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Malaysia 'not an Islamic state'

Former deputy pm's daughter upholds right of all faiths to practise

Nurul Izzah Anwar makes a point during the civic forum Nurul Izzah Anwar makes a point during the civic forum
  • Francis Chan, Kuala Lumpur
  • Malaysia
  • March 7, 2011
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The daughter of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has told a civic forum that Malaysia is a secular state and not an Islamic state.

Nurul Izzah Anwar, 30, a leading young female parliamentarian and vice-president of the opposition People’s Justice Party, was speaking on March 5 to more than 200 people of all religions at a meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

She insisted that while Islam has a special place in the Malaysian constitution, the right of non-Muslims to practise their respective religions cannot be encroached upon.

Referring to an event hosted last Christmas by Catholic Archbishop Murphy Pakiam of Kuala Lumpur, which was attended by prime minister Najib Razak, she said it was “problematic” that a certain government official issued an order to remove any crosses or other Christian symbols that might be present, as well as to ban any singing of hymns while the prime minister was visiting.

Nurul Izzah, herself a Muslim, described this action as “serious” and “worrisome.”

The Malaysian constitution states that “Islam is the religion of the federation” of Malaysia, but at the same time states that “every person has the right to profess and practise his own religion.”

Responding to a question on whether Malaysia still needs its Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows for indefinite detention without trial, to check religious extremism, she said there are many other laws that can be strengthened to deal with this threat.

A vociferous opponent of the ISA, Nurul Izzah charged that it has been a tool for political oppression.

In the rest of the forum, organized by a civic movement called Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (One People One Nation) , she mostly dealt with the need for political transformation of the country. She said while Malaysia has for decades been stressing economic and social development, political transformation has lagged far behind.

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