Categorised | 6 Words

Conversion

Malcolm X (Public domain)

THE late Malcolm X did it, and he’s a hero. Amina Wadud did it, and people call her a freak. “It” being converting to Islam. And as African Americans, Malcolm and Amina did it in the belief that Islam offered them spiritual liberation and justice.

People convert to different religions all the time. Who can forget rock ‘n roll legend Tina Turner‘s conversion to Buddhism, which eventually empowered her to escape her abusive marriage to Ike Turner? In another highly publicised — and highly mocked — journey of spiritual discovery, pop music icon Madonna found inspiration in the mystical Kabbalah sect of Judaism in the late 1990s. The creator of the Chronicles of Narnia, CS Lewis, also wrote extensively about his conversion to Christianity.

But the search for spiritual authenticity does not seem to be the only reason for certain individuals to convert. Former Argentinian President Carlos Menem was born to a family of Syrian Muslim migrants. He realised, however, that if he ever wanted a shot at leading Argentina, he could not remain a Muslim. So he converted to Catholicism and had his marriage to his Muslim wife, Zulema, annulled.

Mohan Singh (Courtesy of Baldi Kaur, J Belvikohr and Jaswant Kaur)


In Malaysia, however, the laws give religious conversions another layer of controversy and urgency. Most recently, the High Court yet again gave jurisdiction to the syariah court to determine whether a non-Muslim, art director Mohan Singh a/l Janto Singh, was a Muslim at the time of his death, despite his Sikh family’s dispute of his conversion.

Earlier, in April 2009, M Indira Gandhi was in the spotlight when she protested her Muslim-convert husband’s unilateral conversion of their three young children to Islam without her consent.

But Mohan Singh and Indira Gandhi are only the tip of the iceberg of conversion controversies in Malaysia. Mohan Singh’s case seems to be yet another consequence from the unprecedented tussle in 2005 over Everest climber M Moorthy‘s religion at the time of his death. Moorthy’s family had insisted on giving him a Hindu funeral, but the Federal Territory Islamic Affairs Department eventually buried him as a Muslim, after the Syariah Court ruled that Moorthy had converted to Islam.

There was also the headline-grabbing six-month detention of M Revathi in 2007 at the Ulu Yam rehabilitation camp in Selangor, where she was forced to cover her hair and eat beef. Revathi, although born a Muslim, was raised by her Hindu grandmother and married a Hindu Malaysian, V Suresh, under Hindu rites in 2004. When she left the detention centre, Revathi famously asserted her Hindu faith by saying, “My name is Revathi. I want to hold on to that name — forever.”

And who could forget the Federal Court’s 2007 dismissal of Lina Joy‘s appeal to not identify officially as a Muslim anymore? It was a civil court decision hailed by numerous Muslim groups.

Even the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows for detention without trial, has been wielded in certain cases of religious conversions. For example, during Operasi Lalang in 1987, the ISA was used to detain Yeshua Jamaluddin, a Malay-Muslim Malaysian who had converted to Christianity. Jamaluddin’s detention was eventually declared unlawful by the Supreme Court in 1989, but he had to flee Malaysia and resettle overseas.

Indeed, the situation in Malaysia easily overshadows the more complex, diverse phenomenon of religious conversions as experienced by people in other parts of the world. There is even diversity among leading Islamic authorities on the issue of conversion.

Sheikh Ali Gomaa (Public domain)

In 2007, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, wrote: “The essential question before us is can a person who is Muslim choose a religion other than Islam?

“The answer is yes, they can, because the Qur’an says, ‘Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion,’ [Qur'an, 109:6], and, ‘Whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve,’ [Qur'an, 18:29], and, ‘There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is distinct from error’ [Qur'an, 2:256].”

Gamal al-Banna, brother of the founder of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna, says “each and every individual has the right to change his [or her] religion without any conditions whatsoever.”

On the other side of the fence are scholars like Cairo University’s Dr Abdelsabour Shahin who uphold that Muslims who convert out of Islam should be killed. The Malaysian education system clearly adopts Shahin’s position: in the official Form Four Islamic Studies textbook, the authors state that the penalty for converting out of Islam should be death.

Text from the Form Four Islamic Studies textbook (Click on image for bigger view)

It is then no wonder that when organisations such as the Bar Council try to organise public forums on the impacts of religious conversions in Malaysia, some Muslims feel compelled to disrupt them coercively in the name of Islam.

But it is clear that when certain interpretations of Islam become the source of public policies, the issue of religious conversions into and out of Islam affects all Malaysians. And The Nut Graph believes that Malaysians are mature enough to critique, analyse, and argue the issue honestly and with civility. So, give us your Six Words on conversion. Here are some of the newsroom’s attempts:

Deborah Loh:

Back off, let God judge apostates.

Plan to convert? Tell your family!

Conversions: For love or for God?

Jacqueline Ann Surin:

Senang nak masuk, mustahil nak keluar.

There is no compulsion in faith.

Imposed conversions give Islam bad name.

Kalau tak percaya, boleh paksa lagi?

Kalau bukan pengikut, nescaya tak percaya.

To convert, surely one must apostasise?

George Michael (Pic by insasse; source: Wiki commons)


Anda cinta jejaka Islam? Jangan harap!

Nick Choo:

God grants free will. Malaysia doesn’t.

Being an unbeliever might be easier.

You gotta have faith: George Michael.

Shanon Shah:

Some religions privileged over others. Why?

Should only be dictated by conscience.

Anda cinta gadis Islam? Snip, snip!

Inter-religious osmosis — a fact of history.

Creating God in our own image.

Leave body-snatching to sci-fi B-movies please.

Newsflash: Free will produces authentic believers.


The Nut Graph believes in choices.

Inspired by Ernest Hemingway‘s genius, the Six Words On… section challenges readers to give us their comments about a current issue, contemporary personality or significant event in just six words. The idea is to get readers engaged in an issue that The Nut Graph identifies, while having fun and being creatively disciplined.

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61 Responses to “Conversion”

  1. justitia says:

    Please release me, let me go…

    Bila hidup, biarkan; bila mati, ambil!

  2. chinhuatw says:

    True Muslims, defend Islam from politics!

  3. Karcy says:

    The government controls your love life.

  4. David Anthony says:

    Why was MJ’s body not snatched?

    Love kin? Don’t become a Muslim!

    Religion indeed opium of the people.

  5. Andrew Loh says:

    Nak kahwin Melayu? Tak — takut sunatlah.

  6. Azizi Khan says:

    God created genes, man invented genocide.

    God created faiths, man kills faiths.

    Believe in God or in JAIS?

  7. Naoko says:

    Religious conversions lead to material greed.

    Apostate in life, believer in death.

    Burying the dead is very profitable.

    Malaysia Special: Conversion damns future generations.

    Lasting legacy: A religion they hate.

    Conversion’s a familial affair: lasts forever.

    Once you convert, there’s no escape.

  8. dominik says:

    In God we believe. No compulsion.

    Once in, no out. No way!

    God judges, not man. Back off!

    Don’t play God. God judges you.

  9. tj wong says:

    Have faith in your own faith.

    A true believer is not coerced.

    Check in, yes Check out? Noooooo.

    You’ve got a subscription for life.

  10. Eskay says:

    There shouldn’t be compulsion in religion.

    Masuk ugama Islam, semua harta hangus.

  11. Lainie says:

    How I pray is my business.

    Unfortunate expression: over my dead body.

    Do not rob my mourning family!

    Atheist’s worry: Girlfriend’s disapproving, Muslim father.

  12. nozz says:

    Religion is between me and God.

  13. Rajesh Taluar says:

    Malaysian government: the real snatch thieves.

  14. faith04 says:

    Must convert, or face rape charge.

  15. Paul.btze says:

    Once in. Want out. Body snatch.

  16. blong says:

    Nobody compelled [Mohan] Sing to embrace.

  17. siew eng says:

    Even Tun Mohamed Suffian was helpless.

    Mais not reflecting Prophet’s compassionate religion.

    So much ill-will is Allah’s will?

  18. Sivin Kit says:

    Conversion of the heart is unstoppable.

    Start with differentiating “conversion” and “proselytisation”.

  19. Aimifina says:

    My own faith, my own business.

  20. andrew says:

    Wrong choice may cost your estate.

    Convert in possible but not out!

    Choosing wrongly brings immeasurable family pain.

    Love others better than any religion.

  21. chinhuatw says:

    Freedom of religion, freedom off religion.

  22. chinhuatw says:

    Unable to disbelieve, unable to believe.

    (Paraphrased from Abdullahi Ahmed An Na’im, Chandler Professor of Law, Emory University)

  23. lucia says:

    Alert! Here comes the body snatchers!

    Free burial for converting to Islam!

    No way out even if dead.

    Kalau masuk, terus masuk, hingga mati.

  24. sangEnur says:

    I thought MJ was a MUSLIM!

  25. Farouq Omaro says:

    Live and let live, God decides.

  26. aiyo says:

    Take the body, leave the property.

  27. aiyo says:

    It’s really about the harta, no?

  28. walski69 says:

    God judges your life, not burial.

    Strange obsession: safety in dead numbers.

    God reveals truth; [people] unravel it.

  29. Wyy says:

    Nothing remains, even your corpse’s snatched!
    Nowhere to hide, nowhere to run,
    Only way out, leave the country.

  30. Main says:

    No injustice without prejudice in Malaysia.

  31. Fara says:

    Melayu itu bangsa. Islam itu ugama.

    My soul is my own business.

  32. God? says:

    Quantity needed here but not quality.

  33. At says:

    No Malay girls for me, ever.

  34. zml says:

    Conversion for life – only in Malaysia.

  35. Thomas Lee says:

    What I believe is my business.

    Compulsion in faith is compulsory fate.

    Dying in peace no easy matter.

  36. Obie says:

    The return of the body snatchers.

    There is no peace in death.

  37. Steven says:

    Love is gone , conversion stayed on!

  38. anakmalaysia says:

    Why do we fight over God?

    Love thy neighbour, unless she’s Muslim!

  39. K S Ong says:

    Why can’t family decide on this?

  40. K.F. Chow says:

    The right to choose is God-given.
    Even God will not violate that.

  41. nz says:

    All religions are like political parties.

  42. zml says:

    Conversions: Malaysia better than the Arabs.

  43. Alan Tan says:

    Man proposes. God disposes. Malaysia supposes.

  44. andrew says:

    Man proposes, it’s God who disposes.

  45. Kenny Loh says:

    Who is the real G-d here?!?

    Love forced upon is love rejected.

    Faith is G-d’s gift, not religions.

    Religion is man-made, hence, it’s flawed.

    Don’t play G-d, do things right.

    Doing right is harder than praying.

    Heaven is for mothers, not soothsayers.

  46. kenu says:

    Don’t convert to Islam – family suffers.

  47. SD says:

    Religion is obsolete. Install ‘atheism’ upgrade.

  48. hanana bt abdullah says:

    Islam is about embracing the teachings …

  49. Philip Selvaraj says:

    People who enter Yakuza cannot exit …

  50. Philip Selvaraj says:

    Why run religion like secret society?

  51. Philip Selvaraj says:

    Can Islam really survive without coercions?

  52. Kenny Loh says:

    Got something else better to do? …

    Ineffective way to curb unemployment rate!

  53. Ritchie says:

    In Malaysia conversion into Islam is an open-door, while the judiciary’s role in protecting non-Muslim rights is increasingly threatened.

  54. Awan Gebu says:

    You’re being manipulated, God. Do something.

  55. Philip Selvaraj says:

    Can check in, cannot check out?

  56. Reza says:

    I’m a Muslim who wants out.

    Might need to seek asylum overseas.

    Because apostates are persecuted in Malaysia.

    Religious authorities do not respect individuality.

    How to change their backward mentality?

  57. peter wku says:

    Why can’t we leave GOD alone?

    Speak not when one knows nought.

    It is depressing; it is madness.

  58. Philip Selvaraj says:

    One Malaysia, two laws for Malaysians.

  59. ThePandaHeadCurry says:

    Hello, welcome to the Hotel California.

  60. Kapiaq says:

    An insecure religion demands absolute allegiance.

  61. munirah hayati says:

    Kalau nak keluar bagi aje lah :)

    Kalau nak dakwah, pinda perlembagaan dulu.

    To amend constitution, get political power.

    How I wish corpses could talk.


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