"I represent UMNO . Stop this forum. Don’t insult Islam. You! Chinese, Indians, go to hell!", shouted one demonstrator wearing a shirt bearing Gabungan Pelajar Melayu Semenanjung(GPMS)- Peninsular Malay Students Coalition at the Bar Council forum, "Conversion to Islam: Article 121 (1A) of the Federal Constitution, Subashini & Shamala Revisited" Read here for more
Note: The President of GPMS is REEZAL MERICAN B. NAINA MERICAN, an Indian Muslim, who is also the Political Secretary to Abdullah Badawi as Minister of Finance. Read here for more
Shouts of “babi” (pig) , “pengkhianat”(traitor) and “balik China” (go back to China) were heard as forum participants trickled out of the venue. Read for more
PKR Kulim-Bandar Baharu MP Zulkifli Noordin called on the crowd to storm the building should the forum continue. “If you don’t hear from us at 10am, you should all storm the building, ” he said.
We fully concur with International Islamic University Malaysia Adjunct Professor Dr Mehrun Siraj that the uncivilised behaviour of the protesters at the Bar Council Forum, all of whom were brought together by GPMS, Perkida and 19 other Muslim NGOs, and with the support of some PAS and PKR leaders, disgraces Islam and an embarrassment to other well-mannered Muslims.
The irony is that these are the SAME individuals who claim to speak and act in the name of Islam and on behalf of Muslims in the country and elsewhere.
One can only conclude that there is something seriously wrong with the religious upbringing of these Muslim protesters because Islam does not teach Muslims to behave in such an uncivilised way to non-Muslims or to fellow Muslims who attended the forum.
The militancy of these Malaysian Muslim protesters to scuttle the forum further reinforces the already negative perception by western countries of Muslims as being prone to "terrorising" others who do not agree with their religious viewpoint.
These protesters are the type of Muslims who do not care whether their action will damage the international image of Malaysia as a Muslim country generally known and respected for its practice of religious tolerance and moderation.
The action of these protesters, including that of the PAS leadership who had called for the cancellation of the forum makes the much bandied idea of "muzakarah" and "muqabalah" into useless and meaningless words.
"Muzakarah" and "muqabalah" do not only apply to dialogues between muslims but also between muslims and NON-muslims. This was what PAS's Tuan Guru Nik Aziz said," Muqabalah dengan sesiapa sahaja boleh, sebab Islam sendiri telah mengajar pertemuan perlu diadakan sekiranya ia dapat menyelesaikan masalah masyarakat.
Nabi Muhammad saw pernah mengadakan muqabalah dengan kaum musyrikin untuk menyelesaikan masalah masyarakat di zaman baginda. Begitu juga sekarang muqabalah dengan sesiapa pun boleh, tetapi jangan libatkan gabungan politik."
If that is the case described, why didn't PAS, a party that claims to champion the virtues of Islam, or the Tuan Guru himself, encourage Muslims to attend the Bar Council forum and hear out what Non-Muslims are saying and engage them, instead of demanding for the cancellation of the forum and demonising the Bar Council.
PAS leadership is aware that the Bar Council had put out a press statement prior to the forum that".. The Bar Council is not questioning the provisions of Article 121(1A), which confer Syariah jurisdiction over Muslims on the Syariah Courts. The coexistence of two separate legal jurisdictions is not a new or uncommon phenomenon and there are naturally issues of conflicts of laws arising from the different jurisdictions.
We recognise and respect Article 121(1A); however, there is a strong viewpoint that it is unjust to compel anyone to be subjected to laws and courts that are based on a religion that they do not profess, and this viewpoint must be addressed.
Our concern centres on the manner of dealing with the current conflicts. There must be a concerted effort by the Government to address these issues constructively and not pay mere lip service to the concerns of many. "
We hold the view that PAS cannot be TWO FACE on this matter as it smacks of the worst form of hypocrisy from a party that holds Islam as the centre piece of its political struggle in the country.
After the euphoria of the March 8 election, Malaysians will have plenty to worry about their hopes on Pakatan Rakyat when PAS, as a component party of the Opposition Coalition, and PKR having a Member of Parliament leading the protest, took an uncompromising stand to prevent a fraternity of Malaysian lawyers to initiate discussion among Malaysians on the conflicting issues that affect their lives arising from concerns in the Federal Constitution.
For political point scoring, we also have leaders in the Government such as the Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar and the Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak whose statements seem to condone the actions of these unruly protesters.
The Deputy Prime Minister told the media "We had expected the incident to happen".
No, Mr. Deputy Prime Minister, it was a case of the "Government had deliberately ALLOWED the incident to happen."
Malaysians therefore cannot help to notice the hypocrisy in the Government's and police response to these uncivilised protests when compared its extreme response to last year's peaceful demonstration by BERSIH and HINDRAF.
PM urged to amend civil laws to resolve conflicts
Read here in The Sun
One of the demonstrators who claimed he represented Umno had told off International Islamic University Malaysia adjunct professor Dr Mehrun Siraj (former Suhakam commissioner) for being in the forum, saying she was conspiring with the organiser.
To this, she had said:
"You represent Umno, I represent the Muslims. Muslims must act based on the Qur'an and Sunnah (sayings of the Prophet).
We must behave well. Muslims must not be rude. I’m ashamed of your behaviour. Islam does not condone this.
He said if I sit down means I am supporting this. (The fact is) If you sit down it means you are listening and you can contribute and explain things to people. It does not necessarily mean you agree with any views that are posed on Islam."
She told reporters the protestors had given Islam and Muslims a bad name and she felt very strongly about it as they were insulting her intelligence.
The International Islamic University Malaysia adjunct professor, who attended the forum as she believed in open discussions, said the current law confines it only to non-Muslims, unless a divorce is applied for on the grounds of conversion to Islam by the party who does not convert.
She said the issue is NOT about Islam as a religion but the laws which could be amended for the benefit of everyone.
Mehrun said when a divorce case between a Muslim convert and a non-converting spouse is brought to the syariah court, the non-Muslim would feel his or her rights were affected.
She said under the state enactment, the syariah court can reject a case if the conflict is between a Muslim and a non-Muslim spouse. Therefore, the couple should resolve any outstanding issues first before coming to the syariah court.
Dr Mehrun Siraj has urged Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to amend the civil laws to resolve the conflicts between a Muslim convert and a non-converting spouse.
She said the lawyers had previously proposed that a section of the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 be amended, but to date, nothing has been done about it.
Dr Mehrun said,
"I want to throw a challenge to the Prime Minister. Amend the law to show you are sincere about resolving the issue. And don’t dolak dalik (be wishy washy) and pretend there are all kinds of reasons you can’t do it.
If you really want to resolve the issue, amend the constitution. We can amend that section to say even the party who converts should be allowed to apply for divorce. That way, he or she can resolve matters with his or her non-Muslim family because when the (civil) court grants a divorce to the non-Muslim spouse, the court can also make orders for custody, maintenance, division of property and so on.
As it is now, you can do this under the civil law, provided the non-Muslim spouse applied. But if you amend it to let the Muslim spouse to also apply, maybe he or she can then resolve issues with a non-Muslim spouse before entering into another marriage. That is what he or she should do.
Islam does not condone the behaviour of abandoning your family. And certainly we, as Muslims, do not want anybody to make use of Islam to get out of their obligations. That would be wrong.
From the perspective of Islam, if we explain the right things to the non-Muslims, they would not be afraid or worried and will understand Islam better. But if we act harshly and rudely, like some of those who came to stop the forum, people will think this is what Islam is.".
Mehrun also suggested that a section of the Selangor Administration of Muslim Law Enactment, which provides that the syariah court should not make any decisions that affect the rights of non-Muslims, to be applied to all states.
Condemnation at the Ugly Protest at the Bar Council Forum
Read here in Malaysiakini
PKR deputy lambasts Kulim-Bandar Baharu PKR MP Zulkifli Noordin
PKR deputy president Dr Syed Husin Ali ticked off his fellow party member Kulim-Bandar Baharu MP Zulkifli Noordin for leading the protest which derailed the controversial Bar Council’s ‘Conversion to Islam’ forum on Saturday.
“We regret that unfortunately the ‘fiercest’ among them was someone known to be a lawyer and member of parliament who pretentiously claimed himself to be representing all Muslims,” said Syed Husin in referring to Zulkifli.
The former academic was clearly unwilling to make any concessions to Zulkifli , and it will be interesting to see how PKR deals with the Kedah MP in the aftermath of Saturday event.
“We take seriously the rough action by a small band of the demonstrators who shouted rude and uncivilised language against some of the organisers and participants of the seminar,” said Syed Husin.
He also criticised the failure of the police force in controlling the situation but instead appeared to be collaborating with some of the demonstrators who were planning to force their way into the hall to stop the forum.
However, Syed Husin stated that PKR agreed with de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim’s view that the dialogue session should have been organised behind closed doors “in view of the sensitive reactions and wrong perception among a section of the Malay-Muslim population”.
“We are in full support of holding inter-religious dialogues that promote understanding rather than unilateral events that could create ethnic and religious dissension.
“It (Bar Council) should have acted wisely and speedily to announce that the seminar would be held behind closed door to avoid any unhealthy consequence on inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations in this country,” he concluded.
Other Pakatan Rakyat leaders and NGOs have expressed similar sentiments regarding the forum at the Bar Council headquarters.
Sisters in Islam (SIS)
The behaviour of the protestors was ‘terrorist-like’ and gave a bad image to Muslims and Malaysians. The police should have anticipated Saturday’s actions, and should have taken measures to ensure the event would have continued uninterrupted.
It is curious that there was a dialogue between Allied Coordination Committee of Islamic NGOs (Accin) and the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism as reported by the media, discussing the very same things - and it was not targeted by these protestors.
Further, the Muslim NGOs and political parties involved should realise that there are many Muslim lawyers and Muslim participants, who do not find the forum an affront to Islam.
Added to that, various Muslim councils and departments were informed of the forum, and the majority of the scheduled speakers were Muslims. SIS is in the opinion that all Malaysians have the right to discuss policies and laws which affect citizen’s rights and interests.
Lim Guan Eng, Penang chief minister
The rowdy and hooligan behaviour by sections of the crowd, which included Umno and some Pakatan Rakyat MPs, that broke up the forum and used racial epithets and slurs is deplorable.
DAP condemns such near-violent behaviour and welcomes the disciplinary action taken by the respective Pakatan Rakyat parties as announced, to prevent Pakatan’s image from being tarnished and dragged down to the same level as Umno.
However, matters relating to religion cannot be reduced or defined by mere declarations of principles or intent alone. As real people and human sufferings are involved, understanding and compassion is necessary.
We should understand the pain and suffering of a Malay Muslim family if their child whom they had so lovingly brought up as a Muslim, suddenly converts out of Islam and becomes a non-Muslim, as they say, "like cutting out one's own flesh".
Similarly we should also see the pain and suffering of a non-Malay family "of cutting one's own flesh" when their child converts to Islam against their wishes to marry a Muslim. And when he or she wants to revert back to his or her old religion after the marriage breaks down to marry again, is prevented from doing so.
There should be compassion to such human sufferings by both Muslim and non-Muslims alike. Just as we understand why Malay Muslims are so emotional when Malay Muslim convert out of Islam; we should also understand the same feelings of non-Muslims when non-Malay non-Muslims who convert to Islam are prevented from reverting back to their original religion.
If we can see through such sufferings of Muslims and non-Muslims through the prism of dialogues and compassion instead of absolute laws, religious edicts and moral certitude, by lessening their sufferings we would have made Malaysia a more cohesive and harmonious society.
Lim Kit Siang, Ipoh Barat MP and DAP adviser
Malaysia has failed a major test in nation-building to demonstrate that we are shaping up to be a more civil society where sensitive issues of interfaith problems can be discussed in a mature and responsible manner to promote national unity and religious harmony in the country.
As the Bar Council has made it clear that the forum on religious conversion is not to question the provisions of Article 121(1A) of the Constitution which conferred syariah jurisdiction over Muslims but to address the conflicts of laws facing families caught between the separate jurisdictions of civil and syariah laws - greater understanding, tolerance and sensitivity should have been shown by all Malaysians concerned.
Such understanding, tolerance and sensitivity would undoubtedly have been present in the first four decades of Malaysian nationhood and I have no doubt that if such a forum had been organised 10 years ago, there would not have been the insensitive, intolerant and deplorable reaction evident today.
Youth for Change
At a time when different communities of Malaysian society are attempting to patch the many holes in its social fabric, the immature actions and irresponsible statements expressed by the protest organisers is indeed regrettable.
Whilst the Malaysian public have (as seen in the March 8 elections) expressed desire and confidence in a more democratic and multicultural future for the nation, we feel the latest “outcry” led by political opinion leaders across the divide does not represent the true aspirations of Malaysians who voted for a better Malaysia.
It is especially discouraging for the Malaysia’s democratic movement in this context because politicians have again proven themselves to be selfish in terms of gaining popular support, and have again resorted to dividing the Malaysian public instead of rationally, civilly or democratically, work towards greater understanding and tolerance
Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
Once again, at the connivance of the state, a group demonstrating thuggish behaviour have blocked repressed views - in this case on the right to religious freedom, particularly Islam, from being openly expressed.
While the protesters are entitled to the right to disagree, the state should take proactive and reassuring measures to dismantle the perception that an open discussion on Islamic laws is tantamount to attacking the religion.
We call on the government to stop discouraging open discussion on the subject of Islamic laws in a democratic and multi-religious country that needs such openings for true understanding of and respect for each other's faiths.
The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG)
In a multiracial democratic nation such as Malaysia, the government and civil society must at all times encourage open dialogue instead of feeding into fear and intolerance.
Open dialogue and discussion in a peaceful, informative and sincere manner will aid in establishing deeper understanding amongst the rakyat.
JAG urges all parties to allow such dialogues of this nature to continue to help resolve the problems especially for those families who have been burdened by these matters for a long time.
JAG expects the government to take a firm stand to allow citizens to have democratic spaces for open dialogue and to act against mob rule.