The sneaky answer to issue of Islamic conversions of minors

19-Jun-2014 Intellasia | The Malaysian Insider | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Why does Malaysia have an elected government where ministers get to insult the electorate with answers that are clearly wrong?

Minister in the prime minister’s Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom said today that Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution states that either a father or a mother or a guardian can decide the religion of a child below 18 years of age.

Citing the 2004 case involving Shamala Sathiyaseelan and Dr Jeyaganesh C. Mogarajah, Jamil said the Federal Court had ruled that a child’s faith can be decided by either parent.

“Based on the ruling of this case, the consent by either one party suffices in the issue of deciding the religion of a child,” he told DAP’s Ipoh Barat MP, M. Kula Segaran, in a written reply.

How soon does this minister forget last year’s debacle when he tabled the Administration of Islamic Law (Federal Territories) Bill 2013, which sought to allow unilateral conversions of minors to Islam by either parent?

After public outrage, the Cabinet withdrew the bill less than two weeks later.

“The Cabinet had agreed that the retraction of the Bill was necessary to ensure that the issue on the determination of the child’s religion in such cases are resolved in a fair manner for everyone,” deputy prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was quoted as saying by Bernama then.

“The government is aware, and is taking into account all the views. We are looking into the matter. The Cabinet has discussed this matter thoroughly, and we realise there is a need for more fair solution to the matter,” he said, when commenting whether the proposed amendment to Section 107(b) of the law contravened the 2009 Cabinet decision not to allow unilateral conversions.

So, you have a Cabinet decision not to allow unilateral conversions which you conveniently forget, and instead cite a court ruling. There has also been court rulings against unilateral conversions but that is conveniently forgotten.

One has to wonder about the quality of ministers in the Cabinet these days, who can answer glibly without even batting an eyelid or ignore previous Cabinet rulings for the convenience of buttressing a point.

The issue of interfaith child custody battles and unilateral conversions is not something that should be left to just court rulings. After all, the court only interprets what the lawmakers enact.

It is time for the Cabinet to be clear about its policies and decisions. Passing the buck to the court when it is the elected government and lawmakers’ job to be clear and precise reflects the failure of leadership and decision-making.

Can the Barisan Nasional government stop the flip-flop on this issue once and for all, instead of passing the buck to the courts?


Category: Malaysia

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