Malaya Chief Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman was reported on the front page of The Straits Times (24 Sept 1956) as saying that “Umno would never compromise on three points in the Alliance’s memorandum to the Reid Constitutional Commission, i.e. (1) The status of Malay as the national language, (2) The place of Islam as the official religion and (3) The ‘special position’ of the Malays in their homeland”.
The Tunku was addressing a crowd of 7,000 gathered in a field in Kota Bharu at the end of his three-day visit to Kelantan and Terengganu.
In 1956, Kelantan and Terengganu were the most Melayu pekat states where the Chinese were only a small minority.
Click 2x to enlarge
1956: More Chinese than Malays in Penang, Selangor, Perak and Johor
In the west coast of the peninsula, however, the situation was different where the Chinese outnumbered the Malays in four states according to 1956 population figures.
In Penang and Selangor, the Chinese population was double that of the Malay while in Perak, the Chinese significantly outnumbered the Malays. In Johor also there were more Chinese inhabitants than Malay (see table above).
The Chinese presence in Malaya pre-Independence was significant and they were no pushovers when it came to articulating the community’s demands to the Reid Commission, drafters of the Malayan Federal Constitution.
Among the non-Malays who made representations to the commission were MCA, Chinese educationists, rubber traders, Chinese chambers of commerce, Chinese guilds and societies as well as the churches.
Dato Onn worried about “abuse of religion for political purposes”
Dato’ Onn Jaafar as Parti Negara sec-gen provided his input too on the Constitution draft. In his 26 Apr 1956 article published in the Singapore Standard, he outlined his party’s position on the question of religious freedom.
Dato’ Onn wrote:
“The State shall recognise the special position of Islam as the religion professed by the great majority of the citizens. The State shall also recognise Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism as some of the religions and beliefs existing in the territory of the Union at the commencement of the Constitution.
“All persons are equally entitled to the freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess and practise religion subject to public order, morality or health and to the other provisions of this part.
“The abuse of religion for political purposes shall be forbidden: and any act which is intended or likely to promote feelings of hatred, enmity or discord between racial or religious communities shall be contrary to the Constitution and may be made punishable by law.”
A few points to note about Dato’ Onn’s recommendations above. He was Home Minister during the early 1950s under the British rule and that’s why he sounds like one (a Home Minister) with his concern about public order and the sowing of hatred, enmity or discord between religious communities.
Dato’ Onn listed Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism as the main recognised faiths in the country. He placed Christianity ahead of Buddhism in the order of precedence because the Christians, were just as well organised back in 1956 as they are today.
They complained loudly, endlessly and later made strong representations to the Reid Commission.
Malayan Christian Council petitioned Reid Commission to make country secular
Declassified documents sourced from the public records office in Kew, London showed that the Malayan Christian Council had sent a memorandum as well as a delegation to meet members of the Reid Commission on 23 Aug 1956.
See HERE for the scans
The Christian delegation comprised Council chairman Rev Dr Ho Seng Ong who was also director of the Methodist Education Board, council assoc. sec-gen Rev J. Sutton, Bishop Emeritus Rev R. L. Archer of the Methodist Church of Malaya, Archdeacon R.W. Woods (acting for Bishop Baines as the head of the Anglican Church of Malaya), acting vicar Rev Roland Koh of St Mary’s Church Kuala Lumpur, and Rev P.C. John, Minister of Mar-Thoma Church north and central Malaya.
Demands for “religious freedom” (to proselytize)
According to the minutes of the meeting, Rev Ho Seng Ong wanted Malaya to be a secular state that gives no particular favours or privileges to any one religion as in the case of India which had gained Independence from the British nine years earlier.
Rev Ho complained that the council “considered that the Malays derived unjust advantages” but the drafting of the new constitution provided “a splendid opportunity of improving the situation and ensuring harmony in the future”.
He further urged the Reid Commission for a clause to be “written into the new constitution to ensure that there were no limitations regarding religious freedom and to enable the present field of religious freedom to be enlarged”. During that time in the mid-1950s, the churches were not free to preach to Malays, the same situation as pertains currently.
Rev Ho expressed his concern about the continued funding of mission schools post-Independence while Archdeacon Woods told the commissioners that the Anglican Church had experienced difficulty in obtaining land for the purpose of building churches.
Council assoc. sec-gen Rev Sutton wanted “freedom for all people to choose their religion” as a fundamental and important right while Rev Archer of the Methodist Church “emphasised that they considered it would be most undesirable if the new constitution had a clause in it which recognised Islam as the religion of the Federation”.
There is a SK Ho Seng Ong Methodist located in Taman Canning, Ipoh
Some things (i.e. evangelistas) never change
The Malayan Christian Council is presently called the Council of Churches of Malaysia, undergoing a name change after their separation from Singapore.
Rev Ho – the Council chairman during a period of time when Muslims only comprised 48 percent of the country’s population – had informed the Reid Commission that national harmony in the fledgling nation would be ensured through the granting of more religious freedoms and by making Christianity equal to Islam, which is what secularism implies (no favouritism).
To hear Rev Ho’s 1956 appeal – in our ears across the passage of more than half a century – that he made to the Commonwealth jurists headed by Lord Reid, you begin to realise how the evangelistas actually haven’t changed one bit.
They ventilated the exact same complaints about the “unjust advantages” given the Malays and harboured identical reservations about the privileged position of Islam.
In fact, Lord Reid had remarked for the record that “as he understood it, what the Council wanted was a written guarantee of religious freedom for all and a declaration that the new Federation was a secular State”.
“The representatives of the Council agreed that this was so”, said the minutes of the meeting tagged confidential document c.c. 2067 of the Reid Commission papers.
And once again history repeats itself with the evangelista spiritual descendents now insisting that Malaysia is and has always been a secular country.