Suhakam wants religious status issue in Sarawak resolved

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By John Isaac

THE Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) has called on government agencies to address cases relating to the religious status of Sarawakians, including the Orang Asal communities.

Sarawak Suhakam commissioner Madeline Berma said the state’s Islamic Religious Department should also expedite such cases.

“There is no need to rope in a syarie lawyer to oversee a change in religious status if it is proven that the individual does not practice the Islamic faith,” she said in a Suhakam virtual press conference as reported by Free Malaysia Today.

This was in response to complaints by non-Muslim Orang Asal who were categorised as Muslims when applying for a new MyKad because their names contained the word “bin” or “binti”.

“Bin” or “binti” which mean “son of” or “daughter of” are prefixes to patronyms employed by Malay-Muslims.

Berma said many indigenous people had been wrongly listed as Muslims on their Mykad, which is particularly common among Christian Bumiputeras.

“When a few individuals of indigenous ethnicities or communities want to change to a new MyKad, applicants who are not Muslims or have never practiced the Islamic faith have their status changed to Islam (Muslim).”

She said it was usually a mistake made by the National Registration Department.

“It’s a straightforward administrative issue. We’ve spoken with the religious affairs minister Zulkifli Mohamad (Al-Bakri) and he told us it’s an administrative issue.”

Berma said this also applied to cases where individuals embraced Islam only because they were marrying Muslims.

She said those who wanted to have “Islam” removed from their MyKad after a divorce found the process to be “tedious, complicated and lengthy”.

Berma urged the education ministry and state education department to come up with guidelines to ensure no child was forced to attend religious classes.

This follows complaints that some students were forced to attend such classes even though they were not practising Muslims.

Such a problem occurred, she said, when one spouse converted to Islam just to marry a Muslim and then got divorced. “And the children end up the victims.”