Wednesday, June 17, 2009

MPs to debate conversion amendments

Write up by MalaysiaKini;
Bills to amend three laws in relation to matters of conversion and religion are expected to be tabled in Dewan Rakyat next week, said Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz.The three pieces of legislations are the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976, Administration of Islamic Law (Federal Territories) Act 1993 and Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories) Act 1984."

Among the amendments proposed touch on the dissolution of marriage, right to custody of children, maintenance of children and wife and division of matrimonial assets," said Nazri today in response to a adjournment speech made by Ipoh Barat DAP parliamentarian M Kulasegaran.
Nazri told the House that some changes were being made by Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail before the amendments were ready to be tabled next week."The cabinet has agreed that the determinant factor of a child's religion must be in accordance with Article 12(4) of the federal constitution which provides that the religion of children under the age of 18 will be determined by a parent or guardian," said Nazri.Nazri, who is also the Padang Renggas MP, said the cabinet committee which was formed to handle the controversial conversion matters has been briefed on the amendments needed to be made to three laws.

The minister also dismissed Kulasegaran's claims that the government was not serious about resolving the issue. The cabinet had earlier issued a directive in April to stop parents from secretly converting children to calm strained race relations in the country.

The cabinet acted after a furore erupted over the case of an ethnic Indian woman who faced losing custody of her three children after her estranged husband converted them to Islam without her consent.

No clear direction from the governmentKulasegaran was unrelenting in putting across his views that the government was not serious in solving the issues relating to conversions, especially when it involved minors. "The issue has been raised many times but the government does not seem to take it seriously. Although the decision has been made, the implementation is not there," said Kulasegaran."Until now, no changes have taken place even after the decision was made (by the cabinet)... criticisms were shot at the government but the government failed to give explanation and clarity on the directive," he said.

The outspoken DAP MP had also questioned the progress of the committee formed by the cabinet to examine the issues of conversion.The committee includes Human Resources Minister Dr S Subramaniam, Ministers in the Prime Minister's Department Dr Koh Tsu Koon (Unity) and Jamil Khir Baharom (Islamic Affairs) and Family and Community Development Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil.Nazri responded by saying that the decision by the government to form the cabinet committee proved that the government viewed the matter seriously.

Conversion rows, including 'body-snatching' cases where Islamic authorities have battled with relatives over the remains of the dead whose religion is disputed, are common in Malaysia.The tussles have led to allegations that the country was being "Islamised" and that the rights of ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities were being eroded.

We are not a secular state.Nazri also dismissed Kulasegaran's statement that Malaysia was a secular country.He said that the federal constitution clearly stated under Article 3(1) that Islam was the official religion."This differs from other secular countries, such as the United States of America, India and Turkey, where their constitution clearly states that they are secular states."In the federal constitution, the word secular is not mentioned anywhere," he said.

Moreover, Nazri explained that Islam's special rights under the federal constitution were also stated under Article 11(4), which denied the propagation of any doctrines or religious beliefs among the Muslims.He said the status of Malaysia as an Islamic country had also been explained by former premiers Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in 2001 and 2007 respectively."In his reply in Parliament on Aug 2, 2007, Abdullah said: ‘Malaysia is neither a secular nor a theocratic country. Malaysia is an Islamic country which is administered based on the principles of Islam and at the same time holds strong to the principles of parliamentary democracy guided by the highest law of the land - the federal constitution'," added Nazri.

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