KUALA LUMPUR: THE cabinet yesterday decided to withdraw the controversial Administration of the Religion of Islam (Federal Territories) Bill 2013.
Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said yesterday the decision was made after taking into account views from all stakeholders, including Barisan Nasional component parties.
"Based on this, the government has agreed to withdraw the bill to ensure that any religious decision made is fair to all."
He also said the government and all parties should be given time to review the bill holistically and would only re-table the bill once a consensus is achieved.
"Therefore, any consequential amendments from the bill will also be withdrawn."
The bill had been tabled for first reading at the Dewan Rakyat but Clause 107(b) caused some controversy. The clause would have allowed only one parent, or guardian, to approve the conversion of minors to Islam.
This prospect had drawn flak from various parties, describing it as "unconstitutional and unjust" and demanded the bill be withdrawn.
Muhyiddin said the government believed Islam was a fair religion for all and in view of this, the matter needed to be resolved in a just manner.
He explained that the interpretation of a 2008 Federal Court decision had caused Clause 107(b) to be written in such a way as to allow just one parent to grant permission for the conversion of minors to Islam.
In that 2008 ruling in Subashini Rajasingam v Saravanan Thangathoray, the Federal Court had interpreted the word "parent" in Article 12 of the Federal Constitution as being singular.
Now, I had observed the development of this issue since the start, long before its present stage.
The Subashini Rajasingham v Saravanan Thangathoray case had been used on the political front as a weapon by the Pakatan people to rally the support of the non-Muslims against the Umno (read Malay) led Barisan Nasional Government.
Umno was portrayed as being responsible in engineering the Federal Court's decision which deprived a mother of her rights over her child who had been converted by her ex-husband to become a Muslim like himself.
It was part of the campaign to convince the non-Muslim Malaysians how evil and repressive Umno was towards them. Another issue being manipulated in similar manner was the body snatcher issue where the Islamic religious authorities were having disputes with families of converts who had died and were to be buried according to Islamic rites.
The odd thing about both issues was that Pas, which is a member of the Pakatan coalition had always withdraw into a cocoon every time such an issue flared up, letting Umno taking the full brunt of the non-Muslims' anger, stoked by none other than its own Pakatan friends who normally went under the guise of some NGOs when dealing with these issues.
I was actually looking forward to the conversion bill to be tabled as it would be interesting to see where Pas would stand on the matter.
In fact it would also be interesting to see where everyone would stand.
The muslims on one side, while the non-Muslims on the other. I believe that would be what it could have been if it comes to a vote.
But of course there would be exceptions among the Muslim Malays. People like Nazri Aziz and other liberals may not want to support the bill being turned into a law as per argued that it was not fair to the non-Muslims.
I however wonder if there are any non-Muslims who may support the bill for one reason or another.
I'm not a legal expert, but personally, I think it is good that more studies are to be made on the bill.
I do believe that the bill may indeed be unfair, not to the non-Muslims as a whole but instead to just the parent who doesn't consented to the conversion of his/her child.
For me, this is a personal matter instead of something which is to be haggled by groups of differing views with political interests at stake.
After all, to let just one of the parents to decide on the religion of their child should not be automatically be deemed as being unfair.
Imagine a situation where a mother has been taking care of her child on her own without any contribution from an absent father. Would it be fair if the mother wants to convert and brought up the child the way she wanted but then subjected by laws which require the consent of the absent father?
I hope these would be ironed out based on the needs of those involved in such situations instead of due to pressure from people who are actually only interested in exploiting the issue for their own political interests.