The Malaysian Federal Constitution: An Islamic or a Secular Constitution?

Syed Fadhil Hanafi Syed A. Rahman


Constitutionalism dictates that the government must only act within the four walls of the constitution. While adherence to this fundamental doctrine is proven to be difficult, it becomes more complicated when the walls are unclear. For decades, Malaysians struggle to ascertain the actual legal value of religion, particularly Islam, in its Federal Constitution and the impact of religion to the Malaysian legal system. Some opined that secularism is a basic structure of the Malaysian Federal Constitution and in the name of constitutionalism, religious laws cannot be the basis for administration of public law and must be confined to personal law matters. On the other hand, some opined that Islam constitutes a salient feature of the Constitution and the position of Islam as the religion of the Federation implies Malaysia as an Islamic state. This paper analyses the conflicting views, via qualitative studies of constitutional provisions which have religious element in the light of their history, together with relevant case laws which interpreted them. The analysis is done with a view to determine whether the Malaysian Federal Constitution is a secular instrument creating a secular state or a religious document establishing a theocratic state. From such analysis, the author presents that the Malaysian Federal Constitution, albeit giving special preference to Islam, is a religion-neutral document which is receptive to both religious and secular laws. This is based on the fact that the Constitution upholds the validity of both secular and religious laws for as long as they are enacted according to procedural laws required by the Constitution.


Malaysian Federal Constitution; secularism; doctrine of basic structure; secular state; theocratic state

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