Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Extinguishing "unGodly" Bushfires.

KUALA LUMPUR, April 23 — The government moved today to soothe uneasiness over Islamic conversion of minors when it decided that children should be raised in the faith of their parents while they were married even if one spouse becomes a Muslim.......
Minister in Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Mohd Nazri Aziz said Muslim converts
still had to meet their marriage commitments in raising their children
in their common religion at the time of their marriage.

-Government rules out children's conversions



There are many among us who see this as a "conciliatory" move by Umno/Bn towards the non-Malay/Muslim electorate who hold a significant vote bank. Nevertheless, it does indicate that we do have people who are beginning to listen to the cries of the minorities, are pragmatic, and are willing to bring about some change of attitude in Umno. This is a contentious issue which may fracture the nation further if not settled soon. Despite being suspicious of the motives of the Government in making this "goodwill gesture", it has to be admitted that it is a step in the right direction - "1-Malaysia" or not.

Having said that - the cabinet cannot just pass a toothless decree, sit pretty and hope to get away with it, while "the dust settles" - that's because in due time, it will be more than just dust, when it rears its ugly head again. And that is as sure as the sun rising in the east tomorrow! They must make it Law through the parliament, before it can be effective - and it has to be done as soon as yesterday!
The lawmakers must show real leadership, rather than just political acumen which caters to the "tyranny of the majority". They must show that they can see reason and understand humanity, the ability to rise above partisan politics and religious/sectarian chauvinism, to make the right decision for the sake of nationhood.

In saying that "the child should be brought up in the faith at the time of marriage", I take it that it simply means that one parent cannot unilaterally decide on a conversion of a minor, prior to gaining legal custody upon divorce. If the the marriage took place under the civil laws, then it has to be resolved in the same manner. It goes without saying that in cases where the parents did not espouse any religion prior to the dissolution, the child shall remain so until the question of custody is resolved. One cannot be expected to bring up a child without a religion if the guardian does have one, when it is a known fact that the child would instinctively imitate their role model at home as part of their natural milestones in growth.

Therefore, the courts should have no right to determine the manner/ faith in which the child is brought up by the party which gains custody (as long as the child grows up as a person, healthy in mind and body). The courts may however be empowered to determine that the parent who loses custody, accepts the fact that the welfare of the child is paramount- and hence does not contribute to creating conflict and confusion in the mind of the child by forcing a different religion from that espoused by the custodian, upon the child.

Article 12 (Federal Constitution of Malaysia)
3. No person shall be required to receive instruction in or take part in any ceremony or act of worship of a religion other than his own.
4. For the purposes of Clause (3) the religion of a person under the age of eighteen years shall be decided by his parent or guardian.

There will be many more arguments which ask the many "what ifs", with many hypothetical scenarios - no religion at time of marriage, only one was this or that, rights of a Muslim/Hindu/Christian/Buddhist parent etc etc etc.
"Aisehman" says that there is some sort of "conflict" in that both parents have a right to decide on the religion of the child, as far as Article 12 (3) & (4) are concerned. IMHO, there is no such thing - the issue is simple actually.
The way I look at it, the rights of parent who is the guardian, takes precedence over that of the one who isn’t.
The main issue here is that of child custody - once that is sorted out, the rest will fall into place - and the court that has to decide/arbitrate on that is the court wherein that the contract of marriage was signed. The question of religion of the minor doesn't arise (as yet, at least). If it is the newly converted spouse gets custody, it becomes that party's choice - QED.

Meanwhile the fear is really in the case of conversions of minors to Islam by one parent without the consent of the other (this seems to occur more in Hindu couples or what?), as the Syariah appears to get involved at every instance - especially since the civil courts tend to chicken out at the first prospect of a challenge from chauvinists.

The Syariah courts should have the courage to boldly court wisdom, and nullify the conversion of under-aged and immature children who are incapable of making reasoned choices (in disputed custodial "battles"). In this age of ICT in the 21st century, the reasoning that attainment of puberty denotes "maturity" (as per primitive presumptions) has to be discarded. They must accept that "maturity" in this context isn't about physical maturity, but the state of mind of the child. And neither does the concept of "everybody is a muslim at birth", legally hold water.

The Syariah courts would be wise not interfere in matters beyond its jurisdiction, even if it involves a Muslim. (There will be those who argue that Islam is a 'complete way of life' and therefore involves all aspects - temporal & spiritual. To them, all I can say is that there isn't one religion in the world that does not make that claim, although they may not be assertive about it - and hence their priority should be that of harmonious coexistence, rather than chauvinism). It has to understand that cannot have jurisdiction over this matter, as it was not party to the contract between the two parties. To deny this fact, would render the syariah courts "irrational, incompetent & meddlesome" in the eyes of non-Muslims and right thinking men, and would consequently be despised as being biased. This breeds animosity, and sets the stage for further conflict, which all right thinking men or schools of thought seek to avoid.
The Syariah Courts, must show itself as a competent and viable alternative to the civil courts - that it can see reason and understand "universal values", so as to earn the respect and confidence of one & all - instead of going on a "jihadi" tangent to "defend Islam" (which an intellectual amoeba called Zul Nordin, might advocate). They must know that they must be seen to be just, and thattheir duties are critical in determining the path the country takes towards achieving nationhood.

"Zul Nordin" or not, all parties need to cooperate to make this reality, by enacting just laws that govern this contentious issue, for the sake of a higher ideal and goal- true Nationhood.
Let men know that they are neither master nor slave ...... That is what Democracy is all about - protection of rule of law & minority rights in the rule of the majority.