Malaysia: move to legalize forced conversion of minors -- government attempts to further Islamize the law by stealth
In early 2009 there was an outcry in Malaysia after three children born to an Indian Hindu couple were converted to Islam by the father without the mother's consent after he converted to Islam. At that time, the Cabinet discussed the case and decided that the children of an estranged couple should remain in the "common religion of the parents at the time of their marriage." In Malaysia, Cabinet decisions are essentially unwritten laws that civil servants are obliged to implement.
Despite the April 2009 Cabinet decision, Islamic officials have continued to convert minors at the request of one parent, without the consent of the other. For example, in April 2013 an estranged husband, who converted from Hinduism to Islam in prison, secretly took his two children aged 5 and 8 to an Islamic Centre where they were officially converted to Islam and given Islamic names. When their Hindu mother sought redress she was told that because her children were now Muslims she would have to go through the Sharia courts. Believing that to be futile and possibly even dangerous, in early June she opted instead to lodge a complaint with the police. This case triggered a fresh outcry when it was exposed in the media. [Note: in Islam, the Islamic State determines and manages a person's religion; it is not a matter of personal freedom.]
Because the bill bypassed the Cabinet it was introduced into Parliament without any scrutiny from the Cabinet's non-Muslim members, leaving non-Muslim MPs feeling betrayed and marginalized. Malaysia is 50 percent ethnic Malay and 60 percent Muslim, but a significant proportion of those Muslims would be nominal or secular. The government was wrong if it thought it could get passage of this bill by stealth, for the bill has caused an outcry, particularly amongst Malaysia's non-Muslims. Despite this, the government is standing firm. On 1 July Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin insisted that the bill would proceed despite its being contrary to the April 2009 Cabinet decision, maintaining it is based on the Constitution, court precedents and present realities.
The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) has slammed the "stealthy" tabling of the bill. As MCA vice president Gan Ping Sieu notes, "It contains controversial provisions that affect the constitutional and religious rights of the non-Muslim. This will seriously and irredeemably affect the religious harmony and national unity of our country." According to the Malaysian Bar Council President, Christopher Leong, the unilateral conversion of minors is unconstitutional. Roman Catholic Bishop Paul Tan Chee Ing comments: "I understand this amendment contravenes a decision by the Cabinet announced on 23 April, 2009, that a single parent cannot convert a minor. If so, this would not be the first time that the Cabinet is overridden by civil service functionaries -- the main drivers of creeping Islamization in this country."