KUALA LUMPUR, June 4 — Selangor Islamic authorities interfered with the affairs of other religions when it raided a Hindu temple to probe a bride-to-be it suspected was Muslim, Malaysia’s largest interfaith group said.
Jagir Singh, the president of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST), described the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais)’s actions in this case as “high-handed” and lacking in “understanding”.
“Right thinking Malaysians must deplore this action of Jais as interfering with other religions’ affairs,” he said in a statement to The Malay Mail Online yesterday.
Last Sunday, Jais stopped a Hindu wedding ceremony in a Shah Alam temple after it received a tip-off that the 32-year-old bride named Zarena Abdul Majid is a Muslim.
Jagir also pointed out that the wedding was not a ceremony to propagate non-Muslim faith to a Muslim and not in breach of the state enactment cited as the basis for the enforcement.
He questioned why Jais had chosen to “barge into a wedding” when the department could have taken action after the ceremony was over.
“Jais must act rationally and with compassion and learn to follow rule of law. Jais should not have interfered with the marriage ceremony but could have taken legal steps after such occurrence, if it felt it had a reasonable case,” he said in the statement.
Jais maintains that it did not raid the Hindu temple, insisting that it merely conducted a routine check and had followed procedure by summoning Zarena to its headquarters to assist in investigations.
Although Jais said it is investigating the case under Section 10 of the Shariah Criminal Enactment (Selangor) 1995 for insulting or bringing disrepute to Islam, Jagir pointed out that the state law was only applicable to Muslims.
According to Schedule 9 of the Federal Constitution, Jais only has jurisdiction over individuals professing the religion of Islam, but Jagir argued that Zarena has been a practising Hindu since birth and was allegedly converted to Islam illegally.
According to media reports, Zarena was said to have been raised as a Hindu and that she was only Muslim by name, as her Muslim convert father had registered her religion as Islam upon her birth before later abandoning the family.
She has gone to the National Registration Department (NRD) twice — in 2007 and 2013 — to change the details of her religious status in her identification card.
Yesterday, local daily Harian Metro reported Jais deputy director Ahmad Zaki Arshad as advising Zarena to appoint a lawyer and apply with the Shariah court to change her name and religious status.
But Jagir said the move was not without possible complications. Appearing before the Shariah Court would be akin to Zarena “in fact admitting she’s a Muslim”, he asserted.
Instead, Zarena should go to the civil courts and “apply for a High Court order to say she has always been a practising Hindu”, said Jagir, who is also a lawyer.
A civil court order can then be brought to the NRD for her details to be changed, he said.
However, Jagir also conceded to reservations about its efficacy of his suggestion.
“Although the civil courts are the proper courts, they have been declining jurisdiction of late and not entertaining such applications,” he said.
In going to the heart of the matter where Zarena claimed to have been unilaterally converted by her father when she was just a minor, Jagir said that the federal government should push for law amendments to solve the problem.
As an “immediate” remedy, the Federal Constitution’s Article 12 (4) should be changed to match the Cabinet’s September 23, 2009 decision that a single parent cannot convert a child below the age of 18, he said.
Alternatively, the Federal Court should review its problematic decision in Subashini v Saravanan, which cemented the position that a single parent may convert a child’s religion unilaterally.
“It has opened the floodgates for abuse, the effect is it has been abused,” he said of the 2008 court ruling on Article 12 (4) of the Federal Constitution, where “parent” was defined to be a single parent instead of both parents.
Article 12(4) states that “the religion of a person under the age of 18 years shall be decided by his parent or guardian”.
Pointing out that the Guardianship of Infants Act 1961 provides for equality of parental rights, Jagir contended that the courts should apply the interpretation section to Article 12 (4) so “parent” would read as “both parents” while the word “his” would be able to include females.