PETALING JAYA: If Selangor Speaker Hannah Yeoh can be accused of proselytising the Muslims by writing about her faith in Christianity, then where do Malaysians draw the line?
This was the question posed by lawyer Azhar Harun, in response to a police report that Universiti Utara Malaysia’s (UUM) lecturer Kamarul Zaman Yusoff lodged against Yeoh yesterday.
“So, if tomorrow a Christian walks around in a T-shirt with a cross on it, and the caption says ‘Jesus is love, Jesus is good’, he or she could be reported for wearing it?” he asked.
Kamarul, who is UUM’s Malaysian Institute for Political Studies director, had in his police report, said Yeoh’s autobiography titled “Becoming Hannah: A Personal Journey by Hannah Yeoh” contained “too many” parables and excerpts from the Bible.
“I believe this book is an attempt to persuade, influence or incite non-Christians including Muslims to embrace Christianity or become inclined towards Christianity,” he said.
This, according to Kamarul, is an offence under Section 4(1)(a) of Selangor’s Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Amongst Muslims) Enactment 1998 which bars proselytisation to Muslims.
The enactment states that a person would have committed an offence if he persuades, influences or incites a Muslim to “be inclined” or “become a follower or a member” of a non-Islamic religion or to “forsake or disfavour” Islam.
“I wonder how many Malays have read the book and because of it, converted to Christianity,” said Azhar, who is better known by his pen name, Art Harun.
On the enactment Kamarul had accused Yeoh of breaching, Azhar said the provision is valid as the Federal Constitution did state that no one can propagate another religion to the Muslims in Malaysia.
But the general law, criminal included, requires proof that a person has the intention to commit the offence they were being accused of, he said.
“If there is no intention, it can’t be an offence. Even murder without intention is not murder.
“So if I write to express my own thoughts about my own religion, or of how I feel about my God, my believe and my faith, I don’t think it should be interpreted as an intention to try and convert others.
“If a Muslim happens to convert after reading it, it’s not the author’s fault. There must be a positive act with the intention to proselytise before it could be actionable as a criminal offence,” Azhar said.
He added that if the enactment in question is to be enforced in a manner that disregards the accused’s intention, then the law in effect would be very “divisive”.
Azhar reminded that the Federal Constitution also provides for freedom of religion and Yeoh, in writing the book, had merely exercised that right.
“They (the non-Muslims) can read and write whatever they like, as long as there is no intention to try and proselytise the Muslims.
“Or else, how can we live harmoniously as one nation?
“And if he (Kamarul) feels tempted (to convert to Christianity) when reading the book, then he should stop and give the book back to Yeoh.”
Azhar also questioned Kamarul’s motive, saying the Malays have been creating their own ghosts and bogeymen that they ended up living in fear.
“They are like children trying to sleep in a dark room, while telling themselves that there are monsters in the closet.
“So they can’t sleep. And the sad thing is that now, it (the ghosts) are coming from professors and the supposedly learned people who are teaching our children.”