Where do non-Muslims go from here?

married-divorce-lawBy A. Vaithilingam

I am totally disappointed with the deferment of the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Bill which would have put a stop to the unilateral conversion of children to Islam.

As many of us may remember, eight years ago in 2009, the cabinet had made this proposal. Unfortunately, the proposal was shelved after the strong vocal opposition from various quarters, including the Mufti of Perak.

I am surprised that the BN leaders of the component parties were not prepared to meet the complaint by the same person now. Other Muslim leaders who objected had done so within a month of the announcement of the proposed amendments. Yet, the government seemed to be ready to ignore their protests.

The timing of the deferment was accompanied with the tabling of the motion to introduce a Private Member’s Bill by Abdul Hadi Awang of PAS. This caught us totally by surprise, especially as the prime minister had announced that it was withdrawing plans by the government to introduce its own bill on the same topic. We were also given the impression that the Speaker would not have enough time to allow Hadi’s motion to be tabled.

Non-Muslims are once again victims of “fake” or false impressions given to the public that the issue on unilateral conversion will be discussed and settled in the latest session of the Parliament. Poor Indira Gandhi has to wait now until July or August this year. Even more disappointing is that the IGP is unable to locate her child as ordered by our own courts.

In 1988, the non-Muslims were told that Act 121(1A) was to protect Muslim women against Muslim fathers because they go to civil court after losing their cases in shariah court. I remember then the non-Muslims were assured that they would not be affected by the changes in 121(1A). But now our non-Muslim mothers have lost their protection when their babies are snatched or grabbed and 121(1A) is being abused to give powers to the police to protect the Muslim convert fathers.

And Hadi says the amendments to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 will not affect the non-Muslims. What happens when a Muslim and a non-Muslim are caught jointly in a criminal act? Will they be tried in two different courts with different types of punishments for the same offence when they are both Malaysians?

Sexual offences must have a number of qualified witnesses in a shariah court, whereas non-Muslim accused will be tried in a civil court using witnesses and modern scientific evidences! But for a joint offence one may go free while the other may be punished with a high sentence. Yet they are citizens of the same country.

Where do we the non-Muslims go from here?

A. Vaithilingam is the former president of the Malaysian Consultative Council on Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST).

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