So who is under attack now?

JUNE 20 — If you are a Christian, you probably fear that the authorities may come knocking on your door one day demanding to seize and destroy your copy of the Al-Kitab, simply because it contains the word “Allah.”

If you are a Hindu woman, you may be paranoid that the man you marry may convert to Islam years later, convert your children without your consent, and take them away while the police sit back and refuse to enforce any custody order that you win from the civil courts.

If you are an atheist, you may worry that the government’s repeated statements that Malaysia is not a secular country will lead to the growing institutionalisation of Islam.

So, this is not a good time to be a non-Muslim in Malaysia.

Recently, Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said the police would not take action in interfaith child custody tussles, despite the civil courts ordering the police to return to two Hindu women their children who had been taken by their Muslim convert fathers in two separate cases.

Instead of putting his foot down and instructing the police to obey the High Courts, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak just said the Federal Court should be allowed to decide on the issue. 

Then, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom said Malaysia is not a secular country and that it’s now permissible to convert your child to Islam without obtaining the other parent’s consent.

This directly contradicts the Cabinet ruling in 2009 that had prohibited unilateral child conversions and said that an estranged couple’s children should remain in the religion of the parents at the time of their marriage. 

Meanwhile, the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) insists on destroying the 321 Malay- and Iban-language bibles that the state’s religious authorities had seized from the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) in January, despite the Attorney-General deciding not to press charges against the Christian group. 

We must remember that Malaysia’s founding fathers had never envisioned the country to be an Islamic state. 

Malaysia’s first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman stressed this in 1958, less than a year after independence, when he told Parliament: “I would like to make clear that this country is not an Islamic State as it is generally understood, we merely provided that Islam shall be the official religion of the State.”

Yet, the government seems to have forgotten this decades later and now seem to be afraid of offending the Islamic authorities. 

Since when did religious officers have the power to snub the Attorney-General himself and hold on to someone else’s property? If Mais goes ahead and “disposes” of the bibles (they haven’t said yet how they intend to do so, though one can imagine they might burn the books), it’s nothing short of offensive.

And since when did the police have the power to ignore orders from the High Court, just because they don’t want to upset the shariah courts?

The police are a federal agency tasked to enforce the law. They cannot choose sides, regardless of their personal beliefs. 

This disturbing trend may lead to chaos and anarchy one day. People will take the law into their own hands as the government abdicates its responsibility to protect the rights of minority groups.

Ten years ago in 2004, S. Shamala simply took her two kids and fled the country, purportedly to Australia, in the midst of a rancorous custody dispute with her estranged husband who had converted to Islam. She did not stay back to fight till the end. One can only surmise why.

Perhaps she was afraid that she might lose the court battle. Or maybe she was scared that her ex might snatch her kids after the High Court granted her custody, albeit with the conditions that she refrain from raising them in the Hindu faith.

If the authorities do not enforce the law, many more will be tempted to do everything they can to protect themselves, even if it means doing something illegal.

The institutionalisation of religion has no place in a secular democracy. And while the government is elected by the majority, a democracy requires equally the protection of minority rights. Otherwise, the government will end up as a vehicle for the tyranny of the majority.

Let’s be clear: the majority was not, is not, and will never be under attack in Malaysia here. 

It’s the minority groups. And they are the ones that the government should protect instead of sitting on the sidelines as others oppress them.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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