Malaysian Insider (Used by permission)
by Debra Chong
KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 8 - The Malaysian Bar Council is steadfastly going ahead with
a planned public forum on conversions to Islam, despite mounting opposition from
top leaders from Umno and Pas and threats of a massive street protest outside
the legal body's headquarters here tomorrow.
Ragunath Kesavan, vice-president of the Bar Council told The Malaysian
Insider that they have taken all precautionary steps for the forum by
holding it inside their auditorium in Leboh Pasar Besar and regulating
participation. Interested parties are required to register to enter.
The police have been informed and will be on standby in case of any untoward
incidents, he added.
"This has been on the cards for the last two to three months. These are issues
which are alive and relating to people who have suffered from this conflict of
laws. We need to look for avenues for them to voice their grievances as well. ,"
said Ragunath in a phone interview this afternoon.
"It may be controversial, but that doesn't mean you don't talk about these
issues. If it is emotive, if it is sensitive, we still have to talk about
discuss these things. That is our position; you need to discuss!" he stressed.
"What we're saying is, it's not an issue of conversion. We're not questioning
Article 121 (1A), we're not questioning Article 3 of the Federal Constitution on
the status of Islam. When you have two jurisdictions, the civil and the syariah
jurisdiction, obviously there will be conflicts of law.
"When you have conflicts of law, you need to resolve these conflicts. This is
what we're looking at: How do you resolve these issues? That is all."
Speaking on behalf of president Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, who is out of the
country but will be back to participate in the forum tomorrow, Ragunath said
that efforts have been made to get differing voices from both the civil and
syariah jurisdictions. "We've got people from both sides, with different
opinions. And we want to find out one understanding of the problem. Also, we
want to find out why people have such an opinion. We need to know also, you see.
And we want to put forward our views. Because the first way to reach an amicable
solution is to understand each others' views."
"Anyway, we're mature and democratic enough. And further to this, yesterday, the
prime minister was reported to have said in the newspapers, 'Have more
dialogue'," said Ragunath.
He is sceptical of closed-door dialogues, because such measures severely
restricts the number of participants. "When you say closed doors, who's
involved?" he scoffed. "You need to get the stakeholders to attend."
The half-day forum, open to members of the public, will start at 8.30am and end
at 1pm and is divided into two sessions. Part 1 will have family members of
those who have embraced Islam share their real life experiences over conflicts
brought on after conversion.
The second part will be a discussion from the legal aspect, with a detailed
examination of Article 121(1A) of the Federal Constitution and two court cases,
that of R. Subashini and S. Shamala. This session will be moderated by lawyer,
Zarizana Abdul Aziz, from the Penang-based Women's Centre for Change
Among the panellists are Dr Wan Azhar Wan Ahmad, who is the director of the
Syariah Law Centre at Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (Ikim). Others
include lawyers Ravi Nekoo, K. Shanmuga and Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla.
A fifth panellist, Dr Naim Mokhtar, a former syariah court judge and current
syariah prosecutor with the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Department, will
no longer be participating, Ragunath confirmed. No reasons were given for his