Thursday, June 28, 2007

Lina Joy

An interesting article that is purportedly written by a Muslim law student in the University of Malaya.
What a refreshing and perceptive view, whatever the origins of the author, whatever the actual legalities behind the circumstances!

A Muslim View on Lina Joy's Case

Azmi Sharom, Faculty of Law,
U.M Jun 4, 07 3:34pm

This letter is a reaction to the decision of the Federal Court in the Lina Joy case. Taking heed of the prime minister's concerns, I have two unemotional points to make. Firstly the Federal Constitution should guarantee the rights of all Malaysians to choose their religion. Secondly, this issue of apostasy in Islam is far more open to interpretation than what the orthodoxy claims.

Article 11 of the Federal Constitution is very clear. Every person has the right to profess and practice his religion. They can propagate it as well if they want unless the state laws say you can't propagate to Muslims.

It is also clear by Schedule 9 of the Constitution that whatever Islamic laws that we have is to be made by the state legislature (with the exception of the three Federal Territories). These Islamic laws are to be judged by the Syariah courts, whose jurisdiction is only over persons who profess to Islam. The types of Islamic laws that the state legislature can make and that Syariah courts enforce are also listed in Schedule 9.

To summarise, they cover issues of family, inheritance and the administration of Islamic institutions and charities. There is no mention at all about apostasy. Where then does the state legislature get the authority to punish Muslims who declare that they wish to leave the religion?

Where does it say in the constitution that you can fine, jail or 'rehabilitate' people who have chosen to believe differently? This 'authority' comes from a line in Schedule 9 that says states can make laws punishing Muslims who act against the 'precepts' of the religion. I must repeat here that apostasy is not expressly mentioned, therefore everything hinges on the question as to what makes up the 'precepts' of Islam.

The constitution is not any mere legal document. It is not like an ordinary contract where you can have express terms and implied terms. It is a guarantee that the government and the law will not take away our fundamental rights as a human being. As such, it is unacceptable that a right as vital as the freedom of religion can be taken away with anything less than an express clause saying in no uncertain terms that this can be done.

Justice Ahmad Fairuz, in his judgment, made the point that one can't leave one's religion on a whim and religious bodies would naturally want to have procedures to regulate this. This may be true, especially in this country where being Malay by definition means being Muslim and if one were to renounce Islam then legally speaking one can't be Malay. Therefore all the special Malay privileges won't apply to you any more. In that sense, I can see the logic of having some sort of system to determine whether a person is a Muslim or not.

However, that process, if it must exist, must by necessity be purely administrative and automatic. It can not and must not be punitive. Because once it is punitive as it is in this country, (after all leaving Islam can mean imprisonment) in effect you are denying a person their freedom to choose their religion as enshrined in Article 11.

The opposing argument to mine is that conversion out of Islam clearly goes against the 'precepts' of the religion. Apostasy is a crime that has to be punished. The degree of punishment ranges depending on which Islamic scholar you wish to quote, but the harshest is execution. This is not a universally accepted view.

The Koran, after all, does mention the lack of compulsion in religion. The verse does not come with explanatory notes as to the extent of this statement. There are opinions that say it means no compulsion to join the religion, but once in, there are compulsions aplenty, one of which is that you can't leave. There are others that say that it means exactly what it says, you can't force religion on anyone and that once this is done religion can have no meaning.

Furthermore, the Koran does not prescribe any worldly punishment for apostasy. Therefore this entire issue is the result of human interpretation of the Koran. It is thus surely open for debate.

Let me provide an example of how changing times and values have affected how Muslims view the verses in our holy book. The Koran is ambivalent about slavery. It does not say that slavery is a sin. Neither does it encourage it. But there are verses that describe what one can do to one's slave. In this day and age, you would be hard pressed to find a Muslim who will say that slavery should be reintroduced.

Yet it seems to be allowed in the Koran. I am not being facetious. I do not believe that Islam, taken as a whole, encourages or even condones slavery. The verses were meant for a particular time in history when such practices did occur. But the point here is that if the values of the 'ummah' can change to the point that practices which are allowed in the divine Koran won't be accepted anymore, why then can't we do the same for what is essentially the mere opinion of human Islamic scholars on the issue of freedom of religion?

Often, when the view is put forward that there is no compulsion in Islam and that if a person wants to leave they should be allowed to, there are the usual cries that such attitudes are the result of liberal, Western influenced minds. In all honesty, that is probably a fair 'criticism' of someone like me.

However, Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur), the Indonesian cleric and ex-president as well as the mufti of Al Azhar in Egypt are just two examples of people who also share this view. They can't possibly be described in the same way. At the end of the day it is simply quite cruel to not allow someone to believe what they want to believe. It is not a decision made lightly and as can be seen in Lina Joy's situation, one that can lead to misery and heartache.

Just as I am sure many converts into Islam face misery and heartache from their respective community. It's hard enough to face being ostraciced from family and friends without having to face legal persecution as well. When faced with two contesting human opinions on the 'precepts' of Islam, one which is harsh and one which is merciful, I choose the latter.

Religion is one path towards personal peace and spiritual fulfilment. It is also something which depends entirely on faith. Even if the religion is a 'way of life', a term commonly used to describe Islam; it still needs belief and faith.

How can one be forced to follow a 'way of life' if one simply does not believe in it? Once the element of force comes into the picture, be it in the form of fines, imprisonment or 'rehabilitation', then religion ceases to be about the spiritual and becomes instead a matter of power. I can not accept that the religion I was born into and my children are raised in is about anything as crass as power.

And it is my right to believe that.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Fighting crime

Police must be more serious in fighting crime

The cabinet’s serious concern for the recent increase in crime especially in Johor Baru is commendable. It is not petty theft we are talking about. We are dealing with very serious crimes like gang rape and cold blooded-murder, which must be checked without delay and at all costs.

The decision to put more police personnel on the ground is a very encouraging move. The mere physical presence of these men in blue would go a long way in the fight against crime. The police must make their presence felt more effectively not just in JB but all over the country as the crime rate is unacceptably high in all major towns.

Deploying more police personnel to patrol our neighborhoods would definitely keep the criminals at bay thereby creating a sense of security and confidence among the people. The site of police in our neighborhoods is enough in many instances to allay our fears and boost our confidence. It is also the best deterrent for would be criminals and thugs.

Inadequate and inappropriate police action together with indiscipline and lack of respect for the laws by some members of the public are the major causes of increasing crime in the country. Education alone, I’m afraid now, may not be sufficient to reverse the situation to normal as our education system over the years has failed to instill discipline and good morals among the youth.

The only way out is for the police to come down hard on criminals, regardless of who they are. They must convince the criminals they mean business and would pay dearly for doubting their no nonsense stance. This hard line policy must be become a standard practice until a time when the people attain a more disciplined and civic minded culture as their way of life.

As the members of the public, we too must cooperate fully with the police to make this battle against crime a success. Without our cooperation all their efforts will be only in vain.

A closer police-people rapport is of utmost importance to combat crime in the community. Every attempt must be made to make our police force more people-friendly. This would enable an easy and hassle free access to them.

One way to bring them closer to the people is to decentralise the police service. Every district should be subdivided and mini-police stations with sufficient personnel must be made available to the local community. Members of Rela, RukunTetangga and other members of the local community could then be roped in to help the police in their combat against crime. With such a set up every housing area would feel the physical presence of police personnel on patrol.

The police must prove wrong the perception among the vast section of the rakyat that the increasing crime rate is due to their sheer incompetence, indifference and inability to combat criminals and reflects the failure on their part.

The people have a basic right to a crime free environment as they pay taxes to form an effective police force. Their expectation for a competent, courageous and sensitive police force that is committed to fighting criminals, I am sure is justified.

We must admit that for our police force to maintain an effective physical presence all the time may be costly and riddled with numerous problems and constraints but I bet it would be an investment that will never be regretted for generations to come.

Dr.Chris Anthony

School examinations

Too many exams but no report cards

Of late there has been a great deal of discussion on improving the civil service including the education system. The government has been so generous to drastically increase the salary of civil servants. There has been all round applause for the pay hike although some have questioned whether the quantum of increase is justified for the quality of service they provide.

As an example, let us take a look at our school system, which we all agree is too examination orientated. We have too many exams in a year – the monthly, formative, term and end of the year examinations. Then of course there are the major public examinations, the UPSR, PMR, SPM and STPM and not to forget their trial and pre-trial examinations as well.

There is no doubt these are good and the teachers should be commended for the great pains they take to prepare not only the questions but to prepare the students for these examinations as well.

What is disturbing is that despite the numerous examinations to which our children are subjected, their results are never revealed. We are already into the second semester of 2007 but we are yet to get the report books for any of the examinainations.After almost seven months into the year, as parents we are unaware of the performance and progress of our children in schools.

The end of term and especially the end of the year examinations are held during the last 2-3 weeks before the long holidays but the results are never announced and completely forgotten when the school reopens after the holidays. To make matters worst, even the question papers and answers sheets are not given as they are treated as secret documents.

Children as they are, are only too happy to enjoy their holidays, despite having done poorly in their examination, knowing their parents will never know the results to reprimand them. If only the results are known before the holidays, it would facilitate the parents to ensure their children brush up on their areas of weakness. This would enable the students to be better prepared to start the new term.

There is an urgent need for our teachers to re-look at their attitude to school examinations. Despite their heavy work load, teachers must give priority to marking examination papers so as to provide the results without delay.

Examinations are there to gauge the strength and weakness of the students. It provides an opportunity for them to identify their areas of weakness and rectify them before the final examinations. If the results are not revealed and if they are denied access to the question papers and answer sheets how can they conduct a meaningful analysis of their performance in the examination?

Dr.Chris Anthony

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Fathers' Day 2007

Fathers’ Day 2007

Let's treat them in a manner we will never regret later

Today is Fathers’Day.There would have been many among us who traveled long distances to be with our fathers on this auspicious day. Many more would not have made it due to work commitments. Others may not see the need to do so. Whatever situation we may be in, it is undeniable that our fathers played a very important role in shaping our destiny and for being what we are today including our physical appearance.

Like all other events these days, Fathers’ Day too has become so commercialized that it seemed to have lost its true meaning and spirit. The business community has taken advantage to reap huge profits from the sale of gifts, flowers, food, beverages and other promotions.

Many of us may be fortunate to still have our fathers with us, alive and healthy. Others may not be that lucky, their fathers may be seriously ill, handicapped or even dead. There are others whose fathers may be in their death beds waiting for a last glimpse of their children who for some reason or other are unable to fulfill that last wish.

Some of us may be unfortunate to have fathers who are lazy,irresponsible,drunkards and tyrants, but by enlarge most of us are endowed with fathers with all the positive attributes – caring, loving, responsible and hard working. They toil day and night for our welfare.

What should Fathers’ Day mean to us? Should it be the only day in the year when we remember and reflect on the contributions and sacrifices of our fathers for us? Should it be the only day when we reward him for his sacrifices? Is the buying of expensive gifts and treating him with luxurious banquets the only ways of repaying his love?

Our fathers showered their love on us every moment of the day throughout the year and not just on certain days dedicated to us. Similarly it would only be fitting and just that we too shower him with love and gratitude every day of our lives.

On this auspicious day let us pause and relive the memorable days of our past with our fathers. Let us recall the pleasant as well the unpleasant experiences we had with him. Many of us are ourselves fathers today and only now fully understand the feelings of our fathers when they undertook the arduous task of bringing us up to what we are today.

Most of our fathers were simple and belonged to working class. They could not provide all us the luxuries of life. It is not the great material gifts they gave us that we remember most and cherish but rather their small sacrifices that really touched us that remain embossed in our hearts.

We remember the days when, rain or shine, they used to carry us on their bicycles to and from school. We can imagine the sadness in their faces when they are unable to give us our daily pocket money to school. We remember the smile in his face reflecting the pride in his heart when we excel in school, in examination or sports. We remember the touch of their hands that massaged our injured bodies.

We remember the sadness in his face when we left home for the first time for further studies. We remember the eagerness with which he waits for us each time we return home from college and the “elaborate” plans he has to spend our short holiday with the family.

We remember when some tragedy strikes the family, when the family breaks down, weeping and crying, he alone with great courage, conceals his emotions, to lift us out of the mishap. As fathers now, we understand the pain and agony that he would have endured to do that.

This is a day to reflect on how we have and continue to treat our fathers. Are we grateful for that they have done for us? Despite our elevated positions in life, do we still accept them as the respectable head of our family, seeking their advice on all important decisions?

We may not be in a position to repay them monetarily. In fact many of them may not be in a position to enjoy the luxuries of what wealth can provide. We can spend a little valuable time with them, basking in the memories of the past.

Our fathers may be advanced in age and infirm and we may not have much time left. Let us treat them in a manner which we will not regret later. We must not forget that our attitude and actions today will have a subtle but profound influence on our children on how they would treat us in the future.

For those of us who are not fortunate enough to have our fathers with us, let us not be mere bearers of their names but their virtues. Let us be the symbols of their values and principles in life for which they stood steadfast.

Dr.Chris Anthony

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Instill dedication not fear among civil servants

I refer to your report “Terengganu Government uses CCTVs to monitor its civil servants”.(Star June 11).

It is sad that the government as to resort to the threats, like using CCTVs, to ensure the staff carry out their duties for which they are paid. Isn’t the recent hike in salaries sufficient incentive for them to work efficiently?

The plan to introduce CCTVs may seem to reinforce the common public perception that chit-chatting and lepaking (loitering) during office is rampant and a serious problem that is plaguing the civil service today.

I remember the days when as civil servants, we did not need such threats of punitive action to carry out the tasks entrusted to us. Very often we had to work through lunch breaks and after officer hours without even being paid overtime. We did that willingly without much grouse.The slogan“Berkhidmat untuk Negera” introduced then was an inspiration to provide quality service to the rakyat.

What has happened to the slogan now? Why has it failed to instill the dedication to and proper attitude to work among the civil servants today?It is timely for us to review what has gone wrong and implement remedial measures to boost the morale of the civil service.

The move of using CCTVs may be a brilliant idea and an innovative way to optimize information technology but it alone will not be sufficient to effectively improve the delivery system. Work done by compulsion and out of fear for the superiors, will not bring lasting results.Moreover spying on subordinates may be unethical,as it infringes on individual rights and can be subjected to abuse.

For an efficient delivery system,its members should have the right attitude towards work.It should be done with love and passion for the job.Regretably these are badly lacking these days, in both the public and to some extent even in private sector. What is needed is a responsible work force that is dedicated to provide the services to the members of the public, who are the real masters of the public service.

Rewarding the good and punishing the bad is the rule for success in any organisation.Stern action must be taken against errant workers without fear or favour regardless of their status or political affiliation.At the same time truely dedicated staff must be recognised,appreciated and approprietely rewarded.This will go a long way to improve the sense of belonging and loyalty to the institution.

It is important to instill the idea among members at all levels of the civil service that they are in fact the servants not masters of the public.Their utmost priority should be loyalty to the members of the public who should be served with respect and dedication.

Dr.Chris Anthony

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Malaysians need to demonstrate their kindness

Understanding the plight of migrant workers

It was distressing to hear the cries of plea by the barbers from India who claimed they were badly treated by their employers (Star,June 9 2007). Their sufferings must be so unbearable that they had to resort to police intervention to help them out of their predicament.

We tend to pass such incidents as isolated ones but in actual fact it is not so. Recently the inhumane treatment and death of migrant worker, R.Ganesh was an extreme example of planned exploitation of poor migrant workers.

These incidents have dealt a serious blow to our reputation as a nation of courteous, generous and caring people.

Exploitation of migrant labour is a universal practice. As Malaysians, with the reputation for kindness, we must stop this exploitation in our country. To do that there is a need to appreciate the numerous problems these migrant workers encounter

From the time of recruitment in their own country till they leave after their contract expires, they are subjected to inhumane treatment by the employment agencies and the employers themselves. I do not say all these agencies are evil but some of them are. Most of us employ such workers at home and factories and we do appreciate their problems.

The majority of these workers are promised the heavens but when in fact they are given hell. Inspired with the rewards promised, they mortgage their houses, sell their properties to pay for greener pastures in a foreign land. They leave their spouse, children and parents behind to earn the meager salary for the well being of their future and that of their loved ones.

Only when they reach the “Promised Land” do they realize that they have been cheated. Some of them are smuggled into the country to become the fashionably called “illegal immigrants”. Many are left stranded in the airports and in some unknown places without food, shelter or money until some good soul comes to their aid.

Those who manage to finally reach the place of their work, new problems await them. Many domestic helpers were not even told the nature of their duties although we were assured they are fully trained in the tasks we require of them. Many of them were promised factory jobs but ended up with us as domestic helpers and this may explain their rebellious behaviour. Can we blame them totally for that?

Those lucky ones end up with considerate employers who treat them with kindness and consideration but by enlarge the majority of them are not treated well. For the first 4 months or so they are not paid as their salary is used to offset the exorbitant administrative charges incurred in bringing them over.

They are overworked, without proper food and place to rest. Some of them are asked to work in a number of households .They are not given adequate clothes and the expenses on basic amenities like soap, tooth paste, shampoo and sanitary pads are deducted from their already meager pay.

Our health system, both government and private, is not at all compassionate to these workers. We have known of workers who spend huge sums for medical and treatment, almost depleting all that they have earned.

I do not deny the migrant workers also create numerous problems for us. Increase crime is without doubt a real problem for us all. All these social problems can definitely be minimized by our right attitude towards them and if a proper screening system is used to recruit these workers. We must change our attitude from one of exploitation to one of service.

We, Malaysians are increasingly becoming more religious. We claim that we are generous, compassionate and friendly. It is time to demonstrate these in our actions, especially when dealing with those more unfortunate than us.
This brings to mind the words of Mahatma Gandhi,“Man, for instance cannot be untruthful, cruel or incontinent and claim to have God on his side."
If we profess to really love God and want Him on our side, there is no other way then to love fellow men, especially those less privileged than us. It is left to us, and us alone, to decide if we want God to be on our side.

Dr.Chris Anthony

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