Media Statement by Ngeh Koo Ham in Ipoh on Friday, 24th June 2011:
Illegal for Government to subject non-Muslims to be tried by the Syariah Court
The clarification by Minster in the Prime Minister's Department, Mejar Jeneral (B) Datuk Jamil Khir Bin Baharom that the 135 applicants who managed to renounce Islam were actually non-Muslims who were mistakenly registered as Muslims by the National Registration Department (NRD) because of their names and these victims have to apply to the Syariah Court to change their religious status shows that something is very wrong with the Government administration.
Firstly, if it is a mistake made by the NRD why can't the NRD rectify it?
Secondly, the Syariah Curt has no jurisdiction over non-muslims. The Syariah Court Judges should reject such application due to lack of jurisdiction and asked that the matter be resolved by the NRD. Any decision by the Syariah court over a non Muslim is illegal.
Thirdly, courts are constituted to settle disputes not for confirming the religious status of a person. Articles II of the Federal Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion of every Malaysian and therefore, the religious status of a person is determined by the person concern. A statutory declaration made by the person should suffice. Muslims are complaining that there is huge back log of cases in the Syariah Courts. Therefore, Syariah Courts should spend their time giving priority clearing the cases rather than getting themselves involved with matters which they do not have jurisdiction.
Subjecting non-Muslims to the Syariah Court is oppressive as these non-Muslims have to go through "counselling not to leave the Islamic faith" which may take months, some cases years and in many other cases never approved.
A person after becoming a Muslim registers himself/herself with the respective State Islamic Council. Depositing a statutory declaration declaring that he/she has left the Islamic faith with the same Islamic Council should suffice to confirm that he/she has left the Islamic faith.
Conversion to Islam has been abused by many. Some have converted to Islam to escape their legal duty to provide maintenance for their wives and children. Others converted to Islam to get custody of the children as the Syariah Courts will grant them the custody of the children. The civil courts regretfully now hold the view that they have no jurisdiction to interfere. Islam promotes justice but it has now been used to perpetuate injustice.
I know of people who do not profess the Islamic faith, never seen or read the Koran before and have never entered a mosque but due to various circumstances have a muslim sounding names. They want to be non-Muslims and get married to non-Muslims. Since there is no avenue for them to get married, they stay together out of wedlock and give birth to offsprings who will then be victim of circumstances like their parents. By refusing them an avenue to get married and have a normal family, we become a cruel society and by our cruelty we breed further social problems.
All persons above the age of 18 should be given full liberty to choose the religion of their choice.
I call on the Government to resolve the issues related to the conversion in and out of Islam immediately by following and respecting the provisions and the spirit of the Federal Constitution so that the untold miseries of those affected by the said issue can be put to an end.
* Ngeh Koo Ham, DAP Deputy Secretary General & MP for Beruas