Thursday, January 05, 2006

A not-so-happy start

What a start to the new year. A friend sent a text message saying there was nothing to be happy about in view of recent national controversies with no hint of a resolution in sight. The Moorthy episode was certainly another downer for Malaysians. In December, the constitution's authority was challenged yet again by its dual legal system following the death of M. Moorthy, a Hindu who converted to Islam (apparently without his wife's knowledge). How contentious and sensitive the debate is can be ascertained by statements reproduced below:
Nik Mustapha Nik Hassan, Deputy Director, Institute of Islamic Understanding
"We are committed. We are convinced about Islam. Islam is a serious religion. It's the only path to us, to Muslims. So we cannot allow people to come and interfere in our religion, in our religious affairs. So apostasy definitely is a serious offence, it amounts to a mandatory death sentence.”

Shad Saleem Faruqi, a constitutional expert at the Mara University of Technology.
"We should leave them alone and try to win them over with love and persuasion. But to use the blunt instrument of criminal law leaves me with a sense of shame and embarrassment."

Salahuddin Yaakob, PAS Youth chief :
“Kes ini merupakan kes besar melibatkan kedaulatan Islam. Andainya Mahkamah Tinggi Sivil berpihak kepada keluarga Mohamad maka sudah tentu ianya menunjukkan bahawa Undang-undang Syariah di negara adalah rapuh dan tidak berdaulat.

Sebelum ini pun kita berasa sedih kerana orang-orang kafir berani mencabar keputusan Mahkamah Syariah, di mana sepatutnya apa juga keputusan Mahkamah Syariah tidak boleh di cabar oleh Mahkamah Sivil. Keputusan Mahkamah Tinggi yang bersetuju untuk membicarakan kes ini juga dilihat sudah mencabar kewibawaan undang-undang negara kita.”

Dr K Sri Dhammananda, President of MCCBCHS (Malaysian Consultative Council for Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism)
“(Following the court decision) there seems to be no legal remedy non-Muslims (in such instances)... This is the biggest seed of disunity (in a multi-religious society) that can be sowed at this time.”

Zaid Ibrahim,
MP, senior partner and chairman of Zaid Ibrahim & Co.
"The constitutional power to review must be vested in the judges. Otherwise, all the provisions of fundamental liberties, whether contained in our Constitution or in legislation, are meaningless. In so far as the Syariah courts are concerned, they too are entities created out of the Constitution, and all Islamic laws are statutory laws enacted by the respective State Assemblies, just like other laws in this country. Why they need to be excluded from review of High Court judges escapes me."
Elisia Yeo of Malaysiakini sums up her article on another religious wrangle, this time involving followers of 'deviant' sect leader Ayah Pin, with comments on what could be the real issues.
In Malaysia, people like Kamariah face another stumbling block in the constitution - drafted by British colonial rulers with advice from Malay politicians - which defines a Malay as a person who "professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language, conforms to Malay customs."

The definition is crucial because the constitution spells out the privileges, including scholarships and land rights, that the country's ethnic Malays, who make up some 60 percent of the population, are entitled to.

Lawyers say if Kamariah's case ever gets to the Federal Court, and it found in her favour, it could unravel the policies fundamental to Malaysia's economic machinery and undo its delicate balance of race relations.

"I actually shiver at the implications," says constitutional expert Shad. "The issue of conversion out of Islam is not simply a religious issue but is an issue of abandoning the Malay community with all the political implications of the balance of powers between the Malays and non-Malays."

Some recent predicaments faced by non-Muslims and Muslim 'apostates' in a dual legal system society:
  • Kamariah Ali, former muslim and follower of 'deviant' leader Ayah Pin whois fighting for freedom of worship. Her case has yet to be heard by the federal courts although the Syariah Court has found her guilty.
  • Lina Joy, a Malay convert to Christianity, appealed for the word 'Islam' to be dropped from her identity card but was denied both by the civil and syariah courts
  • Shamala Sathayaseelan’s application to nullify her two children’s 'conversion' brought about by her own husband’s conversion to Islam. Shamala has since fled the country with her children
  • Deceased Mt Everest climber M. Moorthy whose 'secret' conversion to Islam sparked a legal tussle over burial rites as his wife claimed he was not an observing muslim if at all he was a convert.
Related links:
NECF (National Evangelical Christian Fellowship) press statement
Bar Council Jan 3 Courting Alienation

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