When the Government brought to Parliament on Wednesday the most controversial bill in recent times, it not only raised the backs of a lot of people, it also sank their hearts.
Mention the Administration of Islamic Law (Federal Territories) Bill to them and they will mention back a new buzzword to describe the Government's motives and it’s not a nice one.And it’s the depth of this feeling that may also inform the election patterns of non-Muslims in the “safe deposit” vote bank of Sabah and Sarawak. Not to mention the already evenly-split Indian vote.
Betrayal. Of non-Muslims. And for some, twice.
Just examine the facts.
In April 2009, de facto law minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz announced that the Government would ban the automatic conversion of minors to Islam, in a bid to quell unease among non-Muslims in mainly Muslim Malaysia.
He said minors were to be bound by the common religion of their parents at the time they were married, even if one parent later becomes a Muslim.
And now, this Bill purports to provide that the consent of one parent alone is enough for the conversion of minor children to Islam.
The Government is appealing against the 2009 High Court decision that the word “Allah” can be used by the Catholic Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur's weekly newspaper, The Herald, in its Bahasa Malaysia articles.
In April 2011, just before the Sarawak elections, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Idris Jala announced that Christians in East Malaysia can use that word.
However, in April this year, PM Najib Razak in an interview with global news station Al Jazeera took the opposite tack. He clearly expressed support for the appeal to overturn a High Court ruling that said it was all right for non-Muslim groups in Malaysia to use the Arabic term “Allah” for God, specifically in Bahasa Malaysia literature.
Coming back to the conversion bill, there is another thought. Talk is also rife that just the act of tabling the Bill was itself a strategic move by the government to seek out weak links in the opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat.
Perhaps PAS parliamentarians may decide to vote in support of unilateral conversion of minors, against the line drawn by their secular partners in the opposition?
A veteran politician, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that if that is what the Government is trying to do, it might backfire.
This is a double-edged sword, as even government coalition partners MCA and MIC have both made their stand clear – that they are against unilateral conversion - let alone their non-Muslim bumiputera coalition partners from Sabah and Sarawak.
"It will expose the weak chains in the Barisan Nasional coalition when issues of race and religion are put to the test like this," the MP said.
Giving credibility to this MP’s observation are the list of government partners who have recently expressed concern over this bill.
MCA vice-president Gan Ping Sieu has expressed shock that the Government tabled a bill that contained controversial provisions that affect the constitutional and religious rights of non-Muslims.
Datuk Jaspal Singh, MIC treasurer-general, has also expressed shock at Section 107 (b) of the bill, saying that it was an attempt to undermine the Federal Constitution, which requires the consent of both parents for a child to convert.
Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, Sabah party UPKO president and a former Cabinet minister said the provision was in contradiction to the 1Malaysia concept of acceptance, inclusiveness and moderation.
He has suggested a full discussion by Barisan Nasional on the issue and related religious issues before the government proceeds with the Bill. He also expressed surprise and disappointment that this Bill was even approved by the Cabinet to be tabled at Parliament.
Malaysian Consultative Congress of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) deputy president Jagir Singh, who is a member of the inter-religious committee (to promote mutual understanding and harmony among religions) under the Cabinet, also expressed his surprise at the tabling of the Bill.
He said that while issues such as conversion and even "body snatching", were discussed as recently as two months ago at the committee, no decision or conclusion was made.
"Discussions started two years ago and we had a meeting two months ago, but nothing was decided. So we are surprised it was tabled," he said.
Jagir went on to say that if the Bill allowed for one parent to covert a minor, then the other parent can convert the child back, under provisions in the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land.
Jagir, who is also Malaysian Gurdwaras Council president, is equally concerned about another section of the Bill, which gives the Syariah court the power to decide whether a person who died was Muslim or not, saying that this power “has always been and must remain with the civil court”.
Jagir had a few strong last words, which he stressed was his personal opinion. "Usually in the issue of conversion, it is the mother's rights which are trampled on. What I want to say is, beware the mother's curse."
The former president of MCCBCHST and Malaysia Hindu Sangam, Datuk A. Vaithilingam, echoed Jagir's view, in that the civil court must decide the question and issue of children’s conversion.
He said it was very clear in the Federal Constitution that for minors, issues like education, upbringing and religion are the responsibility of the parent, where the word is meant as collective.
Vaithilingam added that Muslims had nothing to worry about as they were well protected under Malaysian laws.
"For instance, non-Muslims cannot propagate their faith to Muslims. But the non-Muslims don't have this protection," he pointed out.
Head of the Catholic Church in the Melaka-Johor diocese, Bishop Dr Paul Tan Chee Ing SJ, while refusing to call it a betrayal by the government, was no less sharp with his rebuke.
"I understand this amendment contravenes a decision by the Cabinet announced on April 23, 2009, that a single parent cannot convert a minor," said the Bishop.
"If so, this would not be the first time that the Cabinet is overridden by civil service functionaries – the main drivers of creeping Islamisation in this country.
"Truly, it does not come as a surprise to me that a Cabinet undertaking on a matter of this importance has been shown to be not worth the vapour it takes to avow it." – July 2, 2013.
~ The Malaysian Insider