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They will all go to hell, but you might end up joining them

Posted in Uncategorized by malaysiasms on April 30, 2009

The Malaysian Insider

Yusseri Yusoff

APRIL 30 — If there is one thing that demonstrates that we are probably just a bunch of people who happen to live on the same land, it is the issue of religious conversion. This is the one thing that shows, starkly, why we still have some distance to go before we can safely say that we are one united nation.

Last week, five ministers sat down and came up with the policy that a child is to be raised in the faith of the parents when they were married even if one spouse then decides to become a Muslim. It was a decision that was greeted warmly by the non-Muslims, as well as the odd Muslim or two. But for seemingly the majority of Muslims, it was not received very well.

Firstly, let’s consider the reason why this policy even needed to be made and announced. The core is that there has been a slew of cases where a marriage broke down and one of the spouses converted into Islam. And in what feels a bit like a “package deal” the saudara/i baru then converts the children into Islam too. Usually, well … obviously, without the consent of the other parent.

The cases are numerous, more numerous than most people think, and invariably they involve Indian families. Why that is so, I’d imagine that the sociologists could tell us eventually.

Malik Imtiaz Sarwar, the lawyer who is probably one of the most prominent persons involved in these sort of stuff, was quick to laud the decision though he expressed reservations as to how the policy would actually translate into practice.

He also wrote that in his opinion, the policy seems to adhere to the Constitution, where the word “parent” is also to be understood to mean “parents”.

Why was that pertinent? Because Zulkifli Noordin (and it had to be him, didn’t it?), among others, objected to the policy, stating that there was already precedent in this matter, citing the case of R. Subashini where the court decided that under Article 12 (4) of the Constitution, any one of the parent or legal guardian is allowed to decide on the faith of the child(ren).

At that point, we start to slide down the slippery slope of logical fallacy and vacuous reasoning.

I say that because, well, let’s examine the protests made by those who object to the policy.

Zulkifli argues that the matter is resolved in spite of the policy because the court asserted that one of the parents can decide which faith the child is to be in. What Zulkifli did not say, but seemed to imply, is that the one parent is to obviously be the Muslim parent. What Zulkifli did not say, but seemed to imply, is that the moment one of the parents converts into Islam, that parent is automatically elevated in status and therefore has the upper hand.

But then, Zulkifli has also always believed that converting a child into Islam is not really conversion but more of a reversion. Because he believes that every child that has not reached puberty is considered Muslim under certain interpretations of Syaria law. This, of course, might be rather shocking news to the parents of the children, but try telling that to Zulkifli.

Similarly, the Muslim coalition of NGOs calling itself Pembela protests the policy where one of the members, Yusri Mohamad, said: “In Article 12 section 4 of the Constitution, the faith of a child who is not yet an adult is determined by the parents. The courts have interpreted that the parents have the right to decide regardless if they are the husband or wife.”

Pembela’s argument was that the policy would deny the parent who converted his or her right and responsibility over the future of the children, saying that it would not be fair to those who want to convert into Islam.

What is not said, but seemingly implied, is that as long as one of the parents is a Muslim, then he or she can convert the children, even if the other one disagrees. Because as a Muslim, the parent has a responsibility to raise the children to be faithful and good Muslims.

To make clear why this reasoning breaks down, let’s flip it the other way. Say that the other parent who has not converted decides that the children should be in the religion of the unconverted parent, how is the “right to decide” not applied to the parent?

Or, let’s say that the other parent who has not converted then decides to convert from, for example, Hinduism to Catholicism, just as his or her erstwhile partner converts into Islam. How is the “right to decide” not applied to the now Catholic parent?

If denying the right of the converted Muslim parent to raise the children in his or her faith is unfair, how is it fair to deny the unconverted parent the right to raise the children in her or his faith?

Wait, you know what, I’m going to stop beating about the bush and get straight to the point. The basic foundation of the protests by the Muslim groups is that Islam is the one true religion, the faith of the one true God, the Absolute Truth and that every other religion on the face of the earth is false. False deities, false faiths, false, false, false. As such, certain rights are inalienable to the Muslims, and absolutely alienated from the non-Muslims.

And this reasoning scares the pants out of some non-Muslims in Malaysia, and pisses off a lot of the others. In some cases, achieving both at the same time.

I write this as a Malay, ergo a Muslim. I write this as a Muslim who looks on uncomfortably at all the custody battles and conversion arguments. I write this as a Muslim who finds it hard to accept that it’s okay to assume primacy over others, simply because their beliefs are considered false … rendering them as less than worthy of the same consideration as Muslims.

Islam is a religion of justice, fairness, equality and compassion. It’s well past time that we prove it, isn’t it? And stop scaring the pants out of, and pissing off, our fellow Malaysian brothers and sisters. They will all end up going to hell, of course, but you never know, you might end up joining them.

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