THE Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hindusim, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) refers to the case of 27-year-old Banggarma Subramaniam, a.k.a. Siti Hasnah Vengarama Abdullah, who said she was converted to Islam at age seven. Banggarma says this was done by the welfare home, while the welfare authorities say it was done by her father.
In any case, Banggarma has vigorously and categorically asserted that for most of her life, she has lived as a Hindu and that she is now a Hindu.
We object most strongly to the suggestion by the deputy minister for Islamic affairs that Banggarma must go to the Syariah Court to ascertain her status. This statement was repeated by the director general of the Welfare Department, Meme Zainal Rashid. Penang Islamic Council President Shabudin Yahaya, meanwhile, stated that she would have to undergo the standard procedure to leave Islam and undergo counselling.
We recall that Dr Syed Ali Tawfil Al-Attas, Director-General of Ikim (Institute Kefahaman Islam Malaysia), was quoted as saying that a child, deemed ignorant, cannot convert to Islam as the child does not understand the kalimah shahadah and cannot bear witness of his or her own free will and understanding.
According to Article 11 of the Federal Constitution, every person is guaranteed the freedom to profess and practise his or her religion. It is our view that Banggarma, upon reaching the age of majority, should have complete freedom to choose her own religion without having to go through any procedure or counselling.
In some states, people deemed to be Muslims face imprisonment and punishment for apostasy, or for “attempting to leave Islam” or “insulting the religion of Islam”. This renders illusory the freedom of religion protected by our Federal Constitution and by all international norms.
The Syariah Courts only have jurisdiction over “persons professing the religion of Islam”. Banggarma does not profess the religion of Islam; she professes herself to be a Hindu. It is not proper to require her to go to the Syariah Court before she is allowed to profess her religion of Hinduism.
We therefore reiterate our calls, made many times before, for the authorities to put in place legislative reforms to ensure that Islam, and Islamic law, is not forced upon people like Banggarma who do not profess themselves as Muslim.
Rev. Dr Thomas Philips
24 Nov 2009