Malaysian move on conversion welcomed

April 12th, 2008 - 2:07 pm ICT by admin  

Kuala Lumpur, April 12 (IANS) Two major political parties, besides representatives of the bar and religious groups have supported the government’s proposed move for a law that any non-Muslim seeking to convert to Islam must inform the family in writing. The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) that has spoken for the 33 percent ethnic Chinese population since the country became free and the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) welcomed the move Friday.

There is no word yet from the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) that, like MCA, is part of the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) and speaks for the eight percent ethnic Indians.

MIC is currently afflicted by dissensions following last month’s poll debacle.

Malaysia has a majority Muslim population and Islam is the official religion.

In announcing the proposal Thursday, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the absence of a ruling concerning non-Muslims resulted in problems like the oft-reported disputes over religious burial rites when a convert dies.

He said those who wanted to convert to Islam must inform their family through a form or letter declaring that their family had been told.

There had been a number of such cases highlighted in the press over the years, some of which had ended up in litigation, The Sun newspaper noted Saturday.

Opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP)’s Indian origin chief Karpal Singh said: “This move is necessary to avert any misunderstanding when claims are made to bodies of non-Muslims who have converted to Islam when they die.”

“What is more important, and which requires to be addressed immediately, is the necessity of making it easier for non-Muslims who have converted to Islam, to revert to their original religions, in keeping with freedom of religion if they so desire, as guaranteed under the Federal Constitution,” said the lawyer-lawmaker.

“As the position stands, non-Muslim converts are required to resort to the Sharia Court to renounce Islam, and are further required to undergo rehabilitation. In my view, no obstacle should be placed in the way of non-Muslim converts who wish to renounce Islam,” he added.

Karpal Singh urged the government to relax the requirement for non-Muslim converts to go to the Sharia Court to renounce Islam.

“There is considerable concern and disquiet among non-Muslim converts who wish to renounce Islam,” said Karpal Singh

MCA president Ong Ka Ting welcomed the move. “MCA’s stand has been consistent in pushing for such a move. However, we would like to seek clarification on the process of implementation of such a requirement.”

Ong sought a time period for the intending convert to inform the family members and that the process should be ‘transparent’.

“The court also must not allow the unilateral conversion of any minor children resulting from the civil marriage. The court should not view this as a loophole as the religion of the child should remain status quo until he/she attains the age of majority,” Ong said.

Bar Council’s Indian origin woman chief, Ambiga Sreenevasan called it “an important first step”.

Islamic religious authorities must be satisfied that the family members have been duly notified. “They should require documented proof of such a notification. A self-declaratory document from the intending convert will not suffice,” she added.

A. Vaithilingam, the Indian origin chief of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism said: “This is a positive first step in ensuring that our laws and system of administration are not abused by those wanting to avoid their obligations to their loved ones by converting to Islam.”

He recommended that there should be “black-and-white proof” of notification from the convert.

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