Rights group: Why is UKM involved in Kelantan Orang Asli’s religious conversion?

Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham) secretary Ivy Josiah. ― Picture by Azinuddin Ghazali
Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham) secretary Ivy Josiah. ― Picture by Azinuddin Ghazali

KUALA LUMPUR, June 23 — A human rights group today questioned a public university’s involvement in the Kelantan government’s proselytisation mission to convert the Orang Asli to Islam.

Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham) secretary Ivy Josiah and chairman Datuk Kuthubul Zaman Bukhari said it was alarming to note that an academic institution such as Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) was joining hands to convert the Orang Asli Community to Islam and asked whether it was officially sanctioned.

“Surely religious conversion programmes are not the mandate of academic institutions?

“It is sad that these institutions are dismissive of the religious and spiritual beliefs and practices of the Orang Asli that define their very identity,” they said in a joint statement here.

In a news report by Utusan Malaysia earlier this week, the Kelantan Islamic Religious and Malay Customs Council (Maik) had announced an ambitious plan to convert all the Orang Asli within its state borders to Islam by 2049.

The Malay daily cited Maik deputy chairman Nik Mohd Azlan Abd Hadi as saying the council has over 100 preachers, including personnel from the federal Islamic Development Department of Malaysia (Jakim), and is working with UKM on the proselytisation mission.

Nik Mohd Azlan also reportedly said that through the collaboration with UKM, Maik has developed a preaching plan based on three main modules — the first which involves preparing a database with profiles of Orang Asli members who have converted to Islam and those who have not.

Proham said the fundamental right to religious freedom is guaranteed in the Federal Constitution under Article 11, which allows any persons to practise and profess their faiths freely. 

“We condemn any attempt by preachers who exploit the vulnerable Orang Asli community to lure them into religious conversions,” they said. 

Last Friday, Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) director-general Prof Juli Edo warned religious preachers not to take advantage of vulnerable Orang Asli communities and trick them into religious conversions of any sort earlier this week.

He told Malay Mail that everyone has a right to their beliefs, and this must be respected.