Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Malaysian Interfaith Council calls for just solution to Conversion cases

MCCBHST Calls for a Just Solution On Conversion Ordeals

Conversion to another religion involves emotional and legal adjustments not only to the convert but also to their parents, spouses, children and other family members. As such, to convert in secret without due consultation with or making it clearly known to those the convert is intimately related to is surely not at all an acceptable practice. This is especially the case when an adult converts to Islam from another religion. In cases of this nature, as has been evidenced in numerous news reports, the new convert seems to have unilateral powers to direct that his or her children be converted to Islam without the necessity of the consent of the other parent of the child/children. Laws and regulations governing the civil marriage are immediately replaced by Islamic law and practice among which are those pertaining to inheritance, divorce, and alimony. Furthermore, it would seem that the civil courts are reluctant to hear such cases when one party of the marriage has become a Muslim. Under such blatantly unfair circumstances, why and how should non-Muslims accept these sudden changes that have come upon their lives?

The current move by government authorities who oversee the administration of the Islamic religion in Malaysia to plug loopholes in regulations on the registration of Muslim converts as reported by The New Straits Times on August 06 and 07 2010 may seem a big deal to those same authorities. But what effect would it in fact have on their affected non-Muslim spouses, children and parents? How would it be a source of comfort and relief for the loved ones of the converts who often only find out their change of religion upon their deaths as was the case with the Malaysian hero, Moorthy?

The fact remains that if the family members concerned were given no reason to even remotely suspect their change of religion, how would they think it was necessary even to make a check on the Islamic register of conversions? As was the case with Moorthy, the family testified that he was a practising Hindu till the day he died, even observing penance at Thaipusam. That being the case, why would a non-Muslim family peacefully practising their own religion in Malaysia have any reason to check if any member of their family had converted to Islam unbeknownst to them?

We may perhaps understand the need for secrecy in conversion cases should they immediately be subjected to serious and unlawful persecution. But in the cases we are dealing with here, the converts are by no imaginable means subjected to persecution. If they are, non-Muslims and Muslims alike should take up the case for them as religion is a matter of personal conscience. But in the cases we are here considering, it is the family members of converts to Islam who are experiencing legal consequences rather than the converts themselves.

MCCBCHST (Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism) is therefore compelled to urge the government to do the right thing and promptly set in motion what in the first place it had first proposed by its own cabinet decision. That is, to initiate legislation for a “conversion bill” which would address the vital issues related to conversion to Islam as it adversely affects the non-Muslim family members.
In this respect, MCCBCHST takes positive note of the statement issued by Malaysia Islamic National Organisation secretary-general Tan Sri Dr Abdul Hamid Othman (NST August 07 2010) who “suggested that the authorities also address the distribution of wealth to family members” adding that “Sometimes, the issue following a convert’s death isn’t so much about religion but inheritance. Islamic law bars a convert’s non-Muslim family members from receiving any of his property.” He was quoted as saying that the religious authorities should advise and help new converts to distribute their wealth to their beneficiaries before the conversion takes place, adding that “This will ensure that non-Muslim will not be victimised.”

Tan Sri Dr Abdul Hamid Othman’s comments are well-taken and any discussion along these lines will surely make room for a just solution.

Rev. Dr Thomas Philips

President

MCCBCHST

Conversion to another religion involves emotional and legal adjustments not only to the convert but also to their parents, spouses, children and other family members. As such, to convert in secret without due consultation with or making it clearly known to those the convert is intimately related to is surely not at all an acceptable practice. This is especially the case when an adult converts to Islam from another religion. In cases of this nature, as has been evidenced in numerous news reports, the new convert seems to have unilateral powers to direct that his or her children be converted to Islam without the necessity of the consent of the other parent of the child/children. Laws and regulations governing the civil marriage are immediately replaced by Islamic law and practice among which are those pertaining to inheritance, divorce, and alimony. Furthermore, it would seem that the civil courts are reluctant to hear such cases when one party of the marriage has become a Muslim. Under such blatantly unfair circumstances, why and how should non-Muslims accept these sudden changes that have come upon their lives?

The current move by government authorities who oversee the administration of the Islamic religion in Malaysia to plug loopholes in regulations on the registration of Muslim converts as reported by The New Straits Times on August 06 and 07 2010 may seem a big deal to those same authorities. But what effect would it in fact have on their affected non-Muslim spouses, children and parents? How would it be a source of comfort and relief for the loved ones of the converts who often only find out their change of religion upon their deaths as was the case with the Malaysian hero, Moorthy?

The fact remains that if the family members concerned were given no reason to even remotely suspect their change of religion, how would they think it was necessary even to make a check on the Islamic register of conversions? As was the case with Moorthy, the family testified that he was a practising Hindu till the day he died, even observing penance at Thaipusam. That being the case, why would a non-Muslim family peacefully practising their own religion in Malaysia have any reason to check if any member of their family had converted to Islam unbeknownst to them?

We may perhaps understand the need for secrecy in conversion cases should they immediately be subjected to serious and unlawful persecution. But in the cases we are dealing with here, the converts are by no imaginable means subjected to persecution. If they are, non-Muslims and Muslims alike should take up the case for them as religion is a matter of personal conscience. But in the cases we are here considering, it is the family members of converts to Islam who are experiencing legal consequences rather than the converts themselves.

MCCBCHST (Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism) is therefore compelled to urge the government to do the right thing and promptly set in motion what in the first place it had first proposed by its own cabinet decision. That is, to initiate legislation for a “conversion bill” which would address the vital issues related to conversion to Islam as it adversely affects the non-Muslim family members.
In this respect, MCCBCHST takes positive note of the statement issued by Malaysia Islamic National Organisation secretary-general Tan Sri Dr Abdul Hamid Othman (NST August 07 2010) who “suggested that the authorities also address the distribution of wealth to family members” adding that “Sometimes, the issue following a convert’s death isn’t so much about religion but inheritance. Islamic law bars a convert’s non-Muslim family members from receiving any of his property.” He was quoted as saying that the religious authorities should advise and help new converts to distribute their wealth to their beneficiaries before the conversion takes place, adding that “This will ensure that non-Muslim will not be victimised.”

Tan Sri Dr Abdul Hamid Othman’s comments are well-taken and any discussion along these lines will surely make room for a just solution.

Rev. Dr Thomas Philips

President

Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism
9th August 2010

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