Covert conversions: Break the silence and take firm action

If the authorities are not taking tough action against bigots, then there is no point discussing racial harmony

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When questions were raised in Parliament over why Suhakam has been mum about preacher Firdaus Wong’s advice to religious teachers on how to covertly handle ‘requests’ from minors who wish to convert to Islam secretly, Pasir Gudang MP Hassan Karim made one thing clear.

He said that, as a Muslim, he does not condone such actions.

The purported excuse for Firdaus’ lecture on how to beat the law in handling purported requests from non-Muslim children in Forms Three and Four “who express their desire to convert” is an engineered defence of his un-Islamic action.

Young children like these are concerned not about ‘saving their souls after death’ but about passing exams. They do not know they will not be allowed to get out of Islam if someday they regret having converted. So any ‘request’ from them to convert would not have been voluntary, a decision of their own, but probably due to brainwashing and coaxing by some adults, perhaps with some carrots dangled. How despicable. 

Ethnic minority children do not attend agama (Islamic religious) classes. So how would they have learnt about ‘saving their souls by converting to Islam’ and go on to “express desire to convert”? What a cooked-up lie.

When non-Muslims react to such nefarious activities with anger, they are quickly labelled as suffering from Islamophobia.

Why is it wrong for non-Muslims to express anger (just express anger, not react with anger) when their religious feelings are intentionally wounded? They had been assured repeatedly that they are free to practise their beliefs in peace and that they do have to fear Islam.

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With such divisive activities going on with impunity, all the talk about creating harmony among people of various ethnicities and beliefs is ludicrous.

It is not only Suhakam that has gone silent. What about the national unity minister and the prime minister, who had claimed that “anak Melayu anak saya; anak Cina anak saya; anak India anak saya; anak Iban anak saya…” (ethnic Malay children are my children; ethnic Chinese children are my children; ethnic Indian children are my children; ethnic Iban children are my children…). 

Islamophobia sometimes arises because of the words and actions of bigots who frighten non-Muslims about Islam. The pronouncements that Islam is a religion of peace are undermined by the bigots’ words and actions.

Is it then unjustified for the non-Muslims to fear Islam, more so when the authorities who preach that Islam is a religion of peace do not lift a finger (or do not dare lift a finger for fear of losing votes) to stop the bigots from damaging the good name of Islam? 

What was the Ministry of National Unity set up for, if it cannot stand up to racists and bigots who create national disunity? Is it for the unity of a certain community so that they will vote en bloc for a particular political party or coalition instead of being divided and voting for different parties? Or is it to strengthen the unity of the different racial and religious communities in the country?

The various ethnic and religious groups were never as divided as they are today. There was no Islamophobia among them before independence. To bring back that unity of the people, the racists and bigots who sow fear of Islam in the non-Muslims must be stopped.

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If it cannot be done through counselling, then it must be done the hard way – using Section 298A of the Penal Code [for acts or words that prejudice “the maintenance of harmony or unity, on grounds of religion”] and not Section 505(c) [for making a statement or rumour that incites a group to commit any offence against another group].

My guess is that Section 298A is not being used because it provides for a punishment of two to five years’ imprisonment. There is no provision for a fine as an alternative to prison time.

On the other hand, the penalty under Section 505(c) is “imprisonment which may extend to two years or with fine or with both”. Under this section, the accused can get away with a slap on the wrist while the public is placated that action has been taken. This only emboldens the racists and bigots. 

If the authorities are not taking tough action against racists and bigots, then there is no point discussing racial harmony or blaming non-Muslims for Islamophobia.

“Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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