Contributed by Seira Sacha
Binti Abu Bakar and Noor Arianti Binti Osman
KUALA LUMPUR, 9 August: Despite the memoranda of protest handed over by
Pertubuhan-Pertubuhan Yang Mewakili Penganut Islam dan Bangsa Melayu, Majlis
Angkatan Antara NGO-NGO (MAPAN) and Pertubuhan Kebajikan dan Dakwah Islamiah
Malaysia (PEKIDA) yesterday, the Bar Council decided to proceed with the forum
on Conversion to Islam today. This is so notwithstanding the protest outside the
Bar Council building which started at around 8.30am demanding for the forum to
be stopped and the two bottles suspected to be homemade molotov cocktail found
in front of the Bar Council building very early this morning.
Earlier, we also learnt that a molotov cocktail was thrown
into the old house of the President of the Malaysian Bar, Dato' Ambiga
Sreenevasan. No one was injured in the incident.
"They must have thought we still lived there even though our
family had sold the house sometime ago", said Ambiga.
In her opening speech, Deputy Chair of the Family Law Committee, Foo Yet Ngo
said that the objective of the forum is to draw the public's attention to areas
of family law. One of the areas of concern is the issue of conversion by one
spouse without the knowledge of another. This is an important issue as the legal
implication that affects the parties involved are far reaching. When invited to
open the forum, Ambiga told the audience that she was aware of the protest that
was going on outside the Bar Council building. She stressed that she has no
issue with the protestors exercising their rights to free speech as she believed
in the notion of democracy. She also thanked the police for their presence and
for helping out with the security around the Bar Council building.
The forum in the Auditorium
The forum was divided into 2 parts: the first part was on Human and Social
Perspective, and the second part was done in a talk show format, having
representatives from practitioners who were involved in the cases that deal with
conversion issues as invited speakers.
In the first session, which was moderated by Chin Oy Sim, two guest speakers
were invited to tell their stories. The first speaker, a Chinese woman who
requested to remain anonymous, told the crowd how her father married an Iranian
woman and converted to Islam without his wife's knowledge. When the wife found
out about the conversion, she applied for a divorce. However, during the course
of the divorce proceedings, he passed away. Issue arose as under the Syariah
law, the speaker and her family are not recognised as the legitimate family and
hence they are not entitled to the father's property.
The second guest speaker was an Indian woman, who told her harrowing struggle to
get her father a Christian burial. In her scenario, her father had converted to
Islam without the family's knowledge. However he had decided to convert back to
Christianity. When he died of heart attack, the hospital informed the speaker
that his father had died a Muslim. To show proof that his father was a
Christian, the speaker showed his Mykad which stated that he was a Christian.
She was told that the Mykad carried no weight and to treat it as 'sampah'
(rubbish). The speaker then continued her struggle to insist that her father be
buried as a Christian. In the end, the authority withdrew their order to bury
her father as a Muslim. But what was interesting to note in her story is the
fact that after all the suffering that she and her family had to go through,
nobody offered any apology.
Soon after the speakers finished narrating their stories, Ambiga informed the
audience that due to security reasons, the forum would have to end at 10.00am.
Following from that, the second session started with Zarizana Abdul Aziz as
moderator. She invited speakers, Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla, Ravi Neeko and
Zarizana asked the speakers, how do we reconcile the issue of jurisdiction?
Haniff noted the experiences that we had heard in the first session. However, he
was of the view that the same scenario happens in almost all divorce cases
regardless of religion. K. Shanmuga then discussed the decision of the Federal
Court in the Subashini's case. He was of the view that the dissenting
judgment made clear the distinction between the two jurisdictions, which are
civil and syariah. Ravi Neeko then discussed on the custody issues of children
whose one parent is a Muslim and the other is not.
At about 9.50am, merely 10 minutes before the agreed end time, the leaders of
the protest came up to the auditorium to voice their protest on the continued
forum. Things got a bit emotional and they started to shout for the forum to be
stopped, uttering racist remarks to some of the audience. Professor Mehrun Siraj
took the microphone and advised everyone to calm down, saying as Muslims, they
should not act in such an unruly manner and she was close to tears while saying
that. But that did not deter the impatient leaders who refused to back down and
threatened to call up their supporters from downstairs to join them in the
auditorium. Madam President then gave a short speech to close the forum and
everyone was advised to disperse peacefully. The leaders then lingered at the
back of the auditorium waiting for all the audience to leave. One of them even
went further and opened the auditorium window and shouted to the protestors
downstairs inciting loud cheers from them.
The protest in front of the Bar Council building
The crowd started to converge opposite the Bar Council building at 8.20am. The
police, we were told, started to guard the Bar Council building from as early as
6.30am. The number of protestors steadily built up to 300 people. At around
9.00am, the police blocked the road in front of the building.
The organisers consisted of leaders of PAS, Parti Keadilan Rakyat and UMNO and
NGOs such as Gabungan Mahasiswa Islam Se-Malaysia (GAMIS), Gabungan Pelajar
Melayu Semenanjung (GPMS) and PEKIDA. Speeches were given by their leaders,
among others, YB Zulkifli Nordin, YB Salehudin Ayob and Jais Abdul Karim. They
expressed their rage against the Bar Council for holding a forum, which, in
their views, challenges the position of Islam and the Muslims in this country.
It was suggested that instead of holding a public forum, the Bar Council should
discuss the issue quietly with IKIM or JAKIM. It was also said in one of the
speeches that as legal practitioners, the Bar Council should respect the Federal
Constitution and not question the validity of Article 121(A).
Despite YB Zulkifli's plea for them to calm down and sit down while waiting for
their representatives to negotiate with the Bar Council, the crowd kept chanting
and cheering. The members of the Bar Council who arrived for their routine
monthly meeting were jeered, intimidated and some were prevented from entering
the building. Members of the audience who were leaving the building after the
forum were stopped were also booed mercilessly.
A member of the public, describing himself as a 'concerned citizen', when
interviewed, admitted that he arrived early and registered for the forum with
intention to voice out his dissatisfaction in the forum for challenging the
right of Islam and Muslims in this country. He came down from the forum
expressing his satisfaction saying that the forum was a good effort. That the
forum, instead, discussed the predicament faced by the non-Muslim families of
the converts. He concurred with the Bar Council that these unresolved issues
need to be ironed out and brought to the open. He was glad that he made the
effort to join the forum and found the true intention of the Bar Council,
despite it starting out of curiosity and hostility. He also expressed his
sympathy towards the crowd whom, he said, were clueless and had no idea that
they were fighting against something that does not exist.
There were about 10 police cars parked around the Bar Council building area and
about 30 FRUs on guard. The assembly was, other than the loud cheers and
chanting, a peaceful one.
We commend the police and the FRU for not using any
unnecessary force on the protestors. The crowd dispersed peacefully at around