Sun (Used by permission)
by Himanshu Bhatt and Husna Yusop
GEORGE TOWN (Aug 10, 2008): Gerakan acting president Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon has
called on the federal government to urgently convene a meeting of the joint
committee of civil and syariah lawyers to discuss and recommend proper
procedures related to marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims, and issues such
as conversion, custody of children and burial ritual after death.
He said the committee, which was formed to work out solutions following several
controversies related to Muslim converts after death and after breakdown of
marriages, should be reconvened.
"It is urgent to reconvene this committee which, I am told, has not met for
quite some time," Koh said in a statement today.
"Such issues and procedures, if left unresolved without good mutual
understanding, will continue to haunt the multi-religious society of Malaysia,"
"There will be controversy and even conflicts over family matters related to
He made this statement in the wake of the fracas over the open forum on
conversion to Islam organised by the Bar Council on Saturday. The forum was cut
short because of a noisy protest which disrupted proceedings.
Former Suhakam commissioner Dr Mehrun Siraj shared Koh's view, when she urged
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to amend the civil laws to
resolve the conflicts between a Muslim convert and a non-converting spouse.
She said the lawyers had previously proposed that a section of the Law Reform
(Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 be amended, but to date, nothing has come out of
it. She said there should be no further delay in resolving this long-standing
issue. (see also page four)
On Saturday, some 500 people gathered outside the forum venue in downtown Kuala
Lumpur, asking for it to stop. Several of the demonstrators, accompanied by
policemen, later went into the hall where the forum was being held, and engaged
in a verbal tirade with the organisers.
Koh criticised the "rowdy demonstration" and also condemned the fire bombing of
the former house of Bar Council President Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, which is now
the house of Wanita Umno deputy chief Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil.
"It is regrettable that some members of political parties such as PAS, PKR and
Umno were involved in the demonstration," Koh said, adding that strong words
were used PAS Youth chief Datuk Salahuddin Ayub, who is also Kubang Kerian MP,
and Kulim-Bandar Baru MP Zulkifli Nordin of PKR.
"All politicians must take a rational and reasonable approach to look at how to
fine-tune the relevant laws and procedures to avoid or minimise potential
inter-religious controversies and conflicts," he stressed.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, when asked about the matter,
said the reaction to the forum was "expected" and that was why they had advised
the Bar Council to hold a closed forum instead. However, he said, the Council
was "stubborn" and ignored the advice.