Thursday, May 03, 2007

Apostasy : more developments (1)

The full Al-Jazeera Everywoman segment on apostate Revathi is already up on Malaysiakini. Let’s see. Other than the hyped-up “never seen before footage of the Islamic rehab center” the brief coverage over the contentious apostasy issue was just that: brief, but emotionally powerful nonetheless. So what do we get out of that 10-min international coverage?
1. Perak mufti Harussani Zakaria was heard to say Islam mandates the death sentence for apostasy but no such law is applied in Malaysia. Instead there are laws to prevent Muslims from leaving the religion. He declared that without apostasy laws, “we’re finished; the malays would be finished.”

That is incredible as much as it is unsurprising since it’s the usual paranoia given vent by some politicians and street demos. With due respect, if a majority people and over 1 billion religious adherents feel so easily threatened and therefore need the force of legislation for protection, something is wrong somewhere.

2. Prof Shad Faruqi who was previously on record as saying that conversion out of Islam ought to be subject to Syariah as a legal safeguard (against abuse and evasion of charges of Islamic offences) was heard here saying that freedom of conscience for all people - including muslims - is enshrined in the Federal Constitution under Article 11 (clause 1). Religious arrests therefore not only violate Article 11 but also personal liberty.

3. Farid Suffian Shuaib, law lecturer at International Islamic University claimed the Constitution must be acknowledged in the context of history. Prior to the arrival of colonialists, Islam was already “applied.” The dual system of civil law and Syariah as spelled out in the Constitution simply extends to muslims their historical right to regulate themselves. En. Farid believed the Syariah court should determine the actual status of Revathi’s faith (presumably at birth, since her current belief is unacceptable if she was ‘born’ a muslim). If as it appears that Revathi is Muslim, then there was no marriage – “not according to Islam, or under Malaysian law” (Marriage and Divorce Act).

Again, I find it astounding that Revathi’s personal faith conviction has completely no relevance in the raging controversy.

3. SIS Zainah Anwar admitted that ethnic relationships between muslims and non-muslims have been strained, and that “real life” had been overlooked. The reality was that someone who was forced to believe is, “deprived her liberty, deprived her child, deprived her husband, and her right to a family.” I applaud Zainah’s compassion because all laws, whether religious or civil, are never abstract constructs.

In a not entirely inappropriate context (but probably totally unacceptable to Islam), Jesus once said that God created Sabbath for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). Really, the distinction between these two ideas is at issue here as well.
Finally, there’s nothing the ordinary Malaysian does not already know. But there is one consolation however. Brief though it was, at least the Al Jazeera segment brought alive the human dimension behind the heart-wrenching episode. A mother has been separated from her baby. A husband has been denied his right to both wife and child. A family has been torn apart.


Some sort of compromise was reached in another case involving rubber tapper P. Marimuthu and his allegedly muslim wife Raimah Bibi, the mother of their 6 children (who were all forcibly separated as well). Marimuthu gets his children back, but not his wife. Malaysiakini has the report:

The Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) this morning agreed to grant the custody of the children to Marimuthu to be raised as Hindus. They are expected to be handed over to Marimuthu by tomorrow.

However his Muslim wife Raimah Bibi Noordin would still be in the custody of the religious department. She will be granted access to her children but would not be allowed to live with her Hindu husband.

Karpal Singh calls it a compromise and likens it to Solomon's justice. Hardly. Far, far from it. Perhaps the exercise was all about face-saving. If so, Marimuthu's tears tell us justice has not been served.


In an interview with Malaysiakini, Dr M surprises with his views on the apostasy issue. I’ll have to give credit where credit is due, and from what has been revealed in the short excerpt, it’s certainly a progressive point of view that people of goodwill can heartily concur with. Below is an excerpt:

Malaysiakini: The Federal Constitution says that the definition of Malay is that you have to be Muslim, and allowing for Malays to covert out of Islam would unravel the whole thing. What’s your point of view on this?

Mahathir: The thing is, if you are not a Muslim, then you are not a Malay. That’s all. That’s what the constitution says.

Malaysiakini: And that is what some Malays are worried about.

If you are prepared to give up Islam, you must also be prepared to give up (the rights associated with) the definition of a Malay. You must say that ‘I am not a Malay.’

Malaysiakini: Would you agree to that?

Why not? People would still be Malay, but officially, he would not be a Malay. Being a Malay in this country has certain privileges, so he wouldn’t enjoy those privileges.

Malaysiakini: You’ve got no problem with the definition of the Malay?

At the moment, we’ve got no reason to change the definition of a Malay. There are only two countries in the world where the race is linked to the religion.

Malaysiakini: You’ve got no problem if a Malay actually renounces Islam?

If he renounces Islam, then he is not a Malay. That’s all.

No comments: