The freedom to practice one’s religion is a fundamental liberty enshrined in the Malaysian Constitution. But hardly two months after the 13th general election Umno is tabling the highly controversial conversion bill despite opposition and reservation from within BN component members.
The image that the country is trying hard to push, that Malaysia is truly Asia, with a plural and diverse population, is just the diametric opposite of the increased radicalisation of Umno. This is truly worrying and the future has a dark horizon looming. Umno has once again shown its true colours: That it cares two hoots about non-Malays and non-Muslims and Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s national reconciliation effort.
Amending a legislation to legalise the conversion of a minor who has neither free will nor knowledge about the religion he/she has been converted to tantamount to bullying and forcing the issue down the throats of minorities. Under the new legislation, a parent or guardian can convert a minor. Allowing even guardians to convert a child is a flagrant abuse of power and is against the free choice option of children. Logically, all conversion should be after 18 years old where the person knows and understand what he is going into.
The tabling of the Administration of the Religion of Islam (Federal Territories) Bill 2013 in Parliament last week, which allows only one parent’s consent, or that of the guardian, to convert a minor to Islam has been done with no consideration for the feelings and wishes of minorities. The consent of both the parents is a must and no two ways about it. This is what the cabinet in 2009 decided and why the change now?
Even the Grand Mufti of Egypt Ali Gomaa, one of the most respected Islamic scholars in the world today, wrote under the sub-heading ‘Freedom of religion in Islam’, “The essential question before us is can a person who is Muslim choose a religion other than Islam? The answer is yes, they can, because the Quran says, ‘Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion,’ [Quran, 109:6], and, ‘Whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve,’ [Quran, 18:29], and, ‘There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is distinct from error’ [Quran, 2:256].”
But the Umno leaders with the holier than thou attitude, may not agree with grand mufti of Egypt. By persisting in tabling this sensitive and distasteful bill in parliament, Umno is trying to whip up Malay Muslim chauvinism to instill fear and reprisal on non-Malays for voting Pakatan Rakyat in GE13. With large number of young Malays and urban voters supporting Pakatan Rakyat, such tactics by Umno will only bring their own downfall sooner.
Umno and their supporters, instead of countering fundamentalism, are themselves becoming more radicalised. The largest and dominant political party is being increasingly insensitive to minorities which does not augur well for the future of Malaysia remaining a land of plural and diverse tolerance or even being truly Asia. Malaysians are now turning towards Pakatan Rakyat leaders to bring about the inclusiveness and provide the constitutional guarantees to all citizens. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
The write is a former senator
~ Free Malaysia Today
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