Kuala Lumpur (The Star/ANN) - The Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) is concerned about the precedent the new Administration of the Religion of Islam (Federal Territories) Bill 2013 will set with regard to the conversion of non-Muslim minors.
They are similarly concerned about the Syariah Criminal Procedure (Federal Territories) (Amendment) Bill 2013 and the Syariah Civil Procedure (Federal Territories) (Amendment) Bill 2013 that have been tabled for debate during the first meeting of the 13th Parliament.
"We will be reading the Bills very closely in the coming days but as it stands, we are deeply concerned at the precedent they might set, namely in how it implicates the religious identity of non-Muslim minors who can be easily converted by only one of their parents," said IRF researcher Ahmad Fuad Rahmat.
"This risks leading to more inter-ethnic and inter-religious complications in the future," he said.
"Additionally, we remain firm that the Constitution should remain Malaysia's primary legal framework that cannot be overridden by religious laws," Ahmad Fuad said when contacted.
He was referring to Section 107 (the old Section 95) in the Administration of the Religion of Islam (Federal Territories) Bill 2013, which relates to the conversion of minors.
This provision became controversial in 1993 - although the English version states a non-Muslim below 18 years of age may convert to Islam if "his parent or guardian consents to his conversion", the Malay version of Section 95 amended "ibubapa (parents)" to "ibu atau bapa (mother or father)".
Sisters In Islam (SIS) also joins the Bar Council and others, who have asked why the Government had not amended the "controversial provision, which allows for unilateral conversions" since it is tabling an entirely new Bill.
The Administration of the Religion of Islam (Federal Territories) Bill 2013, if passed by both Houses of Parliament next month, will repeal the Administration of Islamic Law (Federal Territories) Act 1993.
"Given the many experiences of gross injustice faced by Malaysians - both Muslim and non-Muslim - in such cases, Section 107(b) should have been amended," said SIS programme manager Suri Kempe.
"It is a loophole which allows for the perpetration of injustice and leads to a situation that tears families apart."
She added that, on the whole, it was difficult to comment on the Bill because so little time had been given to parliamentarians and civil society to scrutinise it.
"In a vibrant democracy, the practice of railroading bills without sufficient discussion, especially one that has repercussions on the lives of millions of Malaysians, cannot be accepted."