KUALA LUMPUR, July 8 (Bernama) -- The drafting of a law involving the multi-religious and multi-racial people in the country must be clearly explained to avert disputes and confusion.
While lauding the withdrawal of the tabling of the controversial Administration of Religion of Islam (Federal Territories) Bill 2013, former Court of Appeal judge Datuk Mohd Noor Abdullah said the explanation and clarification must be given by a law expert.
"The one giving the explanation should be a law expert or the minister who has been well-briefed by the officers from the Attorney-General's Chambers," he told Bernama.
The government had, on Friday, withdrawn the tabling of the bill, which among others, allows a converted parent to decide that his or her child will also be a Muslim.
The bill was tabled for first reading at the Dewan Rakyat on June 26.
Prior to this, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin in a statement, said that the issue concerning the religious status of children whose parents coverted to Islam had been discussed in details at the Cabinet level, and that all opinion and concerns voiced by all quarters, including Barisan Nasional (BN) component parties, had been taken into consideration.
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Muhyiddin said the decision to withdraw the bill was also done to give more time to the government and all quarters to scrutinise the bill in a holistic manner.
He also said that the bill would only be tabled for second reading upon approval by all quarters.
Mohd Noor, however, said Section 107(b) of the bill was in line with Article 12 (4) of the Federal Constitution which provides that the religion of a person below the age of 18 must be decided by his parent or guardian.
He explained that the word 'parent' (singular) was not interpreted as mother and father as it was clearly not written as 'parents'.
"The Constitution has purposely, not by mistake or due to neglect, used the word 'parent'. So, it is up to the father or mother to make the decision," he said.
As such, he said it was illogical for anybody to insist that both the father and the mother to be given the right to decide their child's religion as it would only lead to unsolved problems.
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"If both the parents converted to Islam, then, there should be no problem, but if only one of the parents converted to Islam and wanted the child to be converted to Islam too, will the other parent agree to it?
"If a guardian, who is not related to the child by maternal blood, can decide the religion of the child, then how can it be apt for both parents to make the decision?" he said.
Mohd Noor said religious discrimination was a non-issue because the discrimination was indeed positive and sanctioned by the law, like the protection of the special rights and privileges of the Malays and Bumiputera.
"In this context, the official religion is Islam. Islam is the religion of the federation but other religions can be practised in peace and harmony.
"So, if the Federal Constitution seemed bias towards Islam, it is because that's the way it should be because Islam is the official religion in each state in Malaysia," he said.
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Mohd Noor also called on all quarters not to sensationalise the issue to the extent of calling for the amendment of the Constitution and causing irreconcilable disputes among the people.
While hoping that the bill would maintain the words 'his parent or guardian' just like in the Federal Constitution, the former judge also called for a special provision be created.
"The special provision is to allow husband or wife, and children who remain in their original religion, to make claims of their rights while they are still family in a civil court as their status (after divorce) will no longer be recognised by the syariah court," he said.
He said this would prevent disputes among all quarters (husband, wife and children), especially on what should be received by children of a broken marriage.
"To ensure the future of the country, it's best for us to stick to what is stipulated in the Constitution as agreed to by all quarters since Independence 55 years ago.
"If we change the landscape, many other things will change too. It will be unfortunate for the people should we change what we have agreed to 55 years ago. If the Constitution were to be amended, where exactly are we heading?" he added.
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