Religious Liberty and Limited State Bureaucracy: The Logic of Locke

Many Malaysians were disappointed when the Federal Court ruled that apostasy matters should be decided by the Shariah Court and not the Civil Court, and dismissed the application by four Sarawakians for a court order to direct the National Registration Department (NRD) to recognize and register them as Christians. [Re: Federal Court defers to Shariah courts in Sarawak apostasy cases]

Several church leaders have called for peaceful acceptance of the Court judgment as the law should be upheld and peace maintained in our society. Hopefully, Parliament will table amendments to ensure that the law is more just and equitable in matters of religious liberty for all citizens.

We should not miss a more fundamental concern in the Court controversy, that is, religious liberty has become a tenuous legacy for Malaysian democracy with the introduction of new shariah-compliant laws which authorize the state bureaucracy to extend its powers to regulate the private morality and religious activities of its citizens. It has become painfully clear that any intervention by the government inevitably restricts the religious liberty of citizens. Continue reading “Religious Liberty and Limited State Bureaucracy: The Logic of Locke”

Hannah Yeoh’s Reference to Faith is a Positive Contribution to Public Discourse in Secular Democracy

Faith and Public Discourse in a Secular Democracy. Part 1

Dr. Kamarul Zaman Yusoff, a lecturer in political science has accused Ms. Hannah Yeoh, the Speaker of the Selangor Assembly of hypocrisy because she acknowledges her support from Christians when she entered politics. She also encourages young people to join politics with the goal of returning integrity, justice and fairness to governance in Malaysia. Kamarul further finds DAP guilty of prejudice against Islam since it readily participates in religious festivals like Wesak and Deepavali and Thaipusam while it champions a view of secular democracy which ‘excludes’ Islam. “Kamarul claims that for DAP, “separation of politics from religion should only be done if it is about Islamic matters. But if it involves other religions such as Christianity then they (DAP) are okay.” [See, Hannah Yeoh’s book more about personal than political growth – The MalaysianInsight 16/05/2017]

It is evident that Kamarul has maligned Hannah Yeoh and misunderstood DAP given that their political commitment is to a form of secular democracy that is enshrined in the National Constitution. More significantly, Kamarul’s accusation is surprising as we would have expected a lecturer in political science to display a nuanced understanding of the relationship between of religion and politics in a secular democracy like Malaysia. While Kamarul personally has no problem going beyond his duty as an academician to initiate political action against Hannah Yeoh, nevertheless he demands that politicians like Hannah Yeoh dichotomize their faith and personal convictions from social-political engagement. Continue reading “Hannah Yeoh’s Reference to Faith is a Positive Contribution to Public Discourse in Secular Democracy”

Human Dignity: New Paradigm for Religious Liberty **


Human rights circumscribe the limits of legitimate authority (including majority rule) and are inalienable for any individual, that is, they cannot be taken from any individual. Since human rights are inalienable and are inherent possession of every individual, they are not given by authorities. Human rights are the pre-political possession of the individual rather than a gift or concession from governing authorities. Otherwise, the state may claim the right to take rights back from citizens. Such a proposition is consistent with the understanding that human rights is not a matter of state policy, it is a matter of universal moral principle…

Man as a being created in God’s image is as such inherently entitled to equal regard regardless of race, gender or social position. It demands impartiality in how persons are treated. Acknowledgment of human equality entails protection from harm and along with it the range of inalienable human rights including the right to respect, the right to life, and the right to certain freedoms exemplified by fundamental liberties or bill of rights enshrined in modern constitutionalism.   In this regard, rights cannot be lost or taken away.

In summary, recognizing human beings as created in the image of God entails (1) equal dignity and interdependence of man and woman; (2) personal rights such as equality, freedom and dignity of the individual; (3) social rights arising from interdependence of  community members in matters of justice; and (4) stewardship of creation.



I. Presuppositions and Social Realities
This paper is premised on three theses about the logical outcome of conventional Malaysian politics.

Thesis 1 – So long as Malaysian politics is negotiated on racial/religious terms, political discourse and public policies will increasingly become more Islamic. Only an Islam that undertakes a process of Ijtihad which reforms the Shariah Law can prevent the eventual emergence of an Islamic state. Itjihad is unacceptable to Sunni Islam practiced in Malaysia.

Thesis2 – Non-Muslims must reject the myth of monolithic identity of race and religion based politics (c.f. rebuttal by Amatya Sen, (Identity and Violence) and shift the terms of politics to one based on the human rights and equal citizenship in a modern pluralistic democracy.

Thesis 3 – Democratic rights are not just ideals but the outcome of political power, law and public policies enforced through social institutions. Furthermore, democracy practices can flourish only if it is supported by a strong civil society that nurtures democratic culture and democratic discipline.

This situation calls for a new paradigm of public discourse based on human rights and equal citizenship that can provide a robust social and moral critique of Islamic hegemony in a pluralistic society. Continue reading “Human Dignity: New Paradigm for Religious Liberty **”

Kairos Dialogue Network Conference on Shaping a Shared Future in Malaysia

Kairos Dialogue Network would like to invite Christians in Malaysia to a one day conference on Saturday, 11 July 2015 at Luther Centre.

The Facebook link is here:  LINK

The purpose of this conference is to launch and share a Christian social vision for a shared future in Malaysia.  Kairos Dialogue Network invites all Christians from different denominations to support one another and commit themselves towards transformative actions at the individual, church, community, and national levels.

For more information on the programme and speakers please refer to the attachment with this email. Continue reading “Kairos Dialogue Network Conference on Shaping a Shared Future in Malaysia”

Quest for Covenant Community & Pluralist Democracy in an Islamic Context


 Dialog does not take place in a vacuum. Recognition of contextual pressures and normative ideals


J. C Murray once noted that what distinguishes civil society from a mass or a herd is its ability to engage in ongoing rational deliberative dialogue. Taking a quote from Thomas Gilby he wrote, “Civilization is formed by men locked together in argument.” Conversely, without dialog, civility – and with it civil society – dies. The reason is that without a public consensus that is forged through public deliberation, there is no bond of solidarity to command allegiance to common values that hold civil society together.

Continue reading “Quest for Covenant Community & Pluralist Democracy in an Islamic Context”

The Social Impact of Christian Salvation

Summary: It is imperative for Christians to demonstrate that the Christian faith is not an escapism from the challenges of life. Indeed, Christian faith is world affirming, that is, it is a faith that values and promotes the flourishing of personal and social life on earth. In this regard, Christians need to recover two key teachings of the Bible: Creation order and the covenant community.

There is a popular hymn that goes, “This world not my home, I’m just a-passing through… My treasures are laid up, somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore…”

Continue reading “The Social Impact of Christian Salvation”

Israel-Hamas War: Moral Rules and Judgment

Israel-Hamas War: Moral Rules and Judgment

Judging from the public furor in response to present conflict in Gaza it is evident that people are concerned that innocent people should not suffer violence in times of international conflict. The Malaysian government has sided with Hamas and forcefully condemned Israel Link: Malaysiakini 12 Jan 2009. The public furor is a natural reaction to the gut wrenching images broadcasted in the media. Indeed, it is right to say that moral outrage is a proper reaction to the images of innocent victims killed by bombs and missiles.

However, TV images are inherently impressionistic and devoid of context. The continuous stream of images of war literally overwhelms both TV and U-tube viewers and forces them to become fixated with the ghastly wounds of the casualties of the immediate shooting that results in an amnesia of the circumstances that decisively led to the present shooting. Continue reading “Israel-Hamas War: Moral Rules and Judgment”

No one Religion can Monopolize or Copyright the Term ‘Allah’

The Deputy Minister of Internal Security, Johari Baharum, recently declared that only Muslims may use the word ‘Allah’ to describe the God they worship…. This article offers a firm, rational and clear rebuttal to the flawed rationale that underlies the Deputy Minister’s declaration.

The declaration is questionable for the following reasons: 1) its logic is flawed 2) it omits historical facts 3) it shows disrespect for cultural identity and 4) it disregards Constitutional rights of Malaysian citizens.

Preface: I wrote this article on Christmas Eve 2007 with reasonable expectation that it will be printed by at least one local newspaper. Unfortunately, this was not to be because of circumstances beyond my control (or rather circumstances that are in full government control).

The controversy arising from the government’s stated policy to prohibit non-Muslims from using the word ‘Allah’ to refer to the supreme God or Creator is a fast developing story. The latest news is that the government has alllowed the Catholic Herald to renew its annual publishing permit without insisting that the Herald stop using the word ‘allah’. Continue reading “No one Religion can Monopolize or Copyright the Term ‘Allah’”

A Christian Social Vision for Nation-Building

Christian social engagement aims at building a covenant nation based on justice and religious liberty for all. It may include the following agenda:
1) Educating Christians on the rights and responsibility of citizenship.
2) Promoting civil society through NGOs and voluntary societies.
3) Supporting particular political candidates.
4) Sustaining the prophetic witness of the Church against the arrogance of power by embodying submission to the kingdom of God.
5) Affirming the moral right to civil disobedience as loyal citizens.


A Christian Philosophy for the Common Good
“The Church must exercise prophetic witness towards wider society and to government,” exclaimed the young man as he urged his friends to join a candlelight vigil in front of the High Court to express their concerns over a recent High Court judgment that was seen to be in conflict with fundamental liberties.

I can sense the earnestness of this young man and other young people like him who are willing to fight for social justice. They challenge the older generation not to remain indifferent out of cynicism towards authorities who enforce unjust policies that make life difficult for the common people. These two groups demonstrate two opposing tendencies among Christians on how to relate to wider society. Some Christians retreat into their spiritual ghetto so that authorities will leave them in peace. In effect, these Christians compromise their ideals of justice and end up supporting the status quo. Continue reading “A Christian Social Vision for Nation-Building”


We must address the challenge of the cultured despisers of Christianity if Christian witness is to gain credibility:
– Secure a thorough understanding of the modern world.
– Identify crucial issues that must be addressed if we are to follow J. H. Bavinck mission strategy to annex culture, to take every thought captive in Christ.
– Re-conceptualize the framework for Christian reflection and set priorities for theological education. All too often activism replaces serious theological reflection when we act under the tyranny of the urgent. But in the absence of a distinct intellectual framework and with our inability to ferret out and critique the presuppositions of dominant thought patterns of the world, we end up merely responding to the agenda set by non-Christian elites and eventually conform to the spirit of the age.
– Ensure that theology is both grounded in Biblical tradition and critically correlated with contextual realities. This demands a fresh look at theological education and how we train Christian thinkers and pastors.

Themes – Modernity and Resurgence Religion and clash of civilizations; Theology of culture and social engagement; Religion and Culture; Ecclesiology and cultural plurality; Creation and New Age Spirituality; Science and Religion

Adolf Harnack observed that the early church gained ascendancy because they not only out-loved their competitors; they also out-thought their critics. The early Christians reveled in the intellectual truth and lucidity of Christian revelation. They were able to rejoice in the order and diversity of nature and social life which they saw as a witness to the greatness of the Creator. They extolled the boundless goodness of God who endow humans with reason, freedom and the promise of immortality. Christianity was commended as enhancement and not an encumbrance to reason and understanding. In short, Christianity was commended as the true philosophy. Continue reading “CURRENT CONCERNS FOR CHRISTIAN INTELLECTUAL WITNESS”