Calls for rational solution to religion

(The Star) – Various groups are calling for a rational solution to a controversial Clause in a recently tabled Bill, which allows a minor to be converted with the consent of only one parent.

MIC deputy president Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said there could have been a lack of communication in preparing the controversial Section 107(b) Admi­­nistration of the Religion of Islam (Federal Territories) Bill 2013.

“A similar issue was discussed in 2009 by a committee under the then National Unity and Social Deve­­­lopment Ministry. At that time, we made proposals for amendments to the Law Reform Act (Marriage and Divorce) and some components of the Islamic enactment for Federal Territories to resolve the issue,” he said, adding that MIC was not consulted over the recent Clause.

He said the party was also not aware of the Clause until it was tabled for first reading.

“We saw that the Malay translation was not in line with our current thinking. So, we’ll voice our views in Cabinet and see how we can resolve this issue,” he said.

It was previously reported in The Star that although the English version of the Bill states that a non-Muslim below 18 years of age may convert to Islam if “his parent or guardian consents to his conversion”, the Malay version of Section 95 amended “ibubapa (parents)” to “ibu atau bapa (mother or father)”.

Subramaniam said the translation could have come about because of a legal precedent set in S. Shyamala’s case, in which the Federal Court had interpreted “parent” as either father or mother.

“We are stuck with the court’s decision but as far as the Government is concerned, we are committed to finding a solution,” he said.

In November 2002, Dr Jeyaganesh C. Mogarajah became a Muslim and converted his two young sons without his wife Shamala’s knowledge or consent.

In July 2004, the High Court granted Shamala interim custody of the children but the father was allowed access.

On whether MIC would vote against the Bill, Dr Subramaniam said: “I don’t think we will reach that stage.”

In Batu Pahat, MCA Young Professionals Bureau chief Datuk Chua Tee Yong said all calls to relook the Bill should be viewed objectively to ensure the protection of non-Muslims’ rights.

“We have to look at the Bill rationally. We respect that the official religion in the country is Islam. It’s just that we believe certain parts of the Bill may cause more issues,” he said, adding that all processes of the law must be in accordance with the Federal Constitution.

On the Government’s assurance that all parties would be consulted before any decision was made, Chua said he was grateful that the Bill was open for discussion.

“It means there is room for improvement. It is a good way to resolve the issue,” he said, adding that he was confident MCA would discuss the issue in its next central committee meeting.

However, he also noted that there were positive aspects to the Bill, such as allowing qualified non-Muslim syarie lawyers to represent parties in Syariah court proceedings in the three Federal Terri-tories.

In George Town, state Gerakan legal and human rights bureau chief Baljit Singh urged Barisan Nasional MPs to vote with their conscience on the Bill.

“A child should be allowed to retain his religion and decide only when he is at the age of 18. It is not right to allow one parent to decide on the conversion of religion since both parents are responsible for the child’s upbringing,” he said, urging for the Bill to be withdrawn.