Friday, May 04, 2007

Raimah Bibi's sacrifice

Letter by 'Jeffrey' to Malaysiakini comments on Raimah Bibi's sacrifice. He disagrees with Karpal Singh that the judgment was a 'good compromise':
Karpal Singh said that the case ‘sets a new precedent’ with Jais agreeing to hand over the custody of the children from a Muslim mother to a non-Muslim father. ‘We are resorting to King’s Solomon justice. It is a good compromise’ he said in the malaysiakini report Hindu man gets custody of children

What is the nature the ‘good compromise’ as proclaimed by Karpal? I beg to disagree.

As I understand it, the ‘new precedent’ for which victory is claimed is the negotiated and compromise outcome that allowed Raimah Bibi Noordin - in professing that she remained a Muslim (ie desist from apostasy) - to bargain with and procure the release by religious authorities of six of their seven children to her husband, Marimuthu Periasamy, to be raised as Hindus.

I submit that such an outcome is not satisfactory for defenders of our secular constitution and civil liberty. It is a defeat which they should be rueful about rather than a victory to celebrate for following reasons.

First, there is no victory as there is no precedent set at all for a Muslim (whether born or converted) to exercise freedom of religion. Second, there is also no precedent that a Muslim could freely choose to have his or her child opt out of the religion as Karpal seems to imply.

Raimah Bibi Noordin’s case does not constitute such a precedent. This is because in the first place, she was born an ethnic Indian and although adopted by a Muslim convert family, had always – until the deal was struck with the religious authorities – proclaimed herself a practising Hindu.

Raimah’s wearing of a traditional Malay floor-length attire with a Muslim headscarf to declare to the High Court that she would ‘remain a Muslim’ was made in circumstances suggestive of duress. It was an outcome after a month of being whisked off to a Muslim village - Kampung Melayu Liga Emas in Selangor's Batang Kali - for rehabilitation and religious counseling.

It was suggestive of a trade off for the freedom for her children to remain with her husband as Hindus. And it was a sacrifice that only a mother would make that gives new poignancy to Mother’s Day celebration.

In fact, it was more a victory of sorts for the religious authorities. They could prevail on a person like Raimah, whose better part of her life had been spent as a practising Hindu (and whose old identity card, until the change to Mykad, had corroborated this fact) to now renounce her earlier profession as a Hindu to publicly embrace the Muslim faith.

Never mind, one may speculate, that it was a bargain to procure the release of her children and the price to pay for their freedom to be brought up under the Hindu faith.

The religious authorities could also take away Raimah Bibi and six of her seven children on April 2 and prevail on Raimah to renounce her earlier professed Hindu faith for the Muslim faith all without a whisper of reprimand or comment from the governmental and political authority.

In a word, they have amply demonstrated that they could be law unto themselves. What this shows is that religious authorities have become independent of the civil, political and governmental authority of this country.

As Article 121(1)A of Federal Constitution would, as interpreted by some recent High Court decisions, restrain civil courts from having jurisdiction over matters within jurisdiction of the Sharia Courts, so in the case of Raimah Bibi Noordin’s predicament, it appears that civil, governmental and political authority have equally no jurisdiction over the activities of religious authorities.

With respect to Karpal, the compromise outcome of Raimah Bibi Noordin represents no victory at all for civil society, women’s groups, civil authority or the Federal Constitution. It is a fiat accompli and victory for the Islamic state with the missed opportunity here to test the constitutional point of Raimah's case before our highest court - though no one could possibly blame or judge Raimah for taking the sacrifice of compromise to relieve her family from an ordeal of a protracted contest.

1 comment:

Lone said...

Raimah Bibi's case is not over yet. Be patient.
Meanwhile Bibi must be commended for having placed the happiness of her family first.
She has a long journey still.
Faith is in the heart and it cannot be taken away by anyone else.