Cabinet’s conversion decision opposed

KUALA LUMPUR, 29 April 2009: The coalition of Muslim non-governmental organisations known as Pembela has described the cabinet decision against unilateral conversion of minors as “knee-jerk” and “lacking in sense”. “The decision only temporarily alleviates the anxieties of one party, but creates more anxieties and questions for other parties,” Pembela spokesperson Yusri Mohamad (President Of Malaysian Muslim youth Movement) said at a press conference today.

Another Pembela spokesperson, Zaid Kamaruddin, said the decision did “not make sense”. Both men also noted that the cabinet decision was made without consulting state muftis or amending the relevant laws. Pembela was commenting on the cabinet decision that in cases where one parent converts to Islam, he or she did not have the right to unilaterally convert the children.

The cabinet decision was made following the plight of M Indira Gandhi, whose Muslim-convert husband converted their three young children without her consent. Hers is one of several known cases where such conversion of minors has occurred. Zaid, who is also president of Pertubuhan Jamaah Islah Malaysia (JIM), said the cabinet’s directive contradicted existing syariah laws and Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution on determining the religion of minors.

Pembela cited the R Subashini v T Saravanan case, in which the Federal Court interpreted Article 12(4) to allow the Muslim-convert husband to decide the children’s religion according to syariah law. Zaid said in the case of Indira Gandhi’s children, the cabinet directive violates the right of her estranged husband Mohd Ridzuan Abdullah to have access to the children.

“And what if both non-Muslim parents convert to Islam?” asked Zaid. “Then, according to the cabinet decision, the child will still need to remain in the common religion at the time of marriage until he or she reaches the age of majority,” he said, adding that this was ridiculous. Yusri said, “What if in future, it is a mother with a breastfeeding child who converts to Islam? If we follow the cabinet ruling, then the mother will be denied her right to raise her child.”

He said Pembela was willing to mediate a short-term solution between Indira Gandhi and her husband pending a legal resolution to their dispute. “Let the law be” Yusri and Zaid said Pembela’s stand was that the due process of law should “be let free to take its own course without any undue pressure from any party”. “We should not politicise this issue and raise temperatures even further among the followers of different religions,” said Yusri, who is also Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia (Abim) president.

“However, if there are any parties who insist on challenging the Federal Constitution, we will not remain quiet,” he added. He said, for example, that some parties have alleged that the syariah courts would be inherently unjust towards non-Muslim interests. “This is a blatant, unacceptable accusation against a centuries-old legal system,” he said. Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association’s Datuk Dr Mustapha Ma stressed that human-constructed laws could not be allowed to override divine laws. “The respect that Islam teaches for all, including non-Muslims, has been proven in the history of Islam,” he said. “Besides, the Islamic NGOs have never advocated unfairness or injustice to anyone,” he added.

Pembela is a coalition of more than 50 Muslim NGOs whose formation Abim spearheaded in 2006. Pembela was formed to counter “the tendency to use court cases to emasculate the status of Islam, particularly through applications for apostasy.” Islamic state revisited? In a separate statement, MCA deputy secretary-general and central committee member Datuk Loke Yuen Yow today blasted PAS information chief and Pokok Sena Member of Parliament Mahfuz Omar for also protesting the cabinet’s decision.

Mahfuz had earlier accused the Barisan Nasional (BN) government of appeasing non-Muslim Malaysians and causing discord among Muslim Malaysians with the cabinet directive. Loke said Mahfuz’s statement reflected that PAS was a pro-Muslim party and their stand repressed the rights of non-Muslim Malaysians. “This shows that PAS has not abandoned their ultimate objective of setting up an Islamic state,” said Loke. In yet another press statement, MCA political education bureau chairperson Gan Ping Sieu called on Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and DAP to object to PAS’s stand on the issue. “If Pakatan Rakyat does not come out to clarify their common stand […] DAP and PKR should be held responsible for their failure,” Gan said.

He also supported the Bar Council’s call for the cabinet decision to be more fully realised by carrying out the necessary constitutional and legal amendments.

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