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Betrayal of non-Muslim Cabinet members

July 1, 2013

FMT LETTER: From Ravinder Singh, via e-mail

In April 2009 the Cabinet had decided that the children of an estranged couple should remain in the “common religion of the parents at the time of their marriage”. This was after the public outcry about the conversion of three children of an Indian couple by the father who had converted to Islam. The children were aged one, 11 and 12.

The recent and out of the blues tabling in Parliament of the Administration of the Religion of Islam (Federal Territories) Bill 2013 with the provision on the conversion of non-Muslim children with the consent of either mother or father proves that the Cabinet decision of April 2009 is not worth the paper it is written on.

A Cabinet decision is an unwritten law, or common law. It can only be revised by the Cabinet. Civil servants have to give due respect to Cabinet decisions and implement them.

In Malaysia, it is the convention that proposed legislation must first get Cabinet approval before it goes to Parliament for the formalities of a debate and vote on it. Rarely has any legislation tabled in Parliament not been passed lock, stock and barrel by the august house.

Objections or no objections, practically all legislation or amendments are given the rubber stamp by Parliament as the majority-side Parliamentarians have no choice but to support the Prime Minister. The ruling party’s whip will ensure this.

Therefore, tabling this Bill without the knowledge of the non-Muslim members of the Cabinet is an act of betrayal. They were a party to the decision of April 2009. It is akin to back-stabbing them.

This is a very serious matter as its implications run deep. On the one hand the government talks of fostering closer inter-racial ties, on the other it shows scant respect for their rights. Even the rights of the non-Muslim Cabinet members who were a party to the decision of April 2009 have been trampled on as they were left in the dark over the proposed amendment.

Article 12 (4) of the Federal Constitution says “the religion of a person under the age of 18 years shall be decided by his parent or guardian”.

The words “parent or guardian” in this context cannot mean “either mother or father” for the simple reason that it takes a man and a woman, a mother and a father, to produce a child. The child is therefore the common property of both the mother and the father until the age of maturity from whence the child is on its own. So how can the law allow one of them to grab the child from the other by abusing religion?

I’m sure there are some Muslims out there who do not support the forced conversion of minors who are born non-Muslims. If God wanted everyone to be a Muslim, he would simply not have created people of different creeds, cultures, religions. When a non-Muslim converts to Islam and then converts his under-aged children, he or she is doing it out of vengeance on the other partner.

For whatever reasons, he is taking revenge on the other partner. Not only Islam, but no other religion should abet this vengeful action of the one parent on the other. No religion should tolerate this, let alone welcome it. Religions are for preaching peace and not for provoking enmity between peoples all of whom are children of the one and only God although He is called by different names in different languages.

The surreptitious tabling of the Bill has become a test for all the non-Muslim members of Parliament. Will those who are in arms with Umno support it as required by the Parliamentary whip, or are they ready to stand up and put their foot down and not allow the religious rights of the non-Muslims to be steam-rolled over by parties with a holier-than-thou attitude?

In a worst case scenario are they prepared to break ranks and oppose it (not abstain from voting by not attending the session), but by actually being present when a vote is taken and opposing it?

This Bill drives wedges between the Muslims and the non-Muslims. Is this what 1Malaysia is all about? Is this creation of animosity between the Muslims and the non-Muslims in full accord with the teachings of Islam?

So the Cabinet decision in April 2009 was just to fool the people for a while? Where is the honour of the Cabinet? The proposed law should have codified that decision of the Cabinet instead of throwing it into the drain and coming up with something that is a full about turn.

Was Najib pushed by some more powerful hand than his own to table this Bill with the controversial provision that goes against the letter and spirit of the Cabinet’s decision of April 2009? Please stop driving wedges between the people who have lived as brothers and sisters for so long.


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