JULY 12, 2013
One thing the ruling coalition needs to learn is that it can no longer bulldoze laws through the country's legislature without consultation. Things aren't the same any more. Particularly so after it has lost its long held two-third parliamentary majority in two consecutive general elections. The hurriedly withdrawn bill seeking to replace the Administration of the Religion of Islam (Federal Territories) Bill 2013, is a case in point.
Although the bill covers hyper-sensitive religious concerns, the whole exercise has more to do with transparency in law making where the concerns of the respective stakeholders need to be considered through consultation before tabling it in parliament.
The current parliamentary session is the first following the 5 May general elections where the ruling coalition lost the popular vote but managed to retain power through a simple majority. One would have thought the coalition would be more circumspect. But it was in a hurry to pass a new law. Why?
Ten days before the bill was tabled, Christopher Leong, president of the Malaysian Bar had warned that "the unilateral conversion of minor children to any religion by a parent, without the knowledge or consent of the non-converting parent, creates social injustice, violates the rights of the non-converting parent, and is contrary to our constitutional scheme."The offending part is in Section 107(B) of the 2013 bill which purports to provide that the consent of one parent alone is sufficient for the conversion of minor children to Islam.
He was referring to a report that two children, aged 5 and 8, were converted in Negeri Sembilan in April 2013 by the estranged husband of a Hindu woman, without her knowledge. She was unaware that her husband had embraced Islam.
The Negeri Sembilan state Islamic Affairs Department has reportedly taken the position that consent by both parents is unnecessary, as children can be automatically converted once one parent embraces Islam.
"It is noteworthy that this is reminiscent of many similar cases, including the widely publicised cases of Shamala Sathiyaseelan and Subashini Rajasingam, " Leong said.
On the very day the bill was tabled, the Malaysian Consultative Council Of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) charged that the bill, under disguise of Islamic laws, is unilaterally trying to alter the Federal Constitution by translating the word "parent" in the Federal Constitution to mean "Ibu atau Bapa"(father or mother) as opposed to "Ibubapa."
It warned that if this interpretation is advanced, then there is nothing to stop the other single parent to convert back the child to the original religion. This would produce an absurd result and therefore this could not be the meaning intended, it added.
The council also said in 2009 the cabinet decided that a single parent cannot convert a minor child of the marriage. "Despite this the Cabinet deem it fit to introduce the bill. It appears that the Cabinet promise and undertaking on this issue was not sincere," it said.
The Malaysian Syariah Lawyers Association disputed the position taken by MCCBCHST by pointing out that there was no major change brought by the 2013 bill as there was already a similar provision in place in the existing law. It also pointed out that the provision also existed in other State Enactments, such as, Pahang, Melaka, Selangor, among others.
The MCCBCHST disagreed by alleging that these Enactments were passed very stealthily. The MCCBCHST claimed it was informed by some members of State Legislatives who had voted for the Enactments thought that the bills were for matters relating to the Muslims and would not affect non-Muslim Rights.
Clearly the cabinet has not done its homework in tabling this controversial bill by not consulting the respective stakeholders. That the cabinet has decided unanimously to withdraw the 2013 bill instead of bull dozing it through parliament indeed augurs well.
- mysinchew.com, July 12, 2013.