise his religion and propagate it”, subject to clause Article 11(4) that prohibits the propagation to Muslims.
His statement also appeared to contradict that of Emeritus Prof Tan Sri Dr Khoo Kay Kim, who sat on the Rukun Negara drafting panel.
In a 2011 interview with The Nut Graph, Khoo told the news portal that the panel had first debated whether those who wanted to identify as atheist would be allowed to do so if the “belief in God” tenet was listed.
However, he said that the panellists felt the tenet “was not likely to be a crisis because in Malaysia, most people had a religion.”
“And sure enough, when the whole thing was announced, there was no opposition. And if a handful of people want to be atheist, so what?” he was quoted saying.
The Rukun Negara was formed in 1970, a year after the bloody May 13 racial riot.
It is a set of national ideologies to guide Malaysians to build resilience and to foster unity among diverse communities in the country.