Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Disruption of 'conversion' forum a black mark

The government's reluctance to champion open discussions on crucial interfaith issues is a step backwards in nation-building efforts, said supporters of a recent forum held to discuss issues pertaining to conversion to Islam.

"Government leaders have continuously prided themselves of having achieved racial and religious harmony in the country," said Charles Santiago, member of Parliament for Klang.
"It was their favourite slogan during the 50 years of independence celebrations… but the inability to hold dialogues about religious issues to find durable solutions only shows that the nation is split along racial and religious lines," he added in a statement.
The DAP parliamentarian was referring to last Saturday's unruly disruption of an open forum entitled 'Conversion to Islam', organised by the Bar Council.

About 300 angry protesters, mostly from Muslim-based parties within the ruling coalition as well as from the opposition, had gathered outside the Bar Council headquarters, where the discussion was held.
They demanded that the event be cancelled on the grounds it could be used as a platform to offend and provoke Muslim sensitivities about their religion.

Don't take unity for granted
Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, who had advised against holding the meeting, warned Malaysians not to take their unity for granted.
"I said don't do it openly. If one still proceeds to do so, it will certainly cause strong reactions," he was reported as saying in the local media.
"We live in a multicultural society in which people of different backgrounds are able to co-exist peacefully. This is because we have been tolerant and respectful of the sensitivities of different races."
Yet, even within the ruling BN coalition, non-Muslim members are chaffing for greater openness and dialogue. Apart from fostering understanding among the various ethnic groups, they see it as the best way forward in resolving hard issues of law.
"They seem to have ignored the fact that the Bar Council has already clarified that the forum was to address the conflicts of law," MIC Youth coordinator T Mohan said in a statement.
"They should have come out with their proposals in addressing the issue of non-Muslim husbands who abandon their spouses and their families and convert into Islam rather than to stop a legitimate forum," he added.
"Many who had converted were also in a dilemma as they were unable to revert to their former religion."

Religious dilemma
Controversial cases involving the rights of Muslim converts and their families have surfaced in recent years, creating racial discord and even street protests.
Former Penang chief minister and Gerakan acting president Dr Koh Tsu Koon urged the government to convene a meeting of civil law and Syariah law practititioners.
He suggested a joint committee to look into issues related to marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims, conversion to Islam, custody of children and burial rituals.

"Such issues and procedures, if left unresolved without good mutual understanding, will continue to haunt the multi-religious society of Malaysia. There will be controversy and even conflicts over family matters related to religious conversion," Koh said.
"We should be aware of sensitivities about religions by all respective believers. Therefore, all politicians must take a rational and reasonable approach to look at how to fine-tune the relevant laws and procedures to avoid or minimise potential inter-religious controversies and conflicts," he added.

Double standards
Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) chairperson P Waythamoorthy accused the authorities of practising double-standards.
"You have over 300 protesters behaving aggressively, carrying inciting banners and storming into the Bar Council forum raising uncalled for racial sentiments against fellow non-Malay Malaysians without fear and protected by the Royal Police Force," he said.
The Hindraf chief also accused the ruling coalition of using religion to further its political agenda and popularity."There is no actual racial issue in Malaysia, it is only incited and seeded into the public to create a scenario that best serves an authoritarian state to serve its own agenda against the goodwill and humanity for the Malaysian society that have co-existed irrespective of their colour, race, religion and creed," said Waythamoorthy