|Conversion laws: Rulers put the brakes|
|S Pathmawathy | Jun 29, 09 4:42pm Malaysiakini.com|
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The Rulers’ Conference today decided that any amendments to the laws pertaining to matters of conversion and religion must be referred to the state religious authorities first.
This effectively means the proposed amendments to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976, Administration of Islamic Law (Federal Territories) Act 1993 and Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories) Act 1984 which were to be tabled in Parliament on Wednesday will have to be held back.
The ruler’s decision was made at a special meeting of the Conference of Rulers at the Istana Negara. The two hour meeting which started at 10am was chaired by the Raja of Perlis Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Putra Jamalullail.
A statement from the Keeper of the Royal Seal said that the rulers have decided that the proposed amendments should be adjourned pending the feedback from the state religious authorities. The rulers are the guardians of Islam in their respective states.
The proposed amendments were to touch on the dissolution of marriage, right to custody of children, maintenance of children and wife and division of matrimonial assets.
Among the proposed amendments were to determine that a child’s religion must be in accordance with Article 12(4) of the federal constitution which provided that the religion of children under the age of 18 will be determined by a parent or guardian.
The amendments were expected to be in line with a cabinet directive in April to stop parents from secretly converting children to calm strained race relations in the country.
As a result of the decision by the rulers, a briefing for all Muslim parliamentarians on the amendments to three laws was cancelled at the last minute today.
The briefing was to be given by Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail to all Muslim parliamentarians at 6pm today.
The Muslim MPs were invited for the briefing by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Jamil Khir Baharom who is in charge of Islamic Affairs.
No official reason was given for the cancellation, but the de facto law minister Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz said it was due to a busy schedule of the MPs.
He said that the briefing would be held at a later date without elaborating.
Nazri had informed the House on June 16 that the amendments were being fine-tuned by the AG Chambers before it could be tabled before the MPs.
Why only Muslim MPs?
Machang PKR member of parliament Saifuddin Nasution Ismail was one such MP who said that other non-Muslim MPs too should have been invited for the briefing.
“PKR has MP of other races too,” he said when met at the Parliament lobby.
His boss Anwar Ibrahim, who is also the Opposition Leader, similarly stated that he was originally not too keen to attend the Muslims-only briefing.
He said that proposed amendments “must be well understood and debated by Muslim and non-Muslim MPs”.
“If you think you need to discuss purely on the syariah or Islamic aspects, you could (have done it earlier) and invite Muslim MPs (for the briefing)… that is not wrong.
“But prior to tabling a bill in Parliament, to invite just the Muslim MPs and then to get Muslims and non-Muslim to debate in Parliament… it’s a bit odd,” he noted.
The Permatang Pauh MP also said that such matters would require engaging all stakeholders and not just Muslims.
“Our position, for example, is we want to listen to Muslims and non-Muslim NGOs, non-Muslim leader, Muslim scholars, in order to get a fair representation of all concern views,” he said.
A clandestine approach
“How can it be segregated to religious segments? If they were going to involve the MPs, they should involve all in-sundry,” said Kulasegaran.
“Why the clandestine approach?” he asked.
Nazri however had an explanation for this limited invitation.
The minister in the prime minister’s department said that the briefing was to have largely touched on Islamic family law and thus the reason to invite only the Muslim MPs.