The Malaysian Government’s Silence on Covert Conversion: A Poor Start to Madani Harmony?

Given Malaysia’s history of illegal conversions, silence does not inspire confidence in citizens that the government is committed to decisively addressing problems which have long caused socio-religious and legal grievances among Malaysians.

Afra Alatas, The Fulcrum

A controversial Malaysian preacher promotes the secret conversion of non-Muslim youth to Islam and is unrepentant about going against the law of the land.

On 27 April 2024, Malaysia’s National Unity Ministry launched the Madani Harmony Initiative. To commemorate the launch, religious and political leaders have been and will continue to visit places of worship in several states until November 2024. Named the Harmony Trail, it serves as a “symbolic gesture of unity and solidarity among Malaysians”. National Unity Minister Datuk Aaron Ago Dagang said the programmes under the initiative would be based on understanding, respect, and acceptance among Malaysia’s diverse communities.

With recent issues surrounding the 3Rs (race, religion, and royalty) causing tensions and even violence, Madani Harmony is a timely initiative in view of the Unity Government’s overall commitment to cultivating respect and compassion among Malaysians of all races and religions. Yet, the government’s silence on a Muslim preacher’s recent encouragement of covert conversion of non-Muslim minors to Islam does not give the impression that respect and compassion are foremost on its mind. If anything, the silence may be viewed as a continuation of the encroachment of institutionalised Islam on non-Muslims’ lives which began in the 1980s. This encroachment came in the form of changes to the law, and the centralisation and bureaucratisation of Islam in the form of the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM).

On 2 June 2024, independent preacher Firdaus Wong uploaded on his social media platforms a video of a discussion at the Kuala Lumpur International Book Fair. In this video, another preacher, Ustaz Adnin Roslan, claims to Firdaus that many non-Muslim students aged 14 to 17 years old have sent him messages expressing their desire to become Muslim. These students sought advice from Ustaz Adnin in secret, as they were told by others that they could not legally change their religion until they were 18. Ustaz Adnin then asks Firdaus for advice for these desperate students. Ustaz Adnin is an independent preacher with more than two million followers on TikTok, known for Tarbiah Sentap, an initiative targeted at Muslim youth looking for Islamic knowledge and advice.

In the video, explaining that the matter needs to be viewed from both an Islamic and a legal perspective, Firdaus says that according to Malaysia’s law, an individual would have no choice but to wait until their eighteenth birthday to change their religion. Yet, despite knowing this, he immediately contradicts this legal understanding, saying that Islam places no restrictions on the age at which one wishes to become Muslim. He adds that a religious authority should still facilitate the minor’s conversion but should not take any pictures or videos of the process and should not officially register their conversion. He then gives advice on how a convert may discreetly perform rituals such as prayer without their family knowing.

Such advice undoubtedly violates Malaysian law. Article 12 Clause (4) of the Federal Constitution states that “…the religion of a person under the age of 18 years shall be decided by his parents or guardian”. The conversion of minors without parental consent is clearly illegal.

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