Islamic Bill Withdrawn

The controversial Administration of the Religion of Islam (Federal Territories) Bill 2013 (Bill) was finally withdrawn after the cabinet meeting on Friday, July 5th, 2013.

This came as a delight for many after various religious, political and other concerned parties had expressed their dissatisfaction with the Bill.

The Bill with 116 sections was intended to be a replacement of the current Administration of Islamic Law (Federal Territories) Act 1993 (Act 505) that only had 103 sections.

CLS Meeting with Joseph Kurup
The principal contention by various bodies including MCCBCHST and the Bar Council appear to be on the use of the word ‘parent’ in section 107 of the Bill. The section deals with the capacity to convert to the religion of Islam. It provides that a person under 18 may convert to Islam with the consent of his parent or guardian.

The concern surrounding the use of the word parent as opposed to parents can be gleaned from the pitfalls afflicted by the likes of Shamala and Subashini whose estranged husbands had converted to Islam and in the process, had converted some of the children without their wives knowledge. In all these cases, these ladies were deprived of protection by the civil courts. The civil courts opined that they did not have jurisdiction to consider the validity of the conversion of children by one parent. The civil courts held that such matters are within the jurisdiction of the Syariah Court pursuant to Article 121A of the Federal Constitution.

But there were many other concerns with the Bill. The Catholic Lawyers Society (CLS) did highlight some of the other concerns that were visible from the Bill. These were addressed to Tan Sri Joseph Kurup, the Minister of Unity and Integration on July 3rd, 2013, who met a delegation from CLS at Parliament House. The Minister was briefed on CLS stand with respect to the Bill. On July 4th, 2013, a further meeting was held with the Minister, wherein a table consisting of the various sections in the Bills that was of concern was presented and explained to the Minister,

Some of these concerns include the introduction of section 51(3)(b)(x) and (xi) which gave the Syariah High Court the right to determine whether a person is no longer a Muslim and whether he was a Muslim at the time of his death. The Section expresses that the Syariah High Court has jurisdiction over proceedings where all parties are Muslims.

Such provisions did not augur well in the light of repeated incidents of ‘body snatching’ of deceased persons alleged to have converted to Islam. The inclusion of such clauses would further diminish the rights of Non-Muslims especially those of the likes of Sgt Moorthy’s widow who was not able to seek recourse through the civil courts to determine the religion of her husband at the time of his demise. It was alleged that Sgt Moorthy had converted to Islam on the evidence of a single person.

The CLS also explained to the Minister that the Bill did not express that it applied to Muslims only. Thus there were provisions of concern to non-Muslims. For instance, section 69 of the Bill provides that the Islamic Religious authorities had the power to investigate offences under the Bill which are against the precepts of Islam. It was explained that it was unclear if the Bill was intended to give wide powers to such authorities over Non-Muslim activities. The DUMC raid by JAIS in 2012 was an example provided to the Minister to express CLS's concerns.

With such issues at hand, it was honourable on the part of the Government to withdraw the Bill. In future it would be wise for the Government to consult all stakeholders before such matters are legislated.

The CLS wish to thank the Minister for taking time off to meet with the CLS where the views of CLS could be considered.

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