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Orang Asli converted against will

Orang Asli hospital signboard (Pic courtesy of theSun)

KUALA LUMPUR, 26 April 2010: Staff at the Orang Asli hospital in Gombak have systematically attempted to convert Orang Asli to Islam regardless of the “converts'” willingness to do so, several Orang Asli have revealed.

Mohd Zaki Abdullah, an Orang Asli Muslim convert who still goes by his Orang Asli name Angeh, told The Nut Graph how he was converted, against his will, to Islam when he was barely an adult.

Angeh claims two officers were involved in his forced conversion. One was Saidon Ishak, a Jabatan Hal Ehwal Orang Asli (JHEOA) officer based at the hospital, and Sharifudin Ishak, who works in the hospital pharmacy.

According to Angeh, both men visited him at his uncle’s house where he was staying about eight years ago. He said he thought they were trying to help him apply for his identity card, which he had lost.

Angeh, now 26, said he was given something to recite, which he thought was part of his IC application. “I asked them, ‘Apa benda ni?’ They said, ‘Syahadah ja, cakap ja.'”

Angeh said he did not know at the time that reciting the syahadah meant he was converting to Islam. He only found out after his uncle told him he was now a convert.

“I never asked to convert. I had no intention, none,” Angeh said.

He said he was shocked when he found out and wondered how to tell his adoptive father. “Bapa aku sembahyang Cina. Saya pun sembahyang Cina,” he said.

Jamuan makan

Angeh is not the only one with such a story. An Orang Asli staff at Gombak Hospital told The Nut Graph how he was invited for a “jamuan” at the Selangor menteri besar’s residence, then occupied by Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo from the Barisan Nasional, several years ago.

At the jamuan, the staff, who did not want to be named for fear his job would be jeopardised, said he was converted.

“I received a hospital memo shortly after I joined the hospital which said I was chosen to go to the menteri besar’s house for a banquet,” said the staff member. “I asked (hospital director) Dr Saaiah Abdullah and Saidon, ‘How come I’m invited and others not?’ They told me it was a random selection by name.”

The syahadah, or declaration of faith: “There is no god but Allah,
and Muhamamd is the messenger of Allah” (Source: Wiki commons)

He said he and a few other Orang Asli colleagues were brought after work to a JHEOA officer’s house. “I was given baju melayu to wear,” he said. “I asked them, ‘Why do I have to wear baju melayu?’ They told me, we must follow custom.”

He said he was then brought to the menteri besar’s Shah Alam residence where food was served. “At about 8pm, during prayer time, they brought us to the big surau in Shah Alam. There were lots of others there, some from Sabah and Sarawak. They told us to recite [the syahadah].”

The staff member said he was shocked. “I told them, ‘I don’t want to convert to Islam, my family doesn’t know about this. If you had told me earlier, I would not have come.’ Saidon told me, ‘You’ve already come here; we’ll teach your family to follow you. Just recite.'”

The staff member, who is now in his 30s, said he was in a difficult situation. He said due to the pressure of the situation, he recited the syahadah. But he had to do so four times because he found it difficult to say the words. He claimed he was then given some food and RM250.

He added, “I reached home about midnight after the event and told my family what had happened. My wife was furious. She told me, ‘You said you were going for kenduri. How did you end up converting to Islam?'”

The staff member said, however, that as there was no record of his conversion with the religious authorities, he does not consider himself a Muslim and lives life as before.

“Niat kita, hati kita, tetap tak ada nak masuk [Islam]. Kalau nak masuk, keluarga mesti ada, boleh tanya — nak ikut ke tak nak, mesti dari hati kitalah. Kira ada niat, kita masuklah. Ini — niat pun tak ada. Saya diperguna macam itu,” he said.

(Pic by Ijansempoi / Dreamstime)
Financial incentive

The staff member said he believes Saidon and other hospital personnel received financial benefits for bringing in converts, even though he had no way of proving it.

Angeh, however, confirmed that financial incentives were involved in the conversion of Orang Asli. He claimed that Saidon and Sharifudin told him that if he was married, he would receive the RM1,000 allocated for a Muslim couple.

According to his story, Angeh, then 18, agreed to marry his 20-something-year-old bride, Wak Chin. He said they were brought to Tambun, Perak and married together with nine other couples.

His wife had to convert to Islam as well to get married. “Her Muslim name is Aminah,” Angeh said.

However, Angeh claimed he and his wife did not receive any money after their wedding.

He further claimed that Saidon had also told him that as a Muslim, he would be able to get a job at the Gombak Hospital. However, this never materialised, and today Angeh works as a grass cutter.

Hospital involved

Another staff member, who is not Orang Asli, confirmed that hospital staff were frequently involved in conversion activities.

She recounted how Dr Saaiah repeatedly asked her to convert: “Every time I went to see her, Dr Saaiah would ask me, ‘What do you think of Islam? Why don’t you convert to Islam? Don’t you think Islam is a good religion?'”

She added that the hospital was constantly used for Islamic talks.

The staff also spoke on condition of anonymity so that her position would not be jeopardised.

Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC) volunteer Puah Sze Ning said she had attended a JHEOA-organised Islamic talk at the hospital in 2009, after being informed by hospital staff about such activities.

“It was held during office hours in the afternoon. The hospital set up a tent on their grounds,” she told The Nut Graph in a phone interview. “There were about 60 people present, including hospital staff. A visiting imam expounded on part of the Quran.”

At the JHEOA talk in 2009 (Pic by Puah Tze Ning)


Saidon and Sharifudin both denied any knowledge about any conversion cases. Dr Saaiah did not respond to any of The Nut Graph‘s calls or text messages.

“Tak ada, tak ada. Itu bukan urusan kita,” said Saidon, when contacted by The Nut Graph by telephone at JHEOA and informed of the allegations against him. He declined further comment, saying this was something his superiors should answer.

“I only work to dispense medicine, I don’t know anything about [any conversions],” Sharifudin told The Nut Graph. “People can say whatever they want, it doesn’t mean anything. They can say I raped someone, they can even say I raped you, it’s just talk.”

See also: 
Orang Asli Hospital not fulfilling role 
Outspoken doctor persistently “sidelined”

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44 Responses to “Orang Asli converted against will”

  1. jusoh says:

    Really sickening. What type of Muslims are these people? Does Islam teach one to lie and cheat just to convert others by deceit? Do these scums think Allah will reward them with Pahala? Think again, such conversion is not one of the heart. It is a sham and Allah will not accept it.

  2. lkl says:

    “They can say I raped someone, they can even say I raped you, it’s just talk.”

    -What the * is that?

  3. Reza says:

    Reading this article made me seethe with anger. I hope the authorities look into this and make some heads roll, but that’s probably just wishful thinking…

  4. Nurulhuda says:

    Sad… sad… how religion is being use as bartar trade. SO cheap…

  5. kl_boy says:

    I suspect it is nothing to do with wanting more Muslims in the area, more like having more vote bases to control. The Islamic department is something easier for the authorities to use to force new phantom voters to appear as they would have access to available names for phantom voters later on.

  6. aweyne says:

    Nonsense, becoming a Muslim has to come from your heart. You can’t be a Muslim because somebody wants you to! Study the religion before you judge!

    • born2reign says:

      Well, let’s hope these “forcibly and gullibly converted” Muslims won’t be subjected to body snatching when they die, and their assets are not seized leaving the wife and children homeless and penniless. That’s another reason why we judge the Muslims who acted so unholy, who schemed and plotted from their evil hearts.

      Any way to see to it that this does not happen to these poor Orang Asli.

  7. Hang Jebat says:

    I’m not surprised at all. The coerced and deceitful conversion of Orang Asli to Islam has been going on for decades now, despite being swept under the carpet. Another dark chapter on the “Islamisation” of Malaysia…

  8. lils says:

    Thanks for the article and for digging into important issues such as these. Many may be unaware as I was and good job to The Nut Graph team to have the courage to speak up for those who typically remain unheard.

  9. T-Boy says:

    Dear god. Did no one read Surah Al-Baqarah, ayat 256? You know, the one that begins with “There is no compulsion in religion”?

    Is it so HARD, people? Must you rely on coercion and trickery?

  10. Commonknowledge says:

    I find it quite surprising that Malaysians only know about the conversion tactics of the state Islamic authorities. I have known about such conversion tactics from the early 1990’s from friends who are in NGOs and who deal with )rang Asli matters like healthcare and education. Those who converted were given a piece of land, house, and loans to do businesses.

  11. Lainie says:

    Citizens reduced to statistics.

  12. kakikopi says:

    Ding Jo-Ann, thanks for highlighting this issue and writing this article. Am sure a lot of these activities are going on, just that they are remain unreported, or uninvestigated.

    “People can say whatever they want, it doesn’t mean anything. They can say I raped someone, they can even say I raped you, it’s just talk.”

    And that is the defence? So telling, the bare, bare denial.

  13. Arion Yeow says:

    To me, it seems like these bunch of ignorants were promised things in exchange for conversion but did not get anything so they are complaining now.

    I am more interested in Saidon’s and Sharifudin’s motivation for doing this. Do they gain political mileage and phantom votes or are they just hardcore rednecks trying to conduct their own version of cultural genocide?

  14. M.K. says:

    Shocking revelation! I cannot believe these things are happening.

  15. art says:

    monocultures = fascism

  16. feistgeist says:

    Okay, so you’re not supposed to teach about Islam if you’re not qualified but just anyone is qualified to convert someone else into Islam? LAME.

    Indigenous people have been forced into Islam since the beginning of Malaya. In spite of the 20 point agreement that clearly states that Sabah has no official religion, Tun Mustapha sponsored mass conversions into Islam among indigenous people when he was Chief Minister in the 60s. He offered them bribes and various incentives and thus managed to turn Sabah into a Muslim majority state. He was the first [chief] of Umno Sabah even though he wasn’t Malay but Suluk-Bajau. Sarawak wasn’t as affected by Islamisation, however.

    So not surprised. JHEOA has been taking milk from the mouth of babes (literally) and this? Fiends.

    Muslim nation, indeed.

  17. Zamzury says:

    It’s […]. The question is why it is they are only now talking about this.

    The second question is why are they telling you. Are you a Muslim (Ding Jo-Ann)? So you know very well regarding Islam. How do you know that they were not lying to you?

    If they don’t like Islam, ask them what they like to do. Islam never forces anybody to be Muslim. Becoming a Muslim has to come from your heart. You can’t be a Muslim because somebody wants you to!

    Study the religion before you judge. Are you willing convert to Islam if I force or ask you to do so, Ding Jo-Ann?

    • born2reign says:

      “Islam never forces anybody to be Muslim.”

      But Muslims force gullible and poor people to be Muslim.

      Are the Islamic authorities willing to guarantee that if one denounces Islam and said that he recited the syahadah without understanding and intention to convert, that he is not Muslim?

      The non-Muslims should not judge these Islamic practices, the Muslims themselves should judge these practices and set the record straight and punish your own people who are evil and greedy at heart.

  18. shakoo says:

    If they are so heavy on conversions, why are they not equally heavy at enforcing the practice of the religion? It just shows that they only want the numbers for the votes.

    I can’t think that the Orang Asli can be effectively converted. They are too entrenched in their way of life to follow Malay customs and traditions, least of all the religion.

    Besides the Orang Asli are nomadic by nature, and animists, they are used to nature and to seeing God in nature. And why not….?

    Please allow the Orang Asli to retain their way of belief in God and don’t force religion down the throat of persons who resist. […] Freedom of religion is one of the important freedoms that [humanity] enjoys. It is private and sacred to the individual.

  19. truth says:

    I am very angry such thing should happen in my country whose citizens are supposed to practise freedom of worship enshrihed in our constitution. It is really a betrayal and a violation of human rights and dignity. Curse of God be on these hospital staff and those liars. I have no respect of these so called ‘Muslims’. Sorry I have lost heart and faith in Islam.

    • Hafiz Zahid says:

      O my friend,

      Just because of few bad apples tarnishing the religion doesn’t do any justification for losing your faith in Islam. Islam doesn’t teach that and those people’s actions are the result of mere simple mindedness, lack of knowledge or perhaps, politically-driven. For example if say, at one time, a Malaysian is charged for criminal offenses at a foreign country and due to that, they labeled all Malaysians as law breakers. Does that do any justice to those who didn’t commit the crime? You know the answer.

      The thing is, many Muslims out there have diverted themselves from the true teaching of Islam. Bribery, corruption, harassment… just to name a few… aren’t allowed in Islam. The fact that some Muslims (eg. politicians) are practicing that is because they’ve left Islamic teachings and have been blinded by what the world has offered to them.

      To make it simple for you my friend, lets portray Islam as a law. In our life, laws are created to maintain harmony, to protect our safety and more importantly, to ensure that everyone can live peacefully. To have a clearer picture on how is life without law, take Somalia for instance. Besides, if you are given a ticket for speeding over limit, you don’t go and say to the police, “Sir, what the hell is this ticket for? Obviously my car’s limit is more than 40 km/h. I demand my rights! I demand freedom!” Normal sane people won’t do that.You don’t blame the law. If the law has stated that it is 40 km/h, so be it. It might cause danger to others in that particular area if the car is driven over the limit. So, the one to be blamed is the driver himself. Hence, the situation here is the same with Islam. Muslims that choose to abandon true teachings of Islam are subject to their own fault. They broke the law, so the one to be blamed are they themselves, not Islam.

      Please do more reading (by that, I mean academic reading, not from newspapers or hate groups in Facebook) on Islam before giving your own judgment about Islam or Muslims. To be fair, you should compare writings from Western (non-muslim) scholars and Muslim scholars about the true meaning of Islam. By then, only it is fair for you to give your judgment.

      However, if you insist on being ignorant, giving unfair justification about Islam without doing further research and readings, then I’ll rest my case. Only Allah can open one’s heart to accept the truth, but only to those who wanted it to be opened. I can’t force you to open it. Nobody can. It is up to you my friend.

      -Hafiz Zahid

  20. JohnBoy says:

    Saying a few phrases without understanding the meaning can turn you into a Muslim? Sounds like black magic to me. Faith is more than mere sound utterances. No wonder so many are so easily led and confused. This hospital must be cleaned of all this nonsense. Let everyone practice their own faith.

  21. Upin says:

    Is this one of the BN’s tactic? Is there any incentive that will be given by BN? Let’s do the right thing in next election. And share all information in rural areas.

  22. Passer by says:

    “Angeh, however, confirmed that financial incentives were involved in the conversion of Orang Asli. He claimed that Saidon and Sharifudin told him that if he was married, he would receive the RM1,000 allocated for a Muslim couple”

    It’s action likes these that makes religion(s) look like a [multi-level marketing], pyramid and/or ponzi scheme.

    However Muslims (or people who claim to be Muslims) are not the only people doing forced or indirect conversions. Some Christian Evangelicals are also involved in forcing people to convert.

  23. faith04 says:

    Zamzury ,

    What’s wrong if they’re only now talking about this? How sure are you that they did not talk about it in the past?

    They don’t care whether Ding Jo-Ann is a Muslim or not. They just needed more people to read and be aware of their problem. As a responsible reporter, Ding’s duty is to report accurately and be non-judgmental. It’s up to readers such as you and me to form our own opinions.

    Yes, Islam never forces anybody to be Muslim, but some Muslims are over zealous in converting others, and this is a big problem. It’s true that becoming a Muslim has to come from your heart and nobody should be allowed to force conversion.

    Non-Muslims will not study a particular religion for the purpose of judging. In Malaysia, Islam is so highly infested with racial and political elements that no sensible non-Muslim will be interested to judge Islam, more so a reporter. I will not judge Islam, but by [some] Muslims’ own doing & words, I can learn and see what is Islam!

    Islam is good religion, but there’s too many bad Muslims around because they accept racism, inequality, unjust doings, corruption, immoral sex … the list goes on.

  24. Soleh Abd Wahab says:

    I would say this is just a tactic by Umno to appeal to the Muslims and refute PAS’ claim that Umno does not really care about Islam by ‘proving’ that during their administration, more people converted to Islam.

  25. Yong Chee Keong says:

    What does Zamzury mean there is no compulsion? If a non-Muslim and Muslim fall in love with each other, hasn’t the non-Muslim to convert even if it is against his or her will if they want to get married (in Malaysia at least)?

  26. Michael says:

    What an embarrassment to the Muslim community. What an insult to Islam. Before anyone starts feeling insecure about this, it’s the actions of these people that bring shame, not the article or the writer.

    Zamzury, what has being Muslim got to do with this article? It’s a report on Orang Asli conversion not the religion of Islam.

    On a separate note, I agree with Sharifudin. It’s all talk, and there’s a lot of talk going on. Funny thing is, they turn out to be true.

  27. Farouq Omaro says:

    Old story!

  28. Yong Chee Kyong: Yes, that’s Malaysian law (and Singaporean law, for that matter). It’s NOT Islamic. The Quran goes far out of its way to condemn coercion of religion – especially since Islam traditionally views conversion as a one-way street; it’s not fair to you OR to God if you’re “converted” for any reason not of your own free will – and an authentic imam will question the proposed convert both privately and publicly to make sure that s/he understands that commitment.

    When I lived in KL, I would meet 5-10 Muslims from overseas who, like me initially, were confused, shocked and horrified by what was being done in the name of “Islam” in Malaysia. I’ve met many Malay Muslims who understood and loved Islam as much as anybody I’ve ever known. I’ve met many, many more who were “coconuts”; hard brown ‘Muslim’ shell on the outside, something else entirely on the inside. As another Western revert put it: “Malay ‘Islam’ is to what most Sunnis live as Rastafarianism is to Roman Catholicism’… sharing some of the rituals and mouthing some of the same words, but a different world-view (this and the next) entirely. It’s very, VERY frustrating; my Muslim friends who come to Malaya (North or South) from overseas are much more likely to leave and leave sooner than “similar” non-Muslims I’ve known. I understand exactly why; I expect to follow them before long.

  29. Azizi Khan says:

    This is nothing surprising. Forcibly and converting people under stealth has been going on for decades with full support of various Islamic organisations. It is not only condoned but encouraged.

    The sheer number of people who have visited my family residence because we don’t look Malay to “encourage us” to seek Allah is seriously disturbing.

    A few of them even commented on my mother for not wearing Malay traditional dress and covering her head.

    Many of these people and groups are funded by the government itself.

    This is what you would call a munafiq – a hypocrite. These people have deviated so far from Islam.


  30. *P* says:

    God would be pretty pissed if he knew this was being done in his name.

  31. kyo says:

    […] [Being] Muslim is not about quantity! It’s about quality! Why force them if they don’t have it inside them! […]

  32. Ritchie says:

    Such deceit and forced conversions of Orang Asli are to be strongly condemned and the perpetrators brought to justice. The big fish and politicians behind these dastardly acts must be punished or imprisoned under the Internal Security Act. These violations make the freedom of religion and freedom to practise one’s own faith a mockery. Over the past four decades, there has been a steady increase of such backdoor tactics to force non-Muslims into Islam.

  33. observer says:

    Zamzury Posted: 27 Apr 10 : 9.50PM
    If they don’t like Islam, ask them what they like to do.
    Zamzury, why are you talking cock? Since when are Muslims allowed to choose their religion?

  34. Firdaus says:

    After reading all the comments here, so far, I am surprised that none have mentioned the well-known secret benefit to a Muslim who converts a kafir into a Muslim.

    SERIBU PAHALA BEB! Not to mention, also, the respect from the local boys and kadhis.

    To put things into perspective for the kafir readers here — Allah rewards a Muslim who goes to a mosque for prayers with one pahala for each step he takes heading towards the mosque when the odds are against him, e.g. there´s a storm, it´s raining, and etc. (I seriously doubt that any Muslim in Malaysia would take a thousand steps a month under normal circumstances just to get to the local mosques — just observe the cars parked around mosques in Malaysia during prayer times and you will know what I mean.)

    So, you can see the rationale behind preferring to convert Kafirs as compared with rejecting Umno, or parking the car so as not to cause any inconvenience to the public, or etc.

    That´s also probably where the “RM1,000” allowance got its idea from.

  35. Right2Choose says:

    People should be allowed to freely and easily leave Islam (or any other religion for that matter). Maybe they should be allowed to go to the registration department and fill up and sign a form as to what religion they profess. But strange that in a place like Malaysia you can become a Muslim without really knowing it but you can never leave. Reminds me of Secret Societies.

  36. Anak Malaysia says:

    Strategic Islamisation of the Orang Asli has been going on for a long time… and aggressively too. There is even an official plan to Islamise all OA by 2010, only the that target hasn’t been achieved. What The Nut Graph has reported here is nothing new nor surprising. Stories like this have been heard many times over the years.

    Speak to any village head and you will be told of attempts to convert the entire village through promises of development. I have heard first hand how the JHEOA have asked a [village] head to surrender all the ICs of villages without any good reason. The wise [chief] suspecting something amiss and having heard of forced conversion tactics, refused to do so.

    JHEOA which is supposed to look after the interest of the OA is nothing more than a tool for religious propaganda of the religious authorities. They are hardly concerned with bringing development to the villages. More than 70% remain below poverty level. Budget allocations for the OA hardly reach the poor folks down there.

    It is also the case that suraus are being built in villages with hardly any Muslims. On the other hand, churches built by Christian villagers are torn down by authorities. Recently, it was announced that imams will be placed in 200 OA villages on the pretext that the OAs should not be denied knowledge of Islam! Have the OAs asked for these Imams? Are they even interested in Islam? Surely this is plainly part of the strategy to convert the OAs.

  37. Paul for Democracy says:

    I believe that part of the Malayan democracy / independence constitution declared that Malaysians were guaranteed “freedom of worship”. Does that really mean anything in the context of the above article?

  38. Tommy says:

    Tsk tsk tsk… wow, just when you think religions can’t sink any lower… along comes [people], and lo and behold….

  39. mycuntree says:

    I am actually quite surprised that many are surprised by the news that our aborigines has been subjected to all types of abuses by the government and its various institutions. Conversion of the OA to Islam has been ongoing for as long as I know of the existence of OA in Malaysia! That’s an open but official secret?

  40. Subliminal says:

    The sad part about the OA situation is that they are the people of the land and yet they are being abused by “religion” and that sort of thing. It’s just sad.

    And I think they are able-minded enough to choose their own religion. Despite whatever “benefits” professing Islam might bring. And man, it’s so funny that a country like Malaysia thinks that by manipulating and bribing people groups into Islam; they are able to increase in numbers.

    Isn’t religion also about quality? Gee, look at Malaysia!! LOL!!!!!

  41. sarawakian says:

    I am not surprised by this. During the time of Tun Abd Rahman Yakub as Sarawak Chief Minister, aggressive/deceptive Islamic outreach methods were used using TAXPAYERS MONEY. (I am a Sarawakian). My aunty related to me how Muslim government officers enticed my late grandfather, who was an Orang Kaya Pemancha (higher than a Penghulu, below the Temenggong) to convert to Islam and offered him RM50000 cash back in the 1960’s.

    I’m glad my grandfather rejected such enticement even though he was at that time a new Christian. However one section of a nearby village was converted after the village head and some of the villagers agreed to convert. There were also a few other Dayak villages that were converted to Islam through this method. Senior non-Muslim government officers were often encouraged to convert for ‘better prospects’. An uncle of mine was coerced to convert, but like my grandfather, he too refused to do so.

    FYI, the current TYT of Sarawak, Tun Abang Salahuddin, was a former Melanau Christian converted to Islam. However, the situation was and is not as bad as in Sabah. It is unethical to convert people using taxpayers’ money that are paid by taxpayers of multiple religious background. I want my taxes to be used for the benefit of all, not for some malicious agenda. Imagine this, what if the British government uses taxpayers’ money to coerce new immigrants from Pakistan, Somalia and India to convert to Christianity? I will find that the most inappropriate thing to do with taxpayers’ money. Any religious group that intend to evangelize/convert others should use their own funding, eg. Christians have their tithes and Muslims have their zakat.

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