Unilateral conversion is not merely a legal issue; it involves the constitutional rights of the minority as well, says Ronald Benjamin.
The committee involving cabinet minister to look into court’s decision on conversions seems to be a right step but questions remain as to what direction it should take.
As stated, the committee would meet up with the attorney general to resolve these issues. This initiative seems to be vague without any framework to resolve fundamental issues related to constitutional rights.
It interesting to note that Abdul Rahman Dahlan, the Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Minister, was quoted as saying that he was optimistic that the committee would find an amicable solution base on the compassion, justice and greatness of Islam and not interpret religion in a narrow manner.
Is the minister implying that issues related to conversion have to be resolved within the Islamic framework? Do the ministers who are involved in the committee agree to this so-called framework?
One has to understand that the MIC, which is a minority party, and leaders who are more concerned about positions in the cabinet will not be much of an influence in the context of creeping Islamisation and how Umno benefits from ethno-religious sentiments associated with conversion cases.
The issue here is not about the greatness of Islam or how it advocates justice and compassion, but constitutional rights that go beyond religion. It about a framework that unites Malaysians on a common platform that believes in the maxim of do unto others what you want them to do unto you.
This is the reason that quite a number of Muslims have been sympathetic to Indira Gandhi’s plight, and some of them have risked themselves such as former law minister Zaid Ibrahim. The principle issue here is the dictatorship of the majority and the so-called supremacy of parliament. One wonders what would happen to this nation if the majority in Parliament were to dictate how minorities should run their lives.
It is for this reason that I believe that the so-called committee would not be able to do justice on conversion issues because of the absence of a constitutional framework to start with.
First and foremost, it is vital for cabinet ministers of the Barisan Nasional to come to a common understanding on the constitutional principles of the Malaysian nation, and how civil courts play a major role on the basis of equality as enshrined in the constitution.
The unity of the nation is founded on this principle, under which every Malaysians stands equal before the law, without any distinction of majority or minority. The ministers, especially the Malay Muslim ones, should understand that civil courts and the secular nature of the constitution itself do not violate Islamic principles of compassion and justice .
The judiciary also plays a part in safeguarding the supremacy of the constitution and the civil courts. It is vital that chief justice himself be part of any discussion because his judges have failed to grant remedy to Indira Gandhi on the basis of her civil marriage.
Unilateral conversion is not merely a legal issue; it involves the constitutional rights of the minority as well. It is the hope of all right-thinking Malaysians that conversion issues will be resolved on sound constitutional principles rather than based on the supremacy of a particular religion.