KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysia Muslim Lawyers' Association (PPMM) lambasted a United Nations (UN) representative from the Philippines for criticising Malaysia's stance on the status of fatwas (religious edicts) within its larger legal system.
Its president Datuk Zainul Rijal Abu Bakar said that Rosario G. Manalo's statement over the matter has overstepped boundaries for allegedly implicitly claiming that the country's royal institution should be abolished to be in line with Malaysia's purported status as a republic.
"PPMM sternly asserts that nowhere is it stated in Malaysia's history that it aimed to be a republic. Malaysia had also never claimed to be a republic. Malaysia upholds itself as a constitutional monarchy.
"The parliamentary democracy praticed in this country has never been challenged by its citizens," he said in a media statement today.
He was responding to Manalo's statement, which was carried in the article 'Why choose fatwa over civil laws? UN committee asks Putrajaya', published online by news portal The Malay Mail Online on Feb 21.
Manalo had expressed his disappointment with an answer given by Dr Arik Sanusi Yeop Johari - a representative from Malaysia's Attorney-General's Chambers - on the issue of whether the country is a republic or a theocratic state.
During an exchange in a UN review of Malaysia's progress on women's rights broadcast live from Geneva, Switzerland, Manalo was reported saying that if Malaysia is a republic, then civil laws should take precedence over its religious laws.
In the live broadcast, the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) committee had referred to the issue of the National Registration Department's (NRD) refusing to allow Muslim children - born out of wedlock within six months of their parents' marriage - to take their father's names instead of "bin Abdullah".
Zainul noted that Manalo's statement could be seen as seditious if made in Malaysia and clearly showed his intent to intervene in the country's sovereignty.
"PPMM strongly asserts that democracy is still practiced in Malaysia despite it being an Islamic nation.
"Malaysia is not a theocratic nation as understood by the West but instead is an Islamic country that serves as an example to other Islamic countries," he said.
He reminded Manalo that democracy is the method of administering the country while Islam is the religion of the Federation.
"The Federal Constitution also grants many privileges to practice the religion of Islam in Malaysia, while avoiding oppressing others based on race or religion.
"If the news report is true, then the Malaysia Muslim Lawyers' Association is disappointed as Manalo, a (UN) representative from a neighbouring country, completely lacked knowledge on the system practiced in Malaysia," he said.
He said that Manalo was not able to differentiate between a democracy and a republic.
He said this is a shameful episode in light of the fact that it originated from a representative of a neighbouring country.
Zainul said PPMM calls on Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman to be firm and summon the Philippines' ambassador to Malaysia.
He said this is necessary in order to give a warning for the neighbouring country's citizens to not interfere in and to understand Malaysia's legal system.
"As a member country of Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) that practices non-interference in other member countries' internal matters, Manalo's action is too much.
"PPMM also urged others to first understand Malaysia's history, cultural norms and system long practiced in the country before giving constructive views to Malaysia.
"A country's identity must not be jeopardised merely to follow Western norms that are not in line with the culture here," he said.