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.
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.
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.”
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