BERITA DAILY LETTER: From M Kula Segaran, via e-mail

I take note that the unanimous decision of the Federal Court on Jan 29, 2018, in the matter of Indira Gandhi vs Pengarah Jabatan Agama Perak which rendered null and void unilateral religious conversion of minors has drawn an array of comments that covers the range from approbation to aversion.

This is to be expected given that the issue has become highly contentious.

The contention is emblematic of the gulf that has opened up in Malaysian society between those who hold that Article 3 of the Federal Constitution prioritises Islam above all other considerations embedded in the same clause.

Together with many Malaysians I hold the view that Article 3 represents a deferential doffing of the hat to Islam as the religion of the ceremonial public square, not an embrace of its polity.

Three main issues were decided by the apex court:

1) No to unilateral conversion,

2) The word ‘parent’ in Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution should be read as ‘parents’,( the definition of ‘parent’ should be plural, and

3) That the civil courts have jurisdiction to hear cases when aggrieved parties questions the due process of conversion to Islam.

All the accumulated jurisprudence backs the view that our constitution is secular and not theocratic as said so by Lord President Tun Salleh Abbas in Che Omar Che soh V PP (1988) 2 MLJ 55

The Federal Court decision of Jan 29 validates this interpretation of Article 3.

Individuals or groups contending that giving effect to the Federal Court’s decision of Jan 29 would invite violence must pause to consider whether their stance accords with a citizen’s duty to uphold the constitution.

Several years ago when the apex court ruled against Lina Joy in the matter of her renunciation of Islam, the then prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, in a public reaction, urged all citizens to respect the law. In other words, he urged citizens to accept the court’s decision, thereby adhering to the constitution.

No loyal citizen could do otherwise and stay faithful to the constitution.

We either abide by it which means we uphold the rule of law or become members of factions prone to periodic distemper in the body politic in which instance we become members of a rabble rather than denizens of a constitutional polity

M Kula Segaran is Indira Gandhi’s lawyer and the MP for Ipoh Barat

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