“The Gombak JHEOA hospital functions as a medical and health centre for the Orang Asli community. Allegations that the hospital was a centre to systematically convert Orang Asli to Islam are entirely untrue,” JHEOA’s public relations unit said in a press statement e-mailed to The Nut Graph.
The department, which falls under the Rural and Regional Development Ministry, stressed that conversion activities by hospital staff were “personal actions”.
“[These actions] cannot be linked with JHEOA involvement,” the 20 May 2010 statement said.
“Furthermore, it also does not contradict Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution, which states that Islam is the official religion of the federation.”
JHEOA also stressed that if Orang Asli were being converted to Islam against their will, this was against Islamic teachings. “As stated in the al-Quran in al-Baqarah 2:256, ‘There is no compulsion in religion.’”
The Gombak Hospital for Orang Asli is run by the JHEOA.
When asked to comment, Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC) coordinator Dr Colin Nicholas said the Gombak hospital staff’s conversion activities could not be classified as “private”.
“How can such activities be called private if it is held during working hours and requires staff to be present? Surely that goes against any government department’s regulations,” Nicholas said in a phone interview.
Nicholas added that Islam was not the religion of the Orang Asli, and the constitution does not allow anyone the right to impose Islam on them.
Several Orang Asli had earlier claimed that hospital staff converted them to Islam against their will. COAC and other researchers have also documented instances where the JHEOA was involved in supporting conversion activities.
The Orang Asli who spoke to The Nut Graph claimed there were cash incentives for those who converted and those who brought in new converts.
The Nut Graph then approached the JHEOA on 27 Apr 2010 to get its side of the story. However, we were told that director-general Datuk Sani Mistam was uncontactable as he was on a course from 26 April to 17 May 2010 and on holiday thereafter.
The JHEOA finally responded to The Nut Graph after more than three weeks. Even then, their press statement did not reach The Nut Graph until 2 June.
Mais: Conversion procedures
When interviewed on the Orang Asli’s allegations of being converted against their will, Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) assistant secretary Suhaimi Ismail was doubtful.
“It is impossible for converts to be registered without filling up or signing any documents,” said Suhaimi. “In Mais, the convert has to sign or thumb print the registration form in the presence of an official.”
Suhaimi denied the possibility that registration forms could be obtained and signed on someone’s behalf without their knowledge.
“We do not issue these forms loosely,” he said. “It is a restricted form, with a serial number and photocopies will not be accepted.
“If [Orang Asli] are being registered as converts without their knowledge, I do not know what forms are being used. For Mais, we control who is able to have access to these forms.”
Suhaimi said registrations were also conducted at the various district offices. “What occurs outside Mais’s office is outside my scope of knowledge. For Mais, we follow our procedures and all officials are trained to conduct conversion activities according to a prescribed manual.”
When asked about financial incentives for converts, Suhaimi said, “We do provide assistance, but not monetarily. We provide items such as prayer mats and cloth for women to use for praying.”
Suhaimi also said no financial incentives were given by the Selangor religious council to those who brought in new converts.
Suhaimi said a thorough explanation of Islamic principles and a Muslim’s responsibilities was given to all potential converts before they were led to recite the syahadah. “We also explain the converts’ responsibilities to continue caring for their non-Muslim family to avoid any misconception that when a person converts, it separates them from their family.”
Suhaimi explained that non-Muslims who wished to convert to Islam should understand the basics before they enter the religion. “It would be sad if converts entered Islam without understanding its principles or because they were forced to do so. This we must try to avoid,” he said when met at the Mais office in Shah Alam on 26 May.
Suhaimi stressed the importance of there being no element of compulsion for anyone who wanted to enter Islam. “We wouldn’t want anyone to be forced to convert and then be a bad testament to us,” he said.
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