Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The curious case of switching religion

Secara Rawak

Rooney Rebit’s 30-year-long quest to be recognised as a Christian has finally come to a satisfying end yet the quest could have taken longer if the National Registration Department (NRD) had its way with the appeal against the Kuching Court’s decision to recognise Rooney as a Christian.

Justice Datuk Yew Jen Kie made the decision on the application made by Rooney (formerly known as Azmi Mohamad Azam Shah), who was converted to Islam when he was 10 years old by his Christian-turned-Muslim parents.

An order of mandamus

The Bidayuh, now 41, had applied for a judicial review to obtain recognition that he is a Christian, an order of mandamus to compel the first and/or second respondents to issue the letter of release from Islam; an order of mandamus to compel the third respondent to change the applicant’s name to Rooney Rebit; and an order of mandamus to compel the third respondent to drop his religion of Islam in his identity card and records at the National Registry.

The NRD filed a notice of appeal on April 22, 2016, after it was ordered by the Kuching High Court to issue a new MyKad to Rooney with the name he was born with and with the Muslim classification removed.

Two other defendants in the case, namely Islamic Religious Affairs Department (JAIS) and the Sarawak Islamic Council, did not appeal.

Why go to such lengths?

It took the intervention of the Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem and Prime Minister Najib Razak, to compel the NRD to withdraw their appeal against the Kuching Court’s decision. Yet, why did it have to go to such lengths to compel the NRD to withdraw?

What benefit does the NRD get by not issuing a new identity card to Rooney? What benefit would NRD get by retaining Rooney religion as Islam? It is a complete mystery, unless all we can think of is that it is an intentional move to make it hard for all to switch religion.

But in a world where individuals fight tooth and nail to maintain their personal freedoms, state policing of religion may not be the best thing especially for a state like Sarawak where religion is a personal and private matter.

The assertion by Adenan Satem that he will look into similar cases after the state election is promising but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. All may sound good and well now, but after the state election, who knows. It is under a BN government that the policing of religion has hit an all high in recent years.

Sarawak may think the Adenan has the final say in all this, but the fact that Adenan had to get Najib to instruct NRD to withdraw their appeal is telling. In matters of religion, especially the switching of religion, the federal government holds court. Why?

A trump card

Religion is and always will be, a trump card in the political scene in Malaysia. It is a card that will sway the majority vote in BN’s favour. In the peninsula, it is impossible to change religion and attempts have been made before. Yet, different rules seem to apply to Sarawak, for now at least. But the future is uncertain. If the BN government can switch their stance before and after any election, what guarantee we have that the same would not happen to those wishing to switch their religious status on their identity cards after the Sarawak state election?

Ultimately, it will be the likes of UMNO who will push to block any attempt to switch religions away from Islam. And the president of UMNO is Najib Razak. And it doesn’t take much for Najib Razak to call up Adenan Satem after the state election and tell him that the NRD has every right to not change the religious status on an identity card, even though a court has issued an order to do so.

This is the curious case of switching religions in Malaysia, where it is harder as compared to politicians who switch their minds before and after any election. –

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