Kelantan religious council’s conversion plans for Orang Asli unconstitutional, claims NGO

The rights group urged Maik to withdraw their statement and place more emphasis on the Orang Asli’s wellbeing in terms of their health, education and safety needs. — Reuters pic
The rights group urged Maik to withdraw their statement and place more emphasis on the Orang Asli’s wellbeing in terms of their health, education and safety needs. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, June 24 — The Kelantan Islamic Religious and Malay Customs Council’s (Maik) plan to convert Orang Asli to Islam is against the Federal Constitution, Pusat KOMAS claimed.

According to the human rights group’s account officer Faribel Maglin, while the Federal Constitution states that Islam is the official religion of the country, Article 11(2) provides that every person has the right to profess and to practice his or her religion.

“Maik should not issue such statements because we, as Malaysians, uphold the Federal Constitution as the highest rule of law in our country. Everyone should have the right to profess their own beliefs and it should be respected.

“However, even if they intend to change their religion, it should come from their own willingness. We should not force them to convert because then, I believe that they would experience a 180-degree change in their lives,” she said in a statement today.

Pusat KOMAS also expressed disappointment at claims that 13 of the 15 Orang Asli who were suspected to have died from a measles outbreak were buried according to Muslim rites, instead of their traditional funeral rituals.

The group claimed that those Orang Asli had not yet converted to Islam. Only two of the deceased Orang Asli were laid to rest according to their traditional rites.

“The right to religious freedom should be practised by government agencies and public institutions. The indigenous people should be given the freedom to choose their own religion, including the traditional religion of their ancestors,” Faribel added.

Bernama reported yesterday that five Orang Asli from the Bateq tribe were buried in a Muslim cemetery in Kuala Koh, after Maik claimed that the deceased’s family members permitted the Muslim burials.

Faribel noted that there are individuals from the mainstream religions who look down at indigenous people’s beliefs and labelled them as “pagans”.

Faribel also highlighted that the Orang Asli have a close relationship with elements of nature, including forests, rivers and soil.

“They have practiced the animistic beliefs for thousands of years as this was their ancestors’ faith. This relationship with nature enables them to become the real ‘caretakers of nature’ as they gained plenty of benefits from nature such as food, medication and shelter. Thus, the Orang Asli has a big role to play in the forest ecosystem as they can preserve the flora and fauna,” she said.

Pusat KOMAS also expressed support for Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) head Profesor Juli Edo, who warned religious preachers not to take advantage of the Orang Asli and beguile them to switch religions.

The rights group urged Maik to withdraw their statement and place more emphasis on the Orang Asli’s wellbeing in terms of their health, education and safety needs.

“This Orang Asli community’s welfare is under the responsibility of the Kelantan state government as they are citizens of the state. What’s the point of being known as Mecca’s Verandah when the welfare of their own non-Muslim people are not being taken care of?” Faribel added.

She also noted that this right is enshrined in Article 8 (1) of the Federal Constitution, where every person shall be equal under the law and have equal protection of law, regardless of their race and religion.

In a June 21 report by Malay daily Utusan Malaysia, Maik announced plans to convert all the Orang Asli within its state borders to Islam by 2049.