This Thing about Unilateral Conversions in Malaysia

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by Ruby Gege

I am personally very disappointed today. Over an issue that has been dragged on for years. It should have been solved, could have been solved years before but I’m not sure what was stopping the proper parties from reaching a solution. The solution is clear – it is there, it can provide for a finality in the dispute.

However, due to the fears of offending certain factions of the Malaysian society, the proper parties have somehow intelligently avoided from showing their stances. They need to give a solution. They don’t really want to – I know. It is a difficult thing, indeed. Who wants to be stuck in the middle of that dilemma that involves two faiths of two different persons – the mother and the father?

Unilateral conversions of children have been a major issue in Malaysia and most of the time, the stories had a tragic backdrop to them. Father and mother were a non-Muslim married couple with children. Years later, the marriage turned sour. Father converted to Islam and applied for divorce from the Syariah Court. At the same time, he also converted their children without the consent of the mother, changing their religions to Islam. I don’t think he bothered to ask the children what they think. What more the mother. Then, since the children were supposedly of the same religion with the father, the father was granted custody order. Thus, to him, the children belonged to him.

Based on a number of famous cases in Malaysia, one can safely assume that the mother is always the victim to this one-sided proceedings. The father converted to Islam without telling her, applied for divorce from Syariah Court (which decisions bind only Muslims) without consulting her and converted her children without her knowledge. She was half the unit that gave birth to the children. She was half the unit that raised them. Yet, when it comes to cases such as this, her importance was discarded. Her role as the mother – notwithstanding the religion she subscribed to – was diminished. By whom – the husband, the judiciary or the whole system that seems to be treating her unfairly?

Yes, ‘fairness’ is the main issue here. Is it fair to the mother? I prefer to use the word ‘mother’ here in light of the frequency of the cases which involves the mother not having knowledge of their husbands’ act in converting the children and having them deprived from her. If one is to read all the stories in the newspaper and also the case reports, one could very well conclude that it is not. It is not fair. Nevertheless, in situations like this, most people would react with… “What can we do? What to do? The father has the right to act as such anyway. The mother has the order of the civil court, the father the Syariah court. Both have orders. Both have the rights. So what can we do? How can we favour the mother over the father? We don’t have a right to tear away the children from the father as well.”

For the public, they can say such thing, considering they are the public. As for the proper parties who are entrusted by the public to ensure fairness, I do hope that they would display more determination in this matter. Referring to a number of news for the past few days, many significant leaders have suggested solutions which, in my humble opinion, stray from the clear-cut solutions we have in mind. Instead of offering solutions to solve problems, the suggestions lead to more waiting and confusion.

The suggestion that has triggered this post and the one I personally find most disappointing is that the interfaith custody battle should be determined by the Federal Court. Now, I disagree with such view purely from the technical angle. It is already very costly to hire a lawyer and wait for the case to go to court. After having the relief of bringing the case to the attention of the High Court (which is established by the Federal Constitution which happens to be THE SUPREME LAW OF THE LAND) and obtaining an order, the mother or aggrieved party was then told something similar to this effect – “yeah, sorry, I know you spent so many time and energy to gain your son’s custody. But guess what? The High Court order is not good enough. Now, you have to re-hire your lawyers, spend more money, time and energy and witness the continuation of this case.” Problem is, as a normal insignificant citizen, I don’t see any end to the continuation. I can’t. And I am forever a skeptic as to the Federal Court’s ability to solve the matter further.  

We need a solution. That is clear enough. We also need a determination and finality in that solution. Any so-called solution that proves to drag the matter further, causing more suffering to the parties. We are in dire need of fairness and justice in that solution. From what I observe, all eyes are on the Federal Court now. I did not really take the suggestion seriously when it was mentioned by the Prime Minister. Then, a few minutes ago, the Attorney-General suggested the same thing. And I was a bit surprised. I asked myself – is that it? Is that the solution we have been seeking for? Really?

But then… what about the mothers who have been separated from their children?

What about their children’s happiness? What about fairness?

It seems like my disappointment remains… for now.

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Book Review of Infidel, The Caged Virgin & Nomad by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

By the Gorgeous Palah Chingu

Obviously, I am a Muslim. However, I am not a devout one. I am what you can say a combination of modern-moderate Muslim (I embraced liberalism, openness and secularism). When I first read about Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s story, I am aroused by curiosity. What are the factors that drove her in denouncing her religion? What motivates her to be so bold and ferocious in the fight for her own value and belief? I admire her boldness. She does not let anything and anyone prevent her from speaking her own mind. Of course, when you did that, you tend to offend other people but that’s what freedom of speech is made of. You can agree to disagree. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. There is no right or wrong. There is just whether you believe or you are not, whether you with her or you are not. Even after I read her books, I still trust in one god. I still believe in my religion. If she chooses not to do so, it is her option. I don’t know why people made such a big deal out of this matter.

My Rating: 3.5/5
My Rating: 3.5/5

‘Infidels’ was the first book that she wrote. She told her tale sincerely. You can felt the emotion and the sentiment that she conveyed in it. Her tale on her upbringing, families, traditions, cultures is what I called the bundle of sad-depressed but heart moving-inspirational life in some sort of way. I hated it when people dismissed her whenever they heard about her being an apostate or non-believer. You have to know what her story was first before you judged her. She had her own reason to do so and I believe I am in no position to judge her. What happened is between her and god, and I insisted my stance remain that way. She ventured her childhood to teenage hood with resilient and bravery. She did become naughty girl and angered her mother and grandmother. When she met Sister Aziza; she suddenly felt the need to lay low, remain modest and try to be a pious Muslim woman. Through all this age phases, she did some experimenting here and there. I don’t blame her. We all have passed those phases in our life. There is one brief moment when her father decided to marry her off with some guy she barely knew, she decided to take control of her life. She ran away and applied a refugee status at Holland. Most of us probably accepted our fate and give up already but she took initiative and managed to escape. She’s got gut. She is in charge of her life, she furthers her study, and she worked her ass off and even managed to learn Dutch language fluently. Who does not admire a strong person like her? The she joined political party at Holland and become one of the loud and opinionated politicians at Holland.

My Rating 3/5
My Rating 3/5

‘The Caged Virgin: An emancipation of proclamation for women and Islam’ is the second book that written by her. My admiration towards her is simply escalated. She revealed 2 major problems that strangle Muslim women over the years which are genital mutilation and domestic violence. In the country like Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan, the practice of genital mutilation is deem cultural and tradition of the society. This practice is not written anywhere in Quran or Sunnah. Yet, there are vast amount of people who still did it and invoking the act on the name of religion or culture. Ayaan herself is among the victim of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The right path to curb this practice is education which is sadly the people who lives in a country that practices this act had no access to. The victims of this cruel custom are none other than girls. Domestic Violence is so rampantly happened especially in the middle-east countries. I have credible facts for saying so. What Ayaan tried to do is telling those helpless girls who got beaten by their spouse on the daily basis to leave and get themselves out of the marriage before they lose their own life. She also talked about the murders of Van Gogh who directed the story of ‘submission’. It is the revenge form of religious extremists who I felt is incapable of thinking. We can do debate, discussion, forum and any other thing to resolve this kind of thing. It is sad to see whenever some person happened to insult Islam, we go to protest violently, we threat to kill people that involved in it and even to the extend we insulted that person back and somehow, we insisted that Islam is the peaceful religion. How freaking irony is that?

My Rating: 3/5
My Rating: 3/5

Last but not least, ‘Nomads’ is the continuation of 1st and 2nd book that she wrote. In this book, she wrote how she tried to amend her relationship with his father and mother and try to get them past the incident of her being atheist. Ayaan wrote how her father relentlessly talked her into converting back to Islam. Her mother also did not give up and insist on talking to Ayaan to return and repent. I kind of understood why Ayaan persistent and does not want to back off. It is a matter of faith. Ayaan already believe she made the right choice, thus no matter how many times they persuade or plead to her to reverse her decision, it will not happen. It is simple as that. I don’t want to point out whether she is right or wrong as I stated, it is matter of personal choice. As for personal choice is it is up to her to do what she thinks is right or wrong. Then she told the story of her revocation of Holland citizenship and how she managed to gain the America citizenship. She opened up her experience living in America which is to her much more surreal compared to Holland but in the same time she enjoyed it. She spoke about her brother, her sister and her grandmother. How the life in Somalia, Kenya and Arab Saudi changed her sibling’s behavior and took its toll on them.

Just so you know, What Ayaan wrote in all three books, some of it I can agree with and some of it I disagree. That’s how you learnt, isn’t it? Not everybody will agree with you and not everybody will condemn you. Ayaan insists that Islam encourage that husband can beats her wife. I disagree with her, because from what I have learned, there are 2 steps that need to be followed before that. “As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of annoyance); for Allah is most High and Great (above you all)”. (Quran: An-Nisaa 34-35). Ayaan also insists that Man usually took control of his daughter’s life. That, she should marry whoever her father chose. That too is true but according to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in one of his saying: Khansa’ bint Khudham said, “My father married me off, and I was averse [to the marriage], and I was a virgin, so I complained of it to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) who said, “Do not marry her if she is averse [to it].” That means the girl can refuse to marry that person if she doesn’t want to.

There are some other things that I disagree but I do not wish to write because I have to be careful on that particular topic. Knowing that I may not have adequate knowledge to comment on that, I decided to not discuss it. Overall, all of her book is good for critical thinking, I must say. You would sometime agree with her, you would sometime disagree and I think that’s how it should goes in the reading process.

My own collection of her books
My own collection of her books

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A ‘LEGAL RELIGION’ OR AN ‘ILLEGAL RELIGION’?

Opinion by Ruby Chingu

I woke up this morning to a very interesting newspiece. Not sure if the news has been confirmed to be true or not but it is all around the internet.

http://guardianlv.com/2013/11/islam-banned-in-angola/

My friend posted in Facebook this news article on how Islam is now banned in Angola. It is a religion practiced by a very small percentage in the country. Not sure how a religion can be banned through the correct process of law but somehow it did, or at least the Government made their intentions clear. But their Constitution guaranteed the fundamental right to freedom of religion. Surely, this shall include the freedom to practice Islam.

Being a proponent to secularism in the context of public governance, I disagree with the banning. Yes, I am a Muslim and of course my sentiments could be a little biased. However, even talking from the point of view of a secularist, the banning for one to choose and practice their own conscience is considered wrong. Of course people would argue that certain extremists of any religion would go to the extreme and harm other people. That is true. Then punish those extremists and not the average citizens who are just trying to live their lives.

How does one ban a conscience? How does one actually legalize a conscience? Or maybe the conscience is beyond the law?

We can never dictate on how one’s mind shall work. Notwithstanding the passing of any law, people will believe what their hearts want to believe. We can never impose to other people that what we believe is right, for what we believe may be right to us but wrong to others. Each are given their own unique experiences. And how they shall deal with those unique experiences should be up their own choice.

*this short opinion is too serious of a topic for me this morning, considering I have yet to have my morning coffee. Gaaah!! Where the fuck did I put my Starbucks card??*