Islam, Muslims and Human Rights

DYMM Pemangku Raja Perak Darul Ridzuan, Raja Dr Nazrin Shah ibni Sultan Azlan Muhibuddin Shah was invited to give a speech entitled “Islam, Muslims and Human Rights” on 9 November 2011 as part of the seminars touching on the Arab Spring organised by the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies (OCIS). Tuanku’s titah ucapan was held at the Examination Schools Building of Oxford University and was attended by College fellows of the University of Oxford, including Datuk Dr Afifi Al-Akiti of Worcester College and Dr Farhan Nizami of Magdalen College, and students, both local and Malaysian.

In his titah ucapan, Tuanku described how Islam has always championed human rights way before the West was enlightened to do so. Even before the time when 18th century Europe reached the Age of Enlightenment in the time of Locke and Rousseau, or when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations in 1948, Islam through the Al-Quran has laid down rules on preserving human dignity, for both men and women. Tuanku had also pointed out that whilst human rights is ensconced in Islam, it has its boundaries.

The following is an excerpt of Tuanku Raja Nazrin’s speech at Oxford:

Tuanku had also touched on the West’s unfair perception on Muslim nations especially in the context of what is perceived as democracy, an example being how Muslim countries like Malaysia and Indonesia are successful democracies have never been highlighted especially by Western media. Tuanku also urged that the way forward in establishing peace is meaningful dialogue between the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam to see each other’s common ground.

Professor Jonathan Bate, provost of Worcester College, thanking DYMM Pemangku Raja Perak Raja Dr Nazrin Shah. In the middle is Dr Farhan Nizami, Prince of Wales Fellow in Islamic Studies at Magdalen College and Founder Director of OCIS. (Photo: Raja Mahariz Raja Muzaffar)

Tuanku’s titah lasted an hour and was well received by those attending. The provost of Worcester College, Professor Jonathen Bate, then gave a short summing up speech before thanking Tuanku for returning to Oxford for the seminar. Following his titah, Tuanku spent time speaking to members of the floor as well as Malaysian students who came from far and wide for the evening’s proceedings.

Tuanku Raja Dr Nazrin Shah is an alumnus of Worcester College, Oxford where Tuanku read Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE).

DYTM Raja Nazrin Shah on the effective function of the Monarchy

DYTM Raja Muda Nazrin Shah ibni Sultan Azlan Shah.

“Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy which operates on the basis of parliamentary democracy. The monarchy in Malaysia is an integral part of the country, a symbol of identity, continuity, unity and strength. It is a symbol of identity because it is a national institution, one that distinguishes this country from all others. It is a symbol of continuity because the monarchy in Malaysia is an old institution and provides a sense of historical significance to the people. It is a symbol of unity because it is a focal point for citizens of all races, religions and political persuasions to rally around. And it is a symbol of strength because it exemplifies the virtues of justice, mercy and honour. Contrary to some opinion, the Malaysian monarchy is not all form and no function.

“Before I go further, allow me to make a short digression. Over the last five centuries, many monarchies around the world have disappeared because Rulers took their status as a divine right rather than a responsibility. They did not bother to re-evaluate and reinvent their roles as guardians of the welfare of their subjects and, not surprisingly, did not retain the public’s acceptance and trust. Monarchies came to be closely associated with autocracy, megalomania, tyranny, cruelty and feudalism. This despite the fact that in the past 100 years, leaders of all kinds, communist, socialist, democratic, republican, militaristic and even religious, have arisen who have displayed these qualities and a lot more besides. Regardless, modernisation and progress have become intimately linked with democracy and pluralistic political processes even though  the reality is that the relationship is less than perfect.

“The monarchies that have survived, and I include Malaysia’s among these, have done so because they have evolved in line with social progress and contribute to public life. They have evolved by accepting the reality of, and placing themselves above, partisan politics. They contribute to public life by redefining their role as that of helping to uphold justice, maintain peace and resolve conflicts between contending parties, in much the same way as judges serve society. They function as the voice of reason, moderation and good governance, especially if there is extremism or chauvinism. In this way, the monarchy strengthens the institutions of governance and enhances, rather than detracts from, the democratic process.

“For the monarchy in Malaysia to continue to function effectively as one of  the main national axes around which society pivots, it must remain fresh and vital by fulfilling the role expected of it. It is an often overlooked or under appreciated fact that the monarchy in Malaysia is supposed to play a productive role by being a healthy check and balance in the system of governance. The Federal Constitution mandates the monarchy to be the guardian of  the just rule of law, an impartial arbiter in the democratic process and an  overseer over the pillars of state. Some believe that the Rulers are supposed to do so only in a purely ceremonial sense, but I would argue that this contradicts  the true spirit, if not the letter, of the Federal Constitution.

“While the monarchy is required to act on the advice of the executive, it must also uphold the principles of good governance and the rule of law, with credibility and impartiality. To do otherwise would be to undermine its integrity, as well as that of the Federal Constitution. What this means is that for the monarchy to effectively discharge its responsibilities, it will need to have avenues for genuine and in-depth consultations with the executive. This should pose no problem, however, given the common and unswerving aim of  advancing the interests of the nation. This unity of purpose will also help ensure that the relationship will be cooperative and not marred by open confrontation.”

Taken from a public leture by DYTM Raja Nazrin Shah ibni Sultan Azlan Shah, at the Khazanah National Development Seminar ’50 Years of National Development’, organised by Khazanah Nasional Berhad on 3.9.2007 at the Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Memorial in Kuala Lumpur.