Sunday, August 10, 2008

I am sad for the Malays because last two days they rear their ignorant ugly heads up. I am sad because I am a Malay and again instead of looking at the issue in hand rationally they do so emotionally. I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that the forum should be held close door instead of opening it as religion is highly emotive to the Malays. I agreed with the Deputy Prime Minister and disagreed totally with the Bar Council. Like all matters of religion and race it will be hijacked by politicians or individuals to suit their personal agenda. I understand the displeasure of the non muslim who found them embroil in a religious law that they don't proscribe too when conversion occurs within spouses. This must be address. Sadly hooliganism and rowdiness were the rule of the day. It mar Islam and the Malays as races which are not willing to discourse but take the easy way out. As Prof Doctor Mehrun Siraj of the International Islamic University, a Muslimah who is one of the panelist condemn the riots as unislamic in no uncertain terms.

For me we have been an independent nation for the 50 years yet we can't even sit down and talk rationally like adults without getting excited.This is one of the failure of the NEP for it provide a falsehood to the Malays giving them a superiority complex like the Aryan as envisage by Hitler. I am for NEP but gross mismanagement has created this situation thus has divided the people instead of uniting them under one nation. excerpt below are news and videos that i have glean from the web for your perusal.

Law professor keeps open debate on 'conversion to Islam' issues going

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 10 — Despite the fact that the Bar Council's "Conversion to Islam: Art 121(1A) of the Federal Constitution, Subashini & Shamala Revisited" forum yesterday ended prematurely, former Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) commissioner Prof Mehrun Siraj managed to raise an issue concerning the fate of marriages once a spouse has converted.

Speaking to reporters, Mehrun said that the law should provide for the settlement of such cases in the civil courts.

Mehrun urged the government to amend Section 3 of the Law Reforms (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 to give a converted spouse the opportunity to annul his or her civil marriage at the Civil Court in cases where the other spouse opted not to convert.

"Currently, the divorce is taken to the Syariah courts and the non-Muslim spouse will feel his or her rights have not been protected," she said.

"If a non-Muslim chooses to convert, we should accept them but their civil marriage should be settled first. Give the opportunity to the non-converting spouse to claim alimony and custody of children," added the adjunct professor of law at the International Islamic University Malaysia.

Mehrun said that the current problems arose due to the lack of understanding among non-Muslims but that it was the duty of Muslims to explain the matter to them but not through "shouting or bullying", referring to the behaviour of protesters who brought the forum to a close.

Mehrun was referring to the two women mentioned in the title of the forum, R. Subashini and S. Shamala, whose husbands had converted not just themselves but also their children and then filed for divorce in the Syariah courts.

Religion resurfaces as hot issue
From the Singapore Straits Times

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 11 — For several months, it seemed as though religious disputes were no longer the hot issue in Malaysia. Then over the weekend, it flared up again, with all the familiar reactions in attendance.

The emotional protest by several hundred Muslims that forced an abrupt end to a Bar Council forum on conversions to Islam was not the first such incident in Malaysia. But it was the first since the watershed March 8 polls in which race and religious disputes shaped the voters' response.

Political parties on both sides are now being watched closely for their response to last Saturday's events.

The response from the government has been predictable. Umno ministers, including Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak and Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, have insisted that the matter should not be discussed openly as it is too sensitive.

Najib said yesterday that the Bar Council was "stubborn" in going ahead with its open forum on religious conversion, which had provoked the protests, and it was up to the Home Ministry and the police to decide whether to use the Internal Security Act.

The forum was aimed at discussing the impact on non-Muslim families when a spouse converts to Islam. Problems have cropped up repeatedly in the past few years, predominantly over custody. The Muslim parent is allowed, by law, to convert the minor child to Islam without the consent of the non-Muslim parent.

But this time, the non-Malay partners in the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition are being watched, and they cannot afford to be too reticent, not after their punishment at the hands of their electorate during the polls.

Several of their leaders have spoken out, although in fairly mild terms.

MCA publicity chief Datuk Fu Ah Kiow told The Straits Times yesterday that he was disappointed the matter had not been resolved after the many promises and discussions. He said there seemed to be no interest by the government to resolve the matter.

MIC Youth coordinator T. Mohan condemned the disruption of the forum, and urged government leaders to address the issue of non-Muslim husbands who abandon their families after converting.

The government has long promised reforms, and has set up a group of Islamic and legal scholars to hammer out a solution. It has proposed resolving these disputes behind closed doors by a special panel, or amending the law to require converting spouses to resolve their marriages through civil law.

But none of this has taken off, not surprisingly, since the matter has evolved and is now seen as a saga pitting Muslims against non-Muslims.

The non-Muslims see this as an infringement of Islamic law against their rights, while the Muslims see non-Muslim protests as Islam-bashing.

The government's response had been to sweep it under the carpet, but it may now come under pressure to act if the non-Malay BN partners speak out.

But while the government is coming under pressure, this episode is also turning out to be a test of sorts for the ideologically-disparate opposition coalition after a Parti Keadilan Rakyat MP Zulkifli Nordin led the protest.

He stressed that he was acting in his private capacity but this was not enough to defuse criticism from PKR partners. The Straits Times understands that even some leaders in his party, including the Muslims, are unhappy with his actions.

It has cast a pall over the PKR's multiracial stance and sparked a complaint from DAP MP Tony Pua.

PKR deputy president Syed Husin Ali yesterday sought to cool things, when he chided Zulkifli for his role in the protest. He said in a statement that the party regretted the protest.

It is an indication that the religious dimension will be equally difficult for both sides to handle.

Malaysia spat erupts over curbing religious debate PDF Print E-mail
Posted by St Low
Sunday, 10 August 2008 15:46
Malaysian politicians wrangled Sunday about whether to curb sensitive debates on religious disputes in this Muslim-majority nation after protests halted a conference on Islamic conversions.

Police told the Bar Council association of lawyers to abort the forum Saturday after more than 300 demonstrators rallied outside the conference hall and threatened to storm the event.

The forum was supposed to be a rare public platform to examine how Malaysian families are caught in legal conflicts if one spouse in a marriage converts to Islam. The protesters claimed it reflected unfair demands by non-Muslim minorities for religious equality.

Government leaders insisted that Malaysia was not ready for freewheeling dialogues about religion that could undermine multicultural tolerance and social peace.

Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar said "there are certain things that are out of bounds for public discussion, even if held in a private place."

Education Minister Hishammuddin Hussein urged Malaysians "not to think that openness is an absolute right."

However, some non-Muslim politicians called the protest a setback to hopes of resolving disputes in a young nation with a history of ethnic tensions.

"We believe open discussions and dialogues on ... issues (of) religious conversions are imperative to find solutions," said T. Mohan, a youth leader in the Malaysian Indian Congress, a party in the ruling coalition.

Tony Pua, an opposition member of Parliament, said that if lawyers were "not allowed to hold open discussions in relation to our constitution and its laws, then it makes a complete mockery of our legal system."

The Bar Council had organized the conference in response to concerns that the law fails to safeguard minority rights in religious conversion cases.

Malaysia's Buddhist, Christian and Hindus minorities have increasingly felt that they get second-class treatment because of court verdicts that favor Muslims. In a key case last year, Malaysia's highest court rejected a Hindu woman's plea to stop her Muslim-convert husband from changing their son's religion to Islam.

The Bar Council scrapped the forum barely an hour after it began, but denied the protesters' accusations that it was trying to question Islam's position as Malaysia's official religion.

The Bar Council noted that the conference speakers included both Muslims and non-Muslims, proving not all Muslims — who comprise nearly two-thirds of Malaysia's 27 million people — opposed the idea of public discourse that could prove constructive.

- The Associated Press

Moments of chaos during forum
K Pragalath | Aug 9, 08 6:31pm
Chaos erupted in the Bar Council auditorium today when several demonstrators entered the venue to disrupt a forum on religious conversion.

bar council islamic forum controversy inccident 090808 04One of the demonstrators (pic right), wearing a green and white Malay Student Front (GPMS) shirt, started the verbal melee when he grabbed hold of a microphone and lashed out at the crowd of about 100 participants.

“I represent Umno. Stop this forum” declared the unidentified individual who also uttered “Don’t insult Islam” and “You! Chinese, Indians, go to hell!”.

The individual’s tirade however earned him a loud reprimand from renowned International Islamic University law lecturer Dr Mehrun Siraj (pic below) who took to another microphone.

bar council islamic forum controversy inccident 090808 mehrun siraj“Open discussion is the way to discuss the issues between Muslims and non-Muslims. Don’t insult Islam,” she said amidst the shouts of the protesters.

‘Protest welcomed’

The GPMS representative were among several leaders of a protest against the forum, that was held outside the Bar Council headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

Another protest leader who entered the auditorium to disrupt the forum were PKR’s Kulim Bandar Baharu MP Zulkifli Noordin.

Bar Council president Ambiga Sreenevasan was compelled to cur short the half-day forum at 10am following advice from the police.

“I’m closing this forum officially... we have no issues with anyone who has a different point of view. We respect everyone’s views in this building. That is what the Bar Council is about,” she said to rousing applause from the participants.

bar council islamic forum controversy inccident 090808 01Earlier, in officiating the forum, Ambiga had told participants that the protesters had a right to voice their views provided that the forum is allowed to continue.

“Demonstrators are exercising their freedom of expression. We will certainly not lodge police reports against them,” she said, adding that they were open to share their views within the forum as well.


Prior to the disruptions, the forum went ahead when three women brought on stage to share their experience with legal wrangling resulting from religious conversions.

One woman brought on stage, an ethnic Chinese, narrated how her father had met an Iranian woman before embracing Islam and marrying the woman without the family’s knowledge.

“Mother was devastated. She did not know what she did wrong... He was married to mum for 30 years. During the divorce process, he agreed to give mother our house.”

“One day, the hospital called and informed of his passing. It was during the divorce process... The authorities did not recognize my mother as his wife and me as his daughter. Our property was gone. Home didn’t belong to us.

“It is not fair. It is not justice,” said the woman in between sobs.

A German woman, known only as Anita, who shared her story later said that she had a civil marriage with a Malay Muslim man in England, who claimed to be an atheist at the time.

When the couple returned to Malaysia, Anita said she was ‘converted’ during a Muslim marriage, which eventually ended in divorce and she would have to remain a Muslim.

“Why does the family take it upon themselves to convert Western girls who come here? People should be able to choose. Why is it so rigid? Relationship is supposed to be free,” she said.

Another woman who shared her story to the participants was Marie Rayappan whose family was caught in a tussle over her deceased father - Anthony Rayappan’s - remains with the religious authorities.

Subashini’s case

The second session of the forum involved a panel discussion on the custody battle between R Subashini and her former husband T Saravanan@Muhammad Shafi Saravanan Abdullah.

In 2006, Saravanan had converted to Islam, taking the name Muhammad Shafi, sought a divorce and applied for custody of the couple’s two children through the Syariah courts.

Subsequently, Subashini filed for an injunction against Muhammad Shafi’s action at the Syariah Court but was rejected at all levels up to the Federal Court.

The forum panel consisted of lawyers Haniff Khatri Abdulla, K Shanmuga and Ravi Nekoo and moderated by activist Zarizanana Abdul Aziz.

Two other panelists - Federal Territories Islamic Department (Jawi) Syariah prosecutor Dr Mohd Naim Mukhtar and Institute of Islamic Understanding (Ikim) representative Dr Wan Azha Wan Ahmad - pulled out of the event at the last minute.

Shanmuga argued that Muhammad Shafi should have sought a divorce at the civil court as their marriage was a civil marriage.

“In this case, because of the conversions, jumping spouses say that the new rule rules,” said Shanmuga, who is Subashini's lawyer.

Haniff Khatri however argued that by virtue of embracing Islam, Muhammad Shafi had a right to seek recourse at the Syariah Court.

“He had the urge to convert at the age of 19. Syariah principles must be advanced as long as it doesn’t infringe the rights of the non Muslim. There are principle guidances in Islam,” said Haniff Khatri, who is Muhammad Shafi's lawyer.

The last speaker Ravi concurred with Shanmuga and advised that all converts who embrace Islam finish their obligations at the civil courts before moving to the Syariah Courts.

“There cannot be two conflicting orders in one case,” he said.


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