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Dual track justice - more tensions to come?

Updated On: Jan 27, 2006

Malaysia- Issues of Islamic Jurisdiction and preferential treatment for Malays have continued to make headlines in the past few weeks.

Two separate incidents of burial rights have sparked a debate in Malaysiaon the dual justice system which requires Muslim to be subjected to Islamic law, administered by the Syariah Courtwhile non-Muslims are subject to the civil courts.

The Hindu widow of a former army commando, Moorthy has filed a petition of appeal against a civil court for failing to prevent her husband's Muslim burial by Islamic authorities who claimed he had converted to Islam. On Dec 29 last year, a civil court judge ruled that they had no power to intervene on matters pertaining to Islam based on Article 121(1A) of the Federal Constitution.

In another incident, an Islamic court made a landmark decision to allow a Malay woman to be buried as a Buddhist. The Malay woman, Nyonya Tahir was born a Muslim but was raised as a Chinese Buddhist and married a Chinese man. The Judge however stressed that the ruling was in the context of the specific facts of the case and should not be considered precedent-setting. The case is a sensitive one as Malaysia's Constitution deems all Malays as Muslims.

The Consultative Council for Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism said the different outcomes of the two cases showed inconsistency in the Syariah court. Non-Muslims want the Islamic court to remain independent and have equal powers to the civil courts. Currently, Malays who have abandoned Islam still come under the jurisdiction of the Syariah court which is seen as the supreme arbiter of Islamic jurisprudence in Malaysia.

The Attorney-General's Chambers will study ways to protect minority religious rights while keeping the Syariah court independent. “People can make calls (to amend the Constitution) as this is a free country. Obviously, many people want this problem resolved and it is up to the Government to decide” said Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Besides the dual justice system, the two track policies in the economy have also come under debate. Malaysiasaid it would maintain its preferential treatment policy for Malays in a new development plan, although stressing that it will not undermine business dealings.

The policy, proposed by the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry includes a 30 per cent corporate ownership to be held by bumiputeras, which is the nation's indigenous ethnic group. The impact will be significant because it will cover thousands of foreign retail businesses. The International Trade and Industry Ministry is strongly opposed to the guidelines because they run counter to the existing guidelines on foreign investments.

The American Chamber of Commerce former president, Mr Zefferys said Malaysia's growth had to be driven by an integrated domestic economy, rather than the current `two-track environment'.

Sources:

* Non-Malays still fret about religious rights (The Straits Times, 25 Jan)

* Review issues on Islam, says Mahathir (The Star, 24 Jan)

* Moorthy's widow appeals against civil court decision (Today, Singapore, 26 Jan)

* Court declares Malay woman a non-Muslim (The Straits Times, 24 Jan)

* Editorial: Bridging the divide (New Straits Times, 25 Jan)

* Moorthy's widow files appeal, petition `to clarify jurisdiction'(New Straits Times, 25 Jan)

* Bumiputera equity plan upsets retailers (The Straits Times, 26 Jan)

* Bumiputera privileges to stay, says KL (The Straits Times, 25 Jan)

Malaysiasays preferential treatment policy will not affect business (Today, Singapore, 24 Jan)