By : MOHAMED HANIPA MAIDIN
Frankly speaking I am a bit puzzled by the anger expressed by some muslims in this country over the Bar Council’s forum on "Conversion to Islam: Article 121 (1A) of the Federal Constitution, Subashini & Shamala Revisited". After all it was only a forum where the chosen speakers were supposed to air their views in respect of the chosen topic.
May be , the angered muslims are right . The topic of the forum was quite sensitive and provocative. It should have been changed to make is less provocative. But it does not change the fact that it was still a forum – an avenue for the respective speakers to market their ideas which would be followed by fruitful discussions by the members of the floor.
A forum is closely connected with a freedom of speech and expression which is guaranteed by Article 10 of the Federal Constitution. Needless to say Islam values such right and jealously protects it.
Be that as it may, when the muslims vehemently protested such forum, I have , with the greatest respect, a difficulty to understand the reasons of such protest. While we ,the muslims, are entitled to protect and defend our religion , we must also at the same time be just and tolerant in our stand. Whatever stand we opted it must be based on the principle of fairness. Just because we may have unsettled prejudice against certain group does not mean we have to oppose whatever program organized by such group.
The forum , I am of the view, was not on a conversion of Islam per se as understood by certain quarters. In other words , the organizer, I believe, did not intend to question the right of non muslim to convert to Islam. On the other hand what the forum sought to achieve was the repercussion of the non muslim ‘s ancillary rights such as on the issue of custody of children and the maintainance over such conversion as reflected in the Federal Court’s judgment in Subashini a/p Rajasingam v Saravanan a/l Thangatoray.
I sincerely believe many muslims ( and non muslims alike ) are not aware of and don’t have the full knowledge of the said case i.e Subashini a/p Rajasingam v Saravanan a/l Thangatoray. Unfortunately even without such knowledge , some have protested for the sake of protest . The statement by certain irresponsible UMNO Ministers aggravated the situation. It is rather puzzling the protesters did not condemn a mediocre leader of UMNO ,Mohd Ali Rustam, when he suggested to use ISA to detain the organizer of the forum. I dare to say ISA is more dangerous and wicked than the said forum.
Reading the judgment of the Federal Court in Subashini shows that the issue of the clash of jurisdictions ( civil and shariah ) has not been satisfactorily resolved. Thus it is fit and proper to organize a forum to discuss the said case and all the issues raised in the said case.
Do our muslim brothers and sisters know that until now the muslim has not not been allowed to file a divorce petition in the civil court when he or she converted to Islam. This is because under section 51 of the Law Reform ( Marriage & Divorce ) Act, only the non muslim spouse is entitled to file a divorce petition in the civil court if the other spouse embraced Islam. This has caused a lot of problems to the muslim spouse. He or she has no other option but to go to the Shariah Court to get his earlier marriage dissolved . But the decision of the Shariah court does not bind the other spouse who refused to embrace Islam. Thus as far as the non muslim spouse is concerned , he or she is still legally considered a lawful husband or wife of the muslim convert.
With this kind of forum , the muslim speakers may inter alia be able to highlight to the non muslim that even the muslims are discriminated against when they chose to embrace Islam.
The main reason why such forum should be allowed to be held is that it did not only invite the non muslims as speakers. There were muslim speakers who were invited to air their views in the said forum. These three speakers, I believe , were competent to defend the muslims’ interest in that forum. When two out of the said three speakers pulled out from the forum at the eleventh hour , the inescapable conclusion was that the muslim scholars were not ready to engage intellectually with other non muslim speakers in that forum. The pulling out, with respect, was not the good option.
I believe that the topic of the forum was not detrimental to Islam unless it was unduly sensationalized and blown out of proportion. . The forum was the right avenue for the muslim scholars to defend Islam and its legal system. It was also the best opportunity for the muslim to engage intellectually with the non muslims. The muslim don’t have to be apologetic in such forum.
This forum, is not akin to Article 11’s campaign. For me , the group of Article 11 was a kind of movement. It had launched a roadshow all over the country in order to attain certain hidden agenda. As such Article 11 was rightly protested by the muslims as it sought to drive home a message that the muslim in this country has the right to “murtad” and such right is protected by Article 11 of the Federal Constitution. Many muslims rightly believed that Article 11 was created to pursue the IFC’s unsuccessful agenda.
It is high time for the muslims to engage intellectually with the non muslims. We must show to our non muslims brothers and sisters that Islam promotes dialogue and intellectual discourse. Islam is the religion of truth and because of this truth the muslim are always ready and willing to engage with anybodies or any parties whatever their backgrounds.
It is relevant to quote this valuable advice by Allamah Yusuf Alqardhawi in this kind of issue
“ Lasna fi hajah liman yahmilu as-saifa liyuballigha hadzihi al-risalat bil ‘aksi nahnu fi hajah liman yahmilu al fikra wa yahmilu al’ilma wal qalama liyuballigha hadzihi al-risalat ila al-syarki wa ila al-gharbi”
( Translation : At present , we ( the muslims ) are not in need those who can bring the sword on the contrary we are in greater need those who can bring knowledge and pen in order to propagate the message of Islam to the East and to the West )