Lives can be ruined by religious-tinged racism – Mariam Mokhtar

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Source: FMT News

BY MARIAM MOKHTAR

The claim that Islamic law affects only Muslims does not ring true.

As the conference on overcoming racism, organised by Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia, gets underway in Melbourne, some people may be wondering how to counter the racism in Malaysia, which is tinged with religious undertones.

My Filipina and Indonesian friends say that during Ramadhan, they have been embarrassed when religious officials question them for eating in public in the daytime. My Catholic friends from Sabah and Sarawak have often been mistaken for Muslims.

They also claim that on a few occasions, they have not received a warm reception from restaurateurs who serve non-halal food. They say the proprietors want them to finish their meal quickly and leave because they want to avoid unwanted attention from religious officials, who may barge into the premises and accuse them of serving non-halal food to Muslims. It’s not good for business.

Religious officials forget that Ibans or Kadazans may look Malay, but they are not. The same goes with some Malaysians of mixed Indian and Chinese parentage.

Questions about food and drink are minor things. What happens when it comes to child custody cases, body snatching from funeral parlours, the charging of non-Muslims for khalwat and other serious cases? Community relations have been threatened and lives have been wrecked.
Perhaps this weekend’s conference would address these issues and more.

Everyone must speak out. Malay and non-Malay Malaysians must discuss these issues because everyone is affected.

The claim by religious departments and some political parties that shariah and hudud laws affect only Muslims do not ring true.

In December 2011, the Penang Religious Department caught an Indonesian worker, Halimah, for allegedly committing khalwat with a non-Muslim.

Halimah is Christian. In February 2012, she was sentenced to jail and fined. In September 2013, the Syariah High Court dismissed her appeal and upheld her conviction. In April 2014, the Indonesian Consulate-General intervened and confirmed that Halimah was Catholic and not subject to shariah laws.

In June 2014, a retrial was ordered. In August of that year, the Syariah Court struck off the khalwat charge.

We have a couple of questions to ask of the authorities. First, why was the case allowed to proceed in the first instance? Second, what about non-Muslims whose lives have been blighted by body snatching and other abhorrent abuses of power by the religious authorities?

Non-Muslim Malaysians do not have a consulate-general to fight on their behalf. Most Malay lawyers do not want to rock the boat and be accused of being “traitors” if they admonish religious officials and shariah courts for abusing their powers.

Miscarriages of justice like these leave a bad stain on the rest of the Malaysian Muslims.

Poor Halimah suffered three years of mental torture because of her false conviction. She was forced to miss her daughter’s marriage because of the trials and the costs they incurred. Her passport had been impounded.

This woman’s life was messed up by actions of overzealous religious officials and a syariah court that was blind to the facts. Halimah is not the first victim of religious officials who have no clue about human rights and the rule of law.

In cases of miscarriages of justice such as this, will the government pay the wrongly accused any compensation and offer a public apology?

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.