Sabah school in conversion row must be held accountable, father insists

Jilius Yapoo (left) said through his lawyer Darell Leiking (centre) that a letter of demand was sent to the school over a month ago, but they have yet to reply or contact him regarding the queries. ― File pic

KOTA KINABALU, March 27 ― The transfer of the teacher responsible for the controversial Islamic “conversion” of a 16-year-old student does not absolve SMK Kinarut here of responsibility for the incident, said the father of the girl involved.

Jilius Yapoo also said through his lawyer Darell Leiking that a letter of demand was sent to the school over a month ago, but they have yet to reply or contact him regarding the queries.

“The school (SMK Kinarut) needs to be accountable because they were entrusted by the parents to look after their children. How can any parent trust the school when they refuse to assist in finding out the truth?

“It would mean every child from any religion are at the risk of conversion to another religion,” he said.

Leiking, who is also Penampang MP, said the school remained responsible even though both protagonists have since transferred out, as the teen was under its care during the incident that he dubbed a “breach of the Federal Constitution”.

In the letter dated February 25, Jilius demanded a written confirmation of events of the event, including the time and date, the witness who was involved during the reciting of the “khalimah syahada” and when she first started wearing the tudung among other things.

“The explanation seeked is just to establish facts and chronology of events. The school has not assisted us, I do not know why they have not responded even though its been a month,” he said.

Early February, Malay Mail Online reported that the 16-year-old form four student in SMK Kinarut had “converted” into Islam without her parent’s consent. The school principal denied blame, saying that the student had willingly declared her faith.

The state Education Department had absolved the school and teacher involved but later transferred the teacher to an Islamic religious school after pressure from several parties, including parents of the new school she had been posted to for a few months.

The minor in question and her three younger siblings were this week enrolled at a new school ― SMK Tun Fuad in Kiulu, which has Catholic-run hostels. She had initially refused to take off her Muslim headscarf but later relented.

Her father, a 46-year-old rubber tapper and father of eight, had wanted to take legal recourse against the school for failing to inform him of his daughter’s actions and for robbing him of his right to determine her religion.

He is hoping that the new school and environment will lure her back into a more Christian lifestyle.

According to the Federal Constitution, a minor's religion is decided by her parents. Under religious law, reciting the syahada suffices to make a person Muslim.

While there has been confusion as to whether or not the child is now Muslim, Pertubuhan Angkatan Gabungan Rakyat Asli Sabah president Michael Frederick, who has followed Jilius’s plight, said that there was no official documents at the National Registration Department or the State Islamic Department of Sabah in Papar to declare that the child was no longer a Sidang Injil Borneo Christian .

The case has been the talk of town as there there is more concern over the seemingly increasing proselytisation of Islam in the multiracial Sabah.

Many have blamed it on overzealous religious bodies from the peninsula Malaysia but it remains unclear and unresolved.