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All Malaysians whether Muslims or non-Muslims should pray for good sense, respect for each other faiths and the sanctity of parental rights over their children
by Lim Guan Eng
(Petaling Jaya, Wednesday): All Malaysians whether Muslims or non-Muslims should pray for good sense, respect for each other faiths and the sanctity of parental rights over their children. The call for a prayer session for unity in the interests of justice, fairness and respect for their constitutional rights is a commendable peaceful effort to protests against injustices affecting non-Muslims.
The prayer session in Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist temples as well as churches is organised by the Malaysian Consultative Council of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikkhism, Christianity and Taoism (MCCBHTS) is to protest against the Court of Appeal decision on March 13 asking a Hindu R. Subashini to go to the Syariah High Court to seek custody of her two children and prevent their conversion into Islam. Adopting Gandhi's non-violence method of civil disobedience is the most effective way of gently highlighting a grave injustice to non-Muslims.
DAP endorses such peaceful effort by MCCBCHTS, which may include a signature campaingn. Such prayer sessions is a peaceful effort for non-Muslims denied their right of access to justice the right to be represented and tried in civil courts. On March 13, the Court of Appeal had dismissed non-Muslim R. Subashini's appeal to stop her Muslim-convert husband - Muhammad Shafi Saravanan Abdullah - from going to the syariah court to dissolve their civil marriage and convert their children to Islam without her permission.
Subashini however was granted a stay by the Court of Appeal on 30 March 2007 preventing her husband from dissolving their civil marriage, converting their children to Islam without her permission and gaining legal custody pending her appeal to the Federal Court. However like other non-Muslims, Subashini refused to subject herself to syariah courts because she is not a Muslim. Subashini insisted that as her marriage was a civil marriage and not an Islamic marriage, the question of dissolving the marriage should be decided by the civil courts and not the syariah courts.
Malaysia is not an Islamic state and the Federal Constitution clearly spells out that syariah laws applies and covers Muslims not non-Muslims. That Malaysia is a secular state and not an Islamic state was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in the Che Omar Che Soh case in 1988 when it declared that the Malaysian Constitution is secular and does not make Malaysia an Islamic state. In that judgment, Chief Justice Tun Salleh Abas ruled that the syariah law was not the basic law of the land and that the constitution was the supreme law. Unless there is a constitutional amendment Malaysia is and never was an Islamic state.
Why should non-Muslims subject themselves to syariah courts and Islamic rules when Islam is not their faith? The right and choice not to submit to the jurisdiction of a syariah court is granted under our secular constitution and is part of the social contract achieving Merdeka in 1957.
Those who fought for rule of law that gave us Merdeka, was based on the premise of all Malaysians having a right of seek justice through civil laws. Compelling non-Muslims to seek legal recourse through the syariah courts violates this social contract and dilutes the status of the Federal Constitution as the supreme law of Malaysia.
The non-Malay component BN parties must act immediately to restore the secular nature in our Federal Constitution as the supreme law of the land instead of an Islamic state; the rights of non-Muslim not to be subject to syariah laws; and the supremacy of the Federal Constitution especially equality of the law as provided under Article 8. There should be no dominance in the rights of a Muslim parent over another non-Muslim parent.
There should be neither gender discrimination nor religious discrimination. Why should one parent have all the rights over their children or can be discharged of all responsibilities as required under civil laws just because one is a Muslim?
Clearly such dominant rights enjoyed by a Muslim parent over a non-Muslim parent has led to an unhealthy imbalance where a non-Muslim parent has lost her rights as a biological parent just because she refuses to convert to be a Muslim. By allowing one parent to convert to Islam and use that as a device to win custodial rights over their children would leave a negative impression of Islamic justice amongst non-Muslims.
The leaders of MCA, MIC and Gerakan in Ong Ka Ting, Samy Vellu and Lim Keng Yaik must raise in Cabinet the need to restore the civil rights of non-Muslim parents as well as respect the secular nature of the Federal Constitution as the supreme law of the land. Forcing Subashini to seek justice through syariah courts against her will would only inflame feelings of victimization, undermine the image of tolerance and justice to women and non-Muslims in Malaysia.
* Lim Guan Eng, Secretary-General of DAP