Perlis goes the other way in conversion issue
(The Star) – Just weeks after a Bill was tabled in Parliament to prevent a parent from unilaterally converting a child, Perlis has gone the opposite way, passing a Bill that allows for such conversions.
The Perlis legislative assembly also freed itself from being obligated to abide by decrees issued by the National Fatwa Council.
The assembly passed amendments to the Administration of the Religion of Islam Enactment 2006 yesterday.
Section 117 was changed, with the phrase in the Malay version reading “father and mother or guardian” to “father or mother or guardian” to give consent for children under the age of 18 to be converted to Islam.
It also abolished Sections 51 and 52 of the Enactment concerning the decrees issued by and with the consent of the National Fatwa Council.
Of the 15-member state assembly, 13 – 12 from Umno and one from PAS – voted to pass the amendments.
MCA’s Khaw Hock Kong (Titi Tinggi) walked out of the assembly to protest the amendment while the sole PKR representative Chan Ming Kai (Indera Kayangan) voted against it.
Khaw, who is also deputy speaker, said he did not agree to the amendment which allows any one parent to unilaterally convert children.
“I have no problem with the other amendments made in the Enactment.
“But I certainly do not agree with the one that allows a parent to make a unilateral decision on matters related to the children’s faith.
“We have to make a clear point to make sure decisions benefit the nation, and not individuals,” he said.
Perlis Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azlan Man, who tabled the amendment, said Section 117 was amended to be consistent with the English version of the Enactment where the word “parent” was used instead of “parents”.
He said it was also consistent with the Article 12 (4) of the Federal Constitution that says the religion of the person under the age of 18 years shall be decided by his parent or guardian.
“We are just standardising it, to be in accordance with the version in English, and also in keeping with the term used in the Federal Constitution,” Azlan said.
However, the Eleventh Schedule of the Constitution states that “words importing the masculine gender include females” and “words in the singular include the plural, and words in the plural include the singular”.
State religious committee chairman Khairi Hasan said the changes were made for the sake of uniformity.
He also said the abolition of Sections 51 and 52 meant that the state religious authorities were independent of the National Fatwa Council.
“The Islamic Religious Council has made the decision so the state neither has to refer to the National Fatwa Council before issuing a fatwa nor is obligated to accept all the fatwa issued by the national council.
“Only the fatwa issued by the state is legally binding, as it is gazetted in the enactment,” he said.
Chan said the move “was akin to moving backwards”.
He said that Article 12 of the Federal Constitution says “the religion of a person under the age of 18 shall be decided by his parent or guardian”.
“The effect of passing this enactment is severe and will surely create a very obvious problem.
“If a property is owned by two persons, we need the consent of both if we want to sell it off. The situation is the same here.
“The child should not be forcibly converted into a religion he or she does not understand,” he said.
“Article 12 (4) clearly states that is for the purpose of Clause 3 on religious education and ceremony. It doesn’t deny the right of children to choose their own religion in the future.”