Monday, January 23, 2006

Right to Religious Beliefs in Malaysia

Malaysia has prided itself on being the poster boy to advance the ideal of moderate Islam, of being truly Asia and an accommodative and tolerant nation. That is the said stance but the recent incidents being reported do appear to make reality much further from the stated.

The first major incident that obtained coverage was when an Indian man, M. Moorthy, was given a Muslim burial against the wishes of his Hindu widow. Supposedly, he had converted to Islam but interestingly, his widow appears to not know about it at all, failing to contest the Syariah Court ruling when the High Court did not intervene.

Then there were the non-Muslim Cabinet Ministers who submitted a memorandum to the PM Abdullah Badawi on minority religious rights, though they subsequently withdrew it after being advised that it was not in line with protocol.

Now, Negeri Sembilan Religious Affairs Department obtained a court order to postpone the Buddhist funeral of a Malay woman, Madam Nyonya Tahir, who had renounced Islam and lived as a Chinese, embracing Buddhism. Her renouncement declarations were even certified by a commissioner of oaths!

Civil courts must be able to step in and decide on such cases. Religious courts, given their religious bias, will not be able to issue a convincing judgement regardless of the merits of the verdict. Imagine if now a Jewish Court sentences that a Malay who converted to Judaism should be given a Jewish burial, what sort of uproar it will cause. We need firm impartiality, untempered by any religious bias, in order to convince people their rights are truly upheld.

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