Article 153 — is it un-Islamic?

holy-quran.jpgMalaysia’s official religion, according to Article 3 of its Constitution, is Islam. That doesn’t make Malaysia a Muslim nation; there is a fine line between a theological state and a secular one. We’ve yet to make that cross over.

Having said this, it came to mind whether there are any articles in our beloved Constitution that are un-Islamic, in particular Article 153.

(2) Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, but subject to the provisions of Article 40 and of this Article, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall exercise his functions under this Constitution and federal law in such manner as may be necessary to safeguard the special provision of the Malays and natives of any of the States of Sabah and Sarawak and to ensure the reservation for Malays and natives of any of the States of Sabah and Sarawak of such proportion as he may deem reasonable of positions in the public service (other than the public service of a State) and of scholarships, exhibitions and other similar educational or training privileges or special facilities given or accorded by the Federal Government and, when any permit or licence for the operation of any trade or business is required by federal law, then, subject to the provisions of that law and this Article, of such permits and licences.

When you think about a Muslim Government in current times, you have to compare it against the Muslim Government of the Prophet Muhammad‘s time, namely his administration of Muslims and non-Muslims while he was alive.

Muslims are told to take the Prophet as an example (his sunnah); while the Holy Quran often speaks in parables, the actions of the Prophet are how Muslims for all time should interpret as manifestations of what the Holy Quran prescribes in practice. For example, the Holy Quran mentions that Muslims must pray, but it doesn’t teach us how to pray. The Prophet’s daily prayers are the sample of how these prayers should be performed. 

What about the Prophet’s political sunnah?

The basis i’m dealing from is the social contract the Prophet signed and ratified with the people of Medina called, the “Medinah Charter“. Some say that the Charter is one of the first of its kind, the first ever written state constitution. 

The document itself, signed in 622, is an excellent socio-political compromise. The Prophet Muhammad had to get away from the religious persecution of Mecca, and the people of Medina, due to conflict between the native communities of Khazraj and Aws, needed a peace-maker. It was a match literally made in heaven — the Prophet brought Islam and peace to the Khazraj and Aws by being the one person both sides could trust, and the Prophet was provided a base from which Islam could grow and flourish in the region.

There are key articles in the Charter that can be, taken into context, contradictory to the Constitution of Malaysia, particularly Article 153 which promises a “special position” to the indigenous Malays (Bumiputeras).

Therefore, the thesis is: Malaysia is a Muslim nation. However, its constitution is not in accordance to the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad. Does that make the Malaysian constitution (parts of it) un-Islamic?


Article 16 of the Medina Charter:

Those Jews who follow the Believers will be helped and will be treated with equality.

Article 17:

No Jew will be wronged for being a Jew.

Article 19:

The peace of the Believers (of the State of Madinah) cannot be divided. (it is either peace or war for all. It cannot be that a part of the population is at war with the outsiders and a part is at peace).

Article 30:

The Jews of Bani Awf will be treated as one community with the Believers. The Jews have their religion. This will also apply to their freedmen. The exception will be those who act unjustly and sinfully. By so doing they wrong themselves and their families.

The example in this document set by the Prophet is molded on several principles:

  1. Loyalty will be rewarded, treachery will be punished.
  2. The minorities of the community (the Jews) are equal in rights to the majority from the point of view of the State.
  3. Those that need help will be given help, regardless of their belief.

Let’s transplant these principles into our locality:

Loyalty will be rewarded — the modern day equivalent is citizenship and nationality. If you profess to be a Malaysian, that means you are loyal to your country. No distinction is made to your ethnicity, race or origin. If you are loyal (i.e. a citizen), then you will rewarded by the State. In 622, “protection” was the reward. In 2010, “equal opportunity” should be the reward — its the only real protection we have against the ills of socio-economic hardship.

The minorities have equal rights to the majority — this is where the Prophet Muhammad was at least 6 centuries ahead of his time; even the venerated Magna Carta does not protect the rights of all its people equally. If people like Ibrahim Ali and the ultra Malays have their way, then the Prophet Muhammad will be at least 1,500 years ahead of us. 

Those in need will be helped, regardless of their belief — race is the new religion. In 622, the Prophet laid the framework for religious equality: the State will help you if you are in need (and if you are loyal), the State will be “blind” to your religion when dispensing this aid. Fast forward to the 21st Century, and at least where Malaysia is concerned, is seems that there are many in our society who believe that “help” should be dispensed based on your race. If you’re a Bumiputera, then “more” help should be made available to you.

The crux of the argument is that the resources of the country will always be limited. To put it simply, there will always be only 100 cows to give away. While it may make sense to give a guarantee that 60% of the population will always have preference to 30 of those cows, this creates a vacuum where the herd has effectively become much smaller: after the “majority tax” the nation only really has 70 cows left to give away.

Considering the fact that these 70 cows need to be distributed evenly, its very possible that they won’t be enough to feed everyone. What do you say to the starving people who couldn’t get one of the 70 cows? Sorry, we know you’re in need, but we’ve already reserved those 30 other cows, you can’t have them (we’ll give them to that other fellow instead, who may not need the cow to begin with but happens to be part of the privileged group). 

The Prophet Muhammad was a pretty smart man. He knew that the Muslims needed the Jews, Christians and idol worshipers of Medina, just as much as they needed his unique peacekeeping talents. 

The Malays of Malaysia need the Chinese, Indians and others, and vice versa. Its a symbiotic relation that only works when we’re all equally vested and equally rewarded. While the early years of statehood required Article 153 (just like we required the Reid Commission to write our Constitution for us), i think the time has come that we use our own words to determine our own fate. 

The sunnah of the prophet has shown us that equality and fair
play are the basic twin peaks of nation building. While i won’t go so far as to say the likes of Article 153 in the Malaysian Constitution, PERKASA and the ultra Malay are un-Islamic for ignoring the sunnah of the Prophet, sometimes you just have to realize that the proof is in the pudding. 

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12 thoughts on “Article 153 — is it un-Islamic?

  1. Excellent write up Aiz, always thought of this myself but your analysis of the articles of Piagam Madina is spot on. The notion that Islam is race neutral is why PAS can join forces with DAP (though the latter still has to prove that it is more than a Chinese centric party). Those who say that PAS should join UMNO for the sake of Malays completely misses the point and has little understanding of PAS.

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  2. If there is something a Malay can’t stomach, especially an ultra Malay, is to be called un-Islamic.
    This gets their hairs on end, they start to sweat and get fidgety. Try it — go up to any Muslim and tell them what they are doing is un-Islamic and see the reaction you get.
    Similarly, the next time someone talks about how the Malaysian Constitution guarantees the rights of the Malays over those of other Malaysians, tell them that they are going against the teachings and sunnah of the Prophet.
    Watch them squirm for excuses.

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  3. Hahaha I have done that several times already and in ‘arguments’ against my own family members. Whenever the discussion goes to why I support Pakatan/PKR who support race neutrality, I just say that I believe in Islamic principles not the rights of any particular race.

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  4. Dear Aizuddin Danian.:
    Your tafsir of article 153 using the Medina Charter/Hadis as unIslamic is incorrect.
    Muslims who use Hadis even blaspheme and mock Allah as a flip flop manager of solat/prayer(from 50 to 5 solats a day) as stated in the Israk Mikraj hadis of Bukhari/Muslim.This Hadis is blaspemy an an insult to Allah that is worst that murtad and kafir.
    Similarly using the Medina Charter, whithout refering to the Quran will give a different and wrong interpretation of article 153.
    Allah says in AlQuran 31:6″Some people use lahwal(vain)hadis to mislead others from the straight path(Islam),without knowledge,and make a mockery of it(Islam).”
    Note Allah Himself is warning us against the use of unauthorised hadis.
    The Authorised hadis is the Quran *refer Quran 39:23 “I have revealed ahsanah hadis, a scripture…”
    Article 153 is about redistribution of a monopoly of wealth/bussines of the rich British and Chinese to the poor Malays.
    What is unIslamic about charity and redistribution of wealth so that the Malays have 30% wealth or equal (50% wealth) to the British and the Chinese???
    You have to read economic philosophy and history of Malaya from alternative source to understand article 153.
    Please read my article “Even Allah favors Article 153 favoring poor Malays and poor non Malays.” at…
    http://warongpakyeh.b******t.com

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  5. Pakyeh,
    I have no idea what you’re talking about. Did you even comprehend what i wrote?
    I didn’t say the Medina Charter was un-Islamic. The whole point of the article was to compare the Medina Charter (as the sunnah of the Prophet) against the Malaysian Constitution, in particular Article 153 which ultra-Malays are using to justify their “special provisions”.
    The Medina Charter is there. So is our Constitution. You take the two documents and compare them. How hard is that? See any contradictions, inconsistencies? Yes, no, maybe?
    The Medina Charter makes a point to mention that help/aid will be distributed based on needs. I support that fully. As a nation state we should help those in need first, regardless of their background. The Prophet didn’t write a biased charter against the Jews, why should we have a biased charter against non-Malays? Please read more carefully before making baseless accusations.
    Who is trying to mislead who?

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  6. Aizuddin. said :
    I have no idea what you’re talking about. Did you even comprehend what i wrote?
    I didn’t say the Medina Charter was un-Islamic.
    Correction.!!!
    I did not say that.
    I said that you said that the article 153 is Islamic as per the QuranunIslamic.
    And, I am also saying that Article 153 isit is Islamic.Read my Aeticle tittled “Even Allah favors Article 153 favouring poor Malays and poor non Malays”
    Aizuddin said:
    The whole point of the article was to compare the Medina Charter (as the sunnah of the Prophet) against the Malaysian Constitution, in particular Article 153 which ultra-Malays are using to justify their “special provisions”.
    The Hadis and the Medina Charter is not the Constitution of Muslims.!!!
    The Quran stands alone as the Constitution of Muslims.!!!
    The Hadis was and is being used by politicians to amend the Costitution of the Quran.!!!
    Many Hadis contradict the Quran.!!!
    So your using the Medina Charter as authenticMuslim Constitution is incorrect.!!!
    Allah did not tell us to treate kafirs equal to Muslims.
    Adopted children cannot inherit any property.
    All this different treatment is in the Quran, the real Muslim Constitution.
    So dont contradict the Quran with false and unauthentic Hadis and Charters.!!!
    Read my article “Even Allah favor Article 153, favouring poor Malays and poor non Malays” at…
    http://warongpakyeh.blogspot.com

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  7. Pak Yeh,
    I’m sorry to have to correct you again.
    I never said that the Medina Charter was the Constitution of Muslims.
    The Medina Charter is the arguably the first written state constitution in recorded human history. The fact the Prophet Muhammad signed the document on behalf of Muslims, proves the fact that this is the example he wants Muslims to follow.
    I find it very relevant in our current discussion because Malaysia has a Constitution as well.
    There are things in our Constitution that does not align, in principle at least, with the example the Prophet set with the Medina Charter.
    Yes, i agree that there are many sunnah and hadith that are “questionable”. Some Muslims believe there are thousands of authentic hadith, some only believe in the authenticity of 500 hadith, some reject the hadith altogether.
    But, let me ask you two simple questions.
    1. Did Allah send us Prophet Muhammad so that he can be an example to all Muslims? We pray as the Prophet prayed, we fast as the he did, we treat our wives and children as he did.
    Perhaps this verse from the Quran will help you answer this question:
    “Indeed in the Messenger of Allah (Muhammad) you have a good example to follow for him who hopes for (the Meeting with) Allah and the Last Day, and remembers Allah much.” (Quran: 33/21)
    2. Did the Prophet Muhammad sign the Medina Charter?
    If yes, what did the Charter say about the treatment of non-Muslims?
    Then, compare that to, what the Article 153 says about the treatment of Malays.
    That’s all i wanted to point out.
    I apologize if my style of writing may have made this unclear for you and any other readers in doubt.
    May Allah enlighten us both, Brother.

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  8. My dear brother.
    If you use only the Madina Charter as your argument without refering to the other verses of the uran,tjen you make the mistake of wrong tafsir.
    Lord Reid was the person who recommended Article 153…to help Malays better than their 7% equity of the bussiness monopoly by British and Chines bussinessman.
    It was totally an economic redistribution of wealth. It had nothing to do wuth race.
    It is like charity for the poor Malays.
    It really piss me off whrn people misunderstand the real good intentions of Lord Reid in drafting the Article 153.
    And it really piis me off when Malays misunderstabd the issue by saying it is racist law.
    It is a political and economic law ,my dear brother.
    Dont be a pengkhianat, and deny Malays their economic rights.

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  9. Just for your understanding brother Aizuddin.
    Article 153 was to correct the wrong of the British and Chinese monopoly of 73% ownership of all bussiness.
    The Malays had only 7% ownership of bussiness.
    Dont you think that Malays deserve more than 7%.???
    Malay cronies now have 30%, but what about the poor Malays.???
    Article 153 is a positive/Islamic restructuring/redistribution of wealth and being fair to all races in economic wealth..
    Being fair to Jews Britis and Chinese does not mean allowing them to momopoly business.
    Monopoly of business is an evil and the government should break up monopolies with anti-trust laws.
    Lets interpret the Medina Charter like lawyer.
    Article 30:(Medina Charter)
    The Jews of Bani Awf will be treated as one community with the Believers. The Jews have their religion. This will also apply to their freedmen. The exception will be those who act unjustly and sinfully.
    Note the last sentence “The exception will be those who act unjustly and sinfully.”
    If the Jews/British and the Chinese had monopolied 73% of the economy, have they not acted unjustly and sinfully.???
    Hence Article 153 is to correct the injustice towards the Malys.
    May Allah lift the veil over your eyes, so you can see the truth.

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  10. Pak Yeh,
    On the issue of the Medina Charter:
    Unfortunately, how the Prophet ruled Medina is the only example we have of how the Prophet treated minorities within the confines of a statehood.
    True, Banu Qainuqa, Banu Nadir and Banu Qurayza were expelled from Medina several years after the Charter was signed, but the Prophet had good reason to do so — they had committed treachery against the state. In the case of the Qurayza, they secretly and openly supported the Meccans. That’s why you will notice that verses of the Quran revealed to the Prophet during his period in Medina are vehemently against the Qurayza Jews.
    Having said that, i’ve yet to come across a verse in the Quran or even an authentic hadith where the Prophet treated minorities badly without cause. If you know of any such verse, i’d be very happy if you shared it with me.
    My understanding of Islam is that it’s a religion of justice and fairplay. It’s a religion where you help the needy, the poor and the disadvantaged. Our pillar of charity and zakat is proof of this.
    The Medina Charter clearly makes provisions to help the needy, regardless of their religion. This is anti-thesis to what we find in our own constitution.
    Did you read fully and understand my example using the cows? Its simple logic, really. If you reserve a part of the pie to one particular party, it means the rest of the pie that everyone needs to share becomes that much smaller. It means that its very possible that, with that smaller portion, it becomes impossible to give everyone who needs a piece their just share as a citizen of this country.
    A poor Chinese student finds it hard to get a scholarship even though his scores are better than his Malay peers. The rich Malay Datuk’s son, who is admittedly smart too, but probably not in as great a need, will have no such problem. Is that fair?
    If you think that’s fair, well, then there probably really isn’t much more i can say to change your mind.
    If you think that’s unfair, then you’ll agree with me thats the lesson that Prophet was trying to teach us. Aid the needy and the ones that deserve aid. If you are a loyal citizen of the state, the state will be loyal to you regardless of your religion (in our case, race).
    On your argument that Malays are poor:
    When the Muslims migrated to Medina, besides the Prophet who was a successful merchant, do you really think that the majority of Muslims who were banished from Mecca were wealthy and rich?
    The Jews of Medina, they were powerful, had great influence, and economic muscle to support their society. The Banu Qurayza controlled agriculture land, date and palm tree plantations, and cereal. For many years prior and up to the arrival of the Prophet in 622, they and the other Jewish tribes held political power and dominated Medina.
    The Prophet knew this. He looked at his people, who were not as rich, not as powerful. He looked at the Jews who had wealth, food and position.
    And, yet, he chose to come into an agreement with the Jews that gave them equal rights to protection and aid. Why would he do that if not because of his sense of justice and fairplay?
    If he wanted to “protect” Muslims first, just like you want to protect Malays first, why didn’t he come to an agreement in favour of his followers? After all, his people were the poorer ones, right?
    Lastly, i urge you to read my other posts so that you get the full picture of my words and my intentions.
    My analysis of Article 153 looks into the history of our Constitution. In this article, i fully support the inclusion of protection for the Malays and i give my reasons for it. I also discuss the reasons why the Sedition Act prohibits a challenge on Article 153, and i ask whether these reasons are still valid today.
    You will also find in my research of our Constitution, that our beloved father of independence, Tunku Abdul Rahman and the Malay rulers actually didn’t agree with the Reid Commission on the special position for Malays, but were convinced by Lord Reid to accept the provision. Does this fact surprise you?
    http://www.aizuddindanian.com/voi/2010/08/article-153-of-the-malaysian-f.html
    Then in another posting, i praised Tun Dr Mahathir for the NEP, realizing that it was a necessary evil and vital for the initial development of the Malays.
    http://www.aizuddindanian.com/voi/2010/08/is-meritocracy-racist.html
    So you see, i have covered this issue from various angles. I have considered the points you’ve made, and i agree with many of them.
    Unlike some others that you may encountered in your travels, i’m not a radical. I believe that there is a place and time for everything. I also believe that the Prophet, with the Medina Charter, was trying to teach us something about justice and how to fairly manage the economic pie of a state.
    If none of this has been able to convince you, i’m sorry; it’s probably my own weakness that has failed.
    I respect your right to your opinion, as i hope you’ll respect mine.
    Peace be upon you.

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  11. Good analysis on the Charter of Medina and the comparison with our constitution. I have always wondered if a chinese or indian converts why does he not get the privileges of a Bumi? Is that Islamic/just and equitable.
    Similarly how has our NEP fared to improve the standard of living of the Bumis in Sarawak and Sabah. Bear in mind that Article 153 also grants special privileges to the indigenous people of Sabah & Sarawak. Or have they been conveniently forgotten. The protectionist policies of Sabah & Sarawak have left it under developed and lagging behind in terms of economic development. The chinese through hard work remain dominant in economics in these two states. So obviously the protectionist policies have not assisted to alleviate the situation.
    The final question out all of this is how will the Malays and the Bumis of Sabah and Sarawak progress without government protectionist policies if they were to be revoked NOW?
    If the Malays still need it after 57 years of independence then what does it say about the strength of the Malay race. The Bumis of Sabah and Sarawak need to allow themselves to freely compete with their West Malaysian counterparts if they are ever to become better developed and allow investments to move freely from West Malaysia to East Malaysia. Funny how West Malaysians need a work permit to work in East Malaysia. Gosh 1 Malaysia indeed. Islamically speaking I don’t weakening a group of people is Islamic.

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