Bar Council: Celebrate freedom, not fear

Lim Chee Wee, President, Malaysian Bar

The Malaysian Bar deeply deplores the action by the Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor (“JAIS”) who, with the assistance of Polis DiRaja Malaysia, rudely interrupted a thanksgiving dinner hosted by a community-based non-governmental organisation and held at Damansara Utama Methodist Church two days ago.

We welcome the statement of regret offered by the Menteri Besar of Selangor over the incident, and his call for JAIS to furnish a detailed report on the incident.  We trust that appropriate disciplinary action will be taken if JAIS officers are found to have exceeded their authority in this regard.

The civil authorities cannot allow the Islamic department to wantonly disrespect the fundamental rights and liberties of all citizens to gather and associate freely with one another.

Especially in this month of Ramadhan, one would have hoped that the Islamic religious authorities in Selangor would have focused their attention on more constructive pursuits rather than the disruption of a community thanksgiving dinner that brought together people of various races and faiths in peace, harmony and unity.  This is the true spirit of Malaysia which we must value, uphold, protect and defend.

We know of no prohibition in law against Muslims entering the premises of a Christian church, nor of being part of the audience in a thanksgiving event held in such a place, even if such an event were to contain certain religious elements such as prayer and singing.

By conducting such a raid, video-recording a part of the event, rummaging and removing the contents of garbage bags and then taking down the particulars of Muslims found in attendance, treating them as though they had somehow broken the law, JAIS has besmirched the good name and sullied the hard-earned reputation of Malaysia and her peoples for multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-faith acceptance.

This action on the part of JAIS, coming so closely after the insensitive public service announcements released by television station 8TV, does not bode well for the future of inter-racial and inter-faith harmony in our country.

If, after almost 54 years of independence in Peninsular Malaysia, a state Islamic authority and a national television company can still display a form of arrogant authoritarianism and callous condescension in their actions, then we must collectively ask ourselves where we have failed as a nation.

Moderation has increasingly given way to mindless orthodoxy, and those in authority have parted company with common sense.

Let us all recommit ourselves, in this mutual month of Ramadhan and Merdeka, to a practice of faith or belief that will free our lives from fear, and a pursuit of ideals that will free our thoughts from binding shackles, both of which our forefathers struggled so hard to achieve.

Lim Chee Wee
President
Malaysian Bar