JABATAN Agama Islam Sarawak and the National Registration Department should remove the obstacles for Muslims – born or converted – to leave Islam if that is what they still wish to do after counselling, Borneo G20 said today.
The civil rights movement linked to the G25 group said it was the duty of the Sarawak government to close a legal gap in state shariah laws that have caused disputes.
It said this was in view of the fact that Malaysia was created as a secular state, as set out in the Malaysia Agreement 1963.
“Muslims who want to leave the faith must go through religious counselling to ensure their decision is fully informed.
This, however, must not become a roadblock to indefinitely delay and deny their freedom,” said Borneo G20 member Johan Ariffin Samad.
Borneo G20 was responding to yesterday’s federal court decision to dismiss the appeal of three Muslim converts and a born Muslim to have their apostasy applications heard in the civil high court. The apex court ruled that the Sarawak shariah court had jurisdiction to hear their applications.
Johan said the Sarawak shariah court had on March 10, 2015 clearly explained in a letter that the state laws did not empower it to deal with declarations of leaving Islam as required by the NRD.
Therefore, it was no use going to the state shariah court for resolution unless the state shariah laws were amended, Johan said.
“The root cause of today disputes which are unnecessarily dividing Malaysians lies squarely with the defects of the law drafted by Sarawak State Attorney-General’s Chambers and passed by the Sarawak State Legislative Assembly, in violation of MA63.
“Borneo G20 reminds all parties that Malaysia was formed on September 16, 1963 as a secular federation, where religious freedom is to be respected while Islam is upheld as the religion of the federation.
“It was not (to be) an attempt to gradually Islamise the plural society in the two Borneo states through one-way conversion,” he said.
Borneo G20 called on Malaysians, especially those in Borneo, to reflect whether the forefathers would have signed up to form Malaysia if it would lead to the people of Borneo losing their right to choose their religion.
“The answer is obvious. Religious freedom was stressed on and assured throughout the negotiations for Malaysia.
Religious freedom was promised in the Inter-Governmental Committee (IGC) Report and MA63, an international treaty.
Without such an assurance, a majority of Sarawak and Sabah leaders would have chosen to remain colonised by the British for a longer period, like Brunei, and might even have formed a federation of their own,” he said.
Johan said to deny Malaysians religious freedom while boasting about upholding MA63 was hypocrisy of the highest degree and an insult to the intelligence of Malaysians, especially Bornean Malaysians, and to continue doing so is to erode the moral basis of Malaysia.
Borneo G20 said it was also an insult to Islam and Muslims to think that the latter would leave the faith if apostasy was possible, as though their faith was a matter of coercion.
“Globally, Islam has thrived as the fastest growing religion and has attracted conversion of non-Muslims in societies where religious freedom is promised. Would Malaysian Muslims not feel injustice and anger if non-Muslims in other countries were legally prohibited from embracing Islam?
Borneo G20 said the four applicants in yesterday’s case were living as non-Muslims, and it was politically impossible for the authorities – not that they should try – to force them to embrace Islam.
“To deny them an official exit is purely to punish them in marital matters so that they cannot marry non-Muslims."
Borneo G20 also expressed concern over the heckling of Kuching Archbishop Simon Peter Poh by a group of Muslims yesterday at the court complex where the case was heard.
A silver lining was that it was also Muslims who formed a guard around the bishop against the overzealous youths.
He said such disruption of public order in the name of religion was unheard of in the lands of Borneo before 1963.
"In Borneo, religions do not divide people or lead people to take the law into their own hands, a fact that is so envied by many Malaysians from the West. We are simply peaceful peoples long before Malaysia."
"The ugly incident outside the Kuching Court Complex is an alarming sign that religious harmony in the lands of Borneo is being threatened by extremists who see religion as a zero-sum game of pride and possession, rather than as submission to God,” he said.
Borneo G20 called upon all Malaysians – Bornean and non-Bornean alike – to defend MA63 and all Borneo Malaysians – Muslim and non-Muslim alike – to defend the pre-Malaysia norm of religious harmony and peace. – February 28, 2018.