Religious Bill splits Cabinet after divisive election

The Malay Mail Online
July 04, 2013

KUALA LUMPUR, July 4 — Some of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s Cabinet have spoken out in dissent over a Bill that would let a single parent or guardian convert their child to Islam without their partner’s consent.

The proposed change has sparked protests from the prime minister’s biggest coalition partners, as well as leaders of religious and ethnic minorities in the Muslim-majority nation. The row comes as Parliament resumed last week after May’s general election which saw support for the government slide to its lowest level in more than 55 years.

“Certain sections of the Bill can be detrimental to non- Muslims,” Datuk G. Palanivel, a minister who heads the MIC in Najib’s governing Barisan Nasional coalition, said in a phone interview. “The government should propose a fairer version of the Bill, taking into account individual rights and civil liberties.”

The heads of some other parties representing minority groups in Najib’s coalition, including the MCA, have also protested the proposed amendment, testing the alliance’s unity as economic growth slows. Net foreign direct investment dropped 17 per cent last year to US$10.1 billion (RM31.3 billion) as spending in neighbours including Singapore and Indonesia increased, according to a report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development last week.

‘Going Backwards?’

“If you are a businessman or investor and considering where to invest, this issue will emerge,” Tan Teng Boo, the Kuala Lumpur-based chief executive officer at Capital Dynamics Asset Management Sdn., said in an interview today. “These things are bound to come up. Why would I want to be in a country that seems to be going backwards?”

About 60 per cent of Malaysia’s 29.6 million-strong population are Muslim, according to the CIA World Factbook. Under the Constitution, all ethnic Malays are automatically Muslims and followers of other races, including Chinese and Indians, aren’t allowed to leave the religion. In a court case in 2007, Lina Joy lost an appeal to stop the government referring to her as a Muslim on her identity card so that she could marry her Catholic boyfriend.

In April this year, a Hindu hair salon owner discovered that her estranged husband had converted their two children to Islam without her knowledge, the Malaysia Chronicle reported on June 22.

Datuk Jamil Khir Baharom, a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department overseeing Islamic affairs, tabled the proposed amendment to the Administration of Islam (Federal Territories) Bill 2013 for a first reading in Parliament on June 26. The Cabinet has since discussed the matter and will seek a fairer solution, Bernama reported on July 1, citing Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. Jamil Khir couldn’t be immediately reached for comment today.

Dwindling Support

Najib’s coalition retained power in the May 5 election even after failing to get a majority of the popular vote for the first time since 1969, which the prime minister attributed to a loss of support from Chinese voters.

Islam is recognised as the official religion of Malaysia, which Najib describes as a “moderate” Islamic nation, and non- Muslims have the right to choose and practice their own faith. The Southeast Asian country has a dual legal system with a British-styled civil court system and a separate syariah, or Islamic legal system, that governs marriage, inheritance and other family matters for Muslims.

‘Fundamentally Unjust’

The provision is “fundamentally unjust as it denies the rights of one parent on the welfare of his or her children,” Datuk Paul Low, a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, said in a phone interview yesterday.

Christopher Leong, president of the Malaysian Bar Council, said the proposed amendment was “unconstitutional” in a June 18 statement. He pointed to a Cabinet directive in 2009 announced by Datuk Nazri Aziz, then de facto law minister, that children of an estranged couple should remain in the religion of the parents at the point of marriage.

Nazri, now tourism minister, also spoke out against the proposed legislative change this week, saying it’s unfair to non-Muslims, The Star newspaper reported today. — Bloomberg

  1. #1 by sheriff singh on Friday, 5 July 2013 - 1:33 pm

    Nazri however said today the Council of Rulers overruled the April 2009 Cabinet decision. Where does this put the ‘both’ parents or ‘single’ parent consent issue? Is the Rulers’ decision in conflict then with the Federal Constitution or do they hold sway as heads of the religion in their respective states? If non- Muslims object to the new Bill, will they be seen as disloyal subjects? The issue seems to have become more complex now.

  2. #2 by worldpress on Friday, 5 July 2013 - 1:44 pm

    Take the mirror look at yourself how corrupted you can be being carry the name.

    Corrupted to extent level, caught EC lie, corrupted still want stay in power can manipulate Election.

    Take the mirror look at yourself how corrupted you can be being carry the name.

  3. #3 by Godfather on Friday, 5 July 2013 - 1:54 pm

    Going backwards is what they want. How else can they cling to power. Rambutans don’t need an export market. You can tell the foreign investors to go somewhere else if they don’t like our rules.

  4. #4 by sheriff singh on Friday, 5 July 2013 - 2:00 pm

    ‘Going Backwards?’

    No. Just permanently stuck in time, in another era.

  5. #5 by worldpress on Friday, 5 July 2013 - 2:11 pm

    They should be thankful here is not Egypt

    Else they have already gone

  6. #6 by Bigjoe on Friday, 5 July 2013 - 7:27 pm

    Its nonsense that the bill does not impinges on the rights of non-Muslim. That is not the issue.

    The issue is why so many in power, including the DPM and Minister in charge of Islamic Affairs, Jamil Khir Bahrom, does not say so immediately and yet significantly many including Pembela who actually even voice out it does not..

    The only people who stays silent on this or support it are idiots or intentionally idiotic and therefore malicious.. If you add both category, it adds to a lot of people, a lot of powerful people in an feudal UMNO world that favours the elite and mediocre.

    So the real issue is this – how come after so many years of ‘affirmative action’, what we have is so many powerful or otherwise idiots and intentionally idiots and therefore malicious on such critical importance? More importantly such a situation of power means a disastrous future eventually for this country..

  7. #7 by tuahpekkong on Friday, 5 July 2013 - 10:59 pm

    Seems to be a one way traffic. Ask any right-minded person and he would tell you that this Bill is seriously flawed.

  8. #8 by good coolie on Saturday, 6 July 2013 - 12:00 am

    I think that the Muslims themselves should voice their dissatisfaction with the Bill if they feel that it is unfair to the Non-Muslim partner (and the child concerned).

    Consider the following reasons: i) it is a breach of implied terms of the marriage contract, the Non-Muslim marriage envisaging equal rights over the children of the marriage (in contrast to a Muslim marriage where the Father has more rights over the child); ii) there was a settled expectation that the child would continue practising its original religion through the co-operation of both spouses; iii) in cases where one spouse engages in a polygamous marriage (the first, Non-Muslim, and the other a Muslim marriage), leading to discordance in/dissolution of first marriage, the “innocent party” must not be punished further by the forced conversion of the child; iv) secrecy surrounding the conversion of the child begs the question of the fairness of the conversion; v) the recent court decision on this matter is clearly wrong in not interpreting the word “parent” as “both parents”, or if only one was alive, known, or accessible, “either one”. vi) political action in line with the doubtful court decision is not “bona fide” and is a deeply offensive action against Non-Muslim citizens, and is constitutionally invalid for unfairness.

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