Sabah 20-Point Agreement: Religion

Colonial passport for the colonised people of North Borneo

For the previous installment on the background, please click here.

In his book on Page 101, Dr Jeffrey Kitingan wrote that although there is no objection to Islam being the religion of the Federation there should not be a STATE RELIGION in North Borneo.  Therefore, anything pertaining to Islam in the MALAYAN CONSTITUTION cannot be applied to NORTH BORNEO.

His grouse on this matter came about as a result of the late Tun Datu Mustapha expelling Christian priests from Sabah and accused both Tun Datu Mustapha and Datuk Harris Salleh of acting in such manner to strengthen their political position with the Federal government, therefore Islam should not be the religion of the state of Sabah.

The above controversial statement goes against the agreements reached as recorded by the Cobbold Commission, the Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Committee (MSCC) , and the Inter-Governmental Committee (IGC) in 1962.

According to the memorandum of the MSCC that was chaired by Donald A Stephens (later Chief Minister of Sabah, Tun Fuad Stephens) with representatives from Singapore, Malaya, Sarawak and North Borneo, the MSCC found that the acceptance of Islam as the religion of the Federation does not endanger religious freedom as evident on Page 120 of the MSCC memorandum dated 3 February 1962:

MSCC Memorandum dated 3 February 1962 PP 120
MSCC Memorandum dated 3 February 1962 PP 120

The MSCC had scrutinised the position of Islam in respect of states other than the Malay States and found no objection was made against the then-present arrangement for Pulau Pinang and Melaka to also be adopted by North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore.

Each of the states above would have its own constitution to address the requirement with Yang DiPertuan Agong as the Head of Islam in those states.  The respective State’s Assembly will enact laws to govern Islamic affairs and form a Board to advise the Yang DiPertuan Agong on matters pertaining to Islam.

On pages 120 and 121 of the memorandum mentioned it is stated so:

 

MSCC Memorandum dated 3 February 1962 PP 120-121
MSCC Memorandum dated 3 February 1962 PP 120-121

In the Report of the Commission of Enquiry (Cobbold Commission), North Borneo and Sarawak, dated 21st June 1962 found that there was everywhere agreement that as the Muslims are minorities in North Borneo and Sarawak, there should be no restrictions on complete freedom of other religions in those states.

Cobbold Commission Report dated 21 June 1962 PP 39
Cobbold Commission Report dated 21 June 1962 PP 39

In relation to that, the Inter-Governmental Committee, headed by Lord Landsdowne produced a report in 1962 and made the following recommendations on religion on Pages 5 and 6 which have been passed by the Sabah (and Sarawak) state assembly as follows:

IGC Report 1962 on Religion PP 5-6
IGC Report 1962 on Religion PP 5-6

The IGC, which has representation from the Federation of Malaya representing the states in the Federation, Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak, recommended that Article 3 needed no amendment.  However, the provision of financial aid to Muslim establishments should only come with the concurrence of the states of North Borneo and Sarawak.  This has since been provided for via Section 3 of the Sabah Islamic Laws Administration Enactment, 1992 where the Yang DiPertuan Agong is the Head of Islam in Sabah, and a Council (Majlis Agama Islam Sabah) was formed to manage and administer the Islamic affairs in Sabah. This has also been provided in the Sabah State Constitution (Articles 5B(1) and 5B(2)).

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, Dr Jeffrey Kitingan was angered by Tun Datu Mustapha’s action to chase out Christian missionaries from Sabah in 11972.  Dr Jeffrey used this as the basis of raising the religion issue that was presented as part of the 20-point memorandum for the inclusion of Sabah into the Federation of Malaysia.

Having understood the reason for his raising the issue again, we must also understand the events that had taken place after Tun Datu Mustapha’s ousting of the Christian missionaries.

Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) won the state elections and formed the Sabah state government in 1985.  From that point up until 1991, the Sabah state government built 825 churches compared to only 216 suraus and mosques.

The state government’s refusal to entertain a request by the Sabah Islamic Council made on the 2nd August 1986 and again on the 12th August 1986 to amend the state’s Shariah Law (Administration) Enactment No.15/77 to accord to the Yang DiPertuan Agong the power to administer Islam in the state of Sabah as required by Article 3(3) of the Federal Constitution (as amended on the 12th August 1976) and Article 5B of the Sabah State Constitution (as amended on the 28th December 1985) clearly denied the Yang DiPertuan Agong His Majesty’s prerogative that was agreed by the Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Council, the findings of the Cobbold Commission as well as the Inter-Governmental Committee, and the wishes made by the Muslims of North Borneo in 1962.

The ousting of the Christian missionaries in 1972 was made because the nine missionaries who were foreigners abused the work permit given to them to work in Sabah, not to conduct evagelical missions.  They were Roman Catholics, Anglicans, the Basil Mission and from the Borneo Evangelical Mission.

As Immigration affairs is a Sabah prerogative as accorded in the Federal Constitution of Malaysia, the first act by the Sabah state government under Tun Datu Mustapha was to deny them an extension of their work permit.  They were then given a 14-day special pass to enable them to make arrangements to leave Sabah.  However, the missionaries refused to obey the 13-day order.

Consequently, they were removed from Sabah through a Removal Order issued by the Sabah Immigration Department made under Section 32 of the Immigration Ordinance 12/59.

The Federal government had no role whatsoever in the removal of these missionaries.  It was purely a state decision that was made based on a sound reason – the people of Sabah, regardless of race or religion had been living harmoniously.  However, these missionaries have been sowing the seeds of hatred among the Christians of Sabah towards the Muslims by telling them to fear the “Islamisation” of Christians through forced conversions, a claim the missionaries themselves could not substatiate.

There was a plea made by the Christians in Sabah to the then-Prime Minister for the missionaries to be allowed to remain in Sabah.  Tun Abdul Razak however recommended to the Christians of Sabah to instead allow priests from the Peninsular and Sarawak to replace the nine missionaries.

In his book, Jeffrey Kitingan had profusely spoken about alleged digressions from and breach of the Federation of Malaysia Agreement but avoided on the issue of the Sabah state government of 1985 breaching agreements made by the MSCC, findings of the Cobbold Commission, the IGC as well as the Federal Constitution of Malaysia.

On the contrary, the Federal government has been fulfilling its end of the agreement by allowing the freedom for other religions to be practiced by its followers as per the agreement.

At no point was there any intrusion made by the Federal government in the affairs of Sabah, and that the removal of the missionaries from Sabah for violating the conditions of the work permit was totally a state issue, made using the powers accorded to the state of Sabah, as agreed by all parties that had agreed on the formation of the Federation of Malaysia.

In the next installement, we shall talk about the second point – LANGUAGE.

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