Implementing Islamic Law Within a Modern Constitutional Framework: Challenges and Problems in Contemporary Malaysia
While the Federal Constitution of Malaysia readily proclaims Islam to be Malaysia’s official religion, opinions have fiercely diverged among legal scholars and practitioners as to how substantive should the relevant clause on this be interpreted. Such vagueness is typical of the document, whose drafting took place amidst intense negotiations among Malaysia’s multi-racial communities, resulting in an informal bargain or ‘social contract’ which until today has become a subject of bitter dispute amidst rising polarisation along ‘Muslim versus non-Muslim’ lines. Locating origins of contemporaneous legal conflict to divergent understandings of constitutional clauses, this article proceeds to discuss contemporary controversies which shed light on Malaysia’s struggle to identify itself as a nation-state which integrates the best of both modern and Islamic civilisations. It is argued that this delicate balance has been recently threatened by the increasing penetration of a form of orthodox Islamist legalism which antagonises non-Muslim minorities and unduly homogenises its Malay-Muslim population. The cut-off point for this article is Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s tenure as Prime Minister of Malaysia, which drew to a close in April 2009 under embattled circumstances.