Bumi rights for Muslim converts would commodify Islam, say Pakatan MPs

Muslims perform Friday prayers at a mosque in Sepang on August 2, 2013. — Reuters pic
Muslims perform Friday prayers at a mosque in Sepang on August 2, 2013. — Reuters pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, March 31 — A former judge’s proposal to extend Bumiputera privileges to Muslim converts would reduce Islam to a commodity, Pakatan Rakyat (PR) MPs said today when denouncing the call.

Khalid Samad, a federal lawmaker from Islamist opposition party PAS, said the proposal would then be motivated to convert to Islam for financial gain, instead of embracing the faith out of personal convictions.

“People will come to Islam for the wrong reasons,” Khalid, who is also the Shah Alam MP, told The Malay Mail Online today in a brief phone interview.

Retired Court of Appeal judge Datuk Mohd Noor Abdullah reportedly said yesterday that Muslim converts should be considered “special Malays” and be granted Bumiputera rights.

He noted that Muslim converts had complained of being ignored by government officials, even though their new religion fulfilled a criterion for being “Malay” in the Federal Constitution.

Bumiputera privileges were introduced following the racial riots of 1969, in the form of the New Economic Policy (NEP). While the race-based affirmative action technically lapsed in 1990, it continues to survive unofficially in a various forms.

The country’s highest law defines a Malay as someone who speaks the Malay language, follows the Malay culture and is a Muslim.

Article 153 of the Federal Constitution also states that the special position of the Malays and Bumiputera must be safeguarded by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

PKR strategy director Rafizi Ramli said that Bumiputera privileges were also not meant to be a permanent advantage over other communities, pointing out that the NEP was intended to be a temporary affirmative action measure.

“There’s no concept of ‘kaum’ in Islam,” Rafizi told The Malay Mail Online when met at the Parliament lobby, using the Malay word for “race”.

“When you associate ‘kaum’ with Islam, it’s the antithesis of what Islam is. Islam embraces everyone,” the Pandan MP added.

DAP’s Seputeh MP Teresa Kok called the ex-judge’s proposal “unjustifiable”.

“In China, there are many Muslims but they’re still considered Chinese,” Kok told The Malay Mail Online when met at the Parliament lobby.

“Religion should be separated from ethnicity. From an anthropological perspective, you’ll make Malaysia look very funny if a person can change ethnicity by converting into another religion,” she added.

The NEP and policies of its kind are regularly cited for Malaysia’s chronic brain drain among the non-Bumiputera communities.

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