The Malaysian Insider
9 April 2015
Following in the footsteps of the 25 prominent Malays dubbed G25, a group of 47 Sabahans have sent an open letter to Putrajaya urging an end to extremism in the country, The Star reported today.
The group from Sabah raised concerns about Islamisation, attempts to convert natives of the state, polarisation, growing intolerance and federal government bodies asserting authority beyond their powers.
They said in their letter that “extreme and misguided actions in the name of Islamisation and religious intolerance is nothing but a threat to our national peace and stability”.
The group said they were concerned over the “aggressive Islamisation”, whether covert or overt, targeted at the natives in Sabah.
“Conversion ceremonies are being carried out under the guise of providing ‘financial assistance to poor natives and native school children’ especially those living in government hostels.”
Another concern raised was the National Registration Department’s move to label native Christians carrying the words “bin” or “binti” in their names as Muslims in their MyKads without their knowledge or consent.
“We are not against conversions out of free will but we condemn conversions through deceit, intimidation and bribery.
“We Sabahans know that at the heart of it all is an exercise to suppress the voice of the majority genuine non-Muslim Sabahans, and to degenerate our native population and our freedom of religion,” the group said.
Among those who signed the letter were former Sabah state secretary and Suhakam vice-chairman Tan Sri Simon Sipaun, former Sabah finance minister Datuk Mohd Noor Mansor, former senior civil servants Datuk Wilfred Lingham and Datuk Gregory Joitol and former state attorney-general Datuk Stephen Foo.
Other signatories included politicians, environmentalists, trade unionists and lawyers.
The signatories also said that government departments and bodies had been asserting authority beyond their legitimate powers for far too long, and that such unlawful and oppressive practices must cease immediately.
In the letter, the Sabahans also said there must be mutual tolerance and respect for others’ backgrounds and beliefs.
“Ideologies promoted by political parties and especially their leaders must be based on fairness, tolerance and respect for others.
“Politicisation of a particular religion for narrow partisan gains simply has no place in this pluralistic society of Malaysia,” they said.
The Star quoted lawyer Gayle Jokinin, who drafted the letter, as saying that the move came about after the group of 25 prominent Malays, dubbed G25, spoke out against extremism and the growing religious and racial divide in the country late last year.
The lawyer said a major concern among Sabahans was how the country was tilting towards extremism.
“Our founding fathers did not agree to any religion or race to be supreme over others,” Gayle told The Star, adding that this was being seen in some policies.
“We felt that it is only right to speak up,” she said.
In December last year, the 25 prominent Malays, consisting of former secretaries-general, directors-general, ambassadors and others, sent the government an open letter asking for a rational dialogue on the position of Islam in a constitutional democracy.
The letter came as race and religious relations worsened following the 2013 general election, which saw the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) pinning its losses on the Chinese minority, fuelled by Malay-Muslim groups seeking more puritanical Islamic laws across Malaysia.
“Given the impact of such vitriolic rhetoric on race relations and political stability of this country, we feel it is incumbent on us to take a public position,” Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin, former Malaysian ambassador to the Netherlands, said in a 19-paragraph statement issued on behalf of the 25 signatories.
Noor Farida, who was once director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s Research, Treaties and International Law Department, said she and the others “are deeply concerned about the state of the debate on many issues of conflict on the position and application of Islamic laws in Malaysia”.
“It is high time moderate Malays and Muslims speak out. Extremist, immoderate and intolerant voices as represented by Perkasa and Isma do not speak in our name.
“Given the impact of such vitriolic rhetoric on race relations and political stability of this country, we feel it is incumbent on us to take a public position and urge for an informed and rational dialogue on the ways Islam is used as a source of public law and policy in Malaysia.
“More importantly, we call on the prime minister to exercise his leadership and political will to establish an inclusive consultative committee to find solutions to these intractable problems that have been allowed to fester for too long.
“We also urge more moderate Malaysians to speak up and contribute to a better informed and rational public discussion on the place of Islamic laws within a constitutional democracy and the urgency to address the breakdown of federal-state division of powers and finding solutions to the heart-wrenching stories of lives and relationships damaged and put in limbo because of battles over turf and identity.” – April 9, 2015.