Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Court challenges Sharia law in Malaysia after father converts his three children to Islam

   A COURT decision in Malaysia on 29 January has challenged the application of sharia by Islamic religious authorities in this Muslim-majority country.
   A panel of five judges in Malaysia’s highest legal tribunal, the Federal Court, ruled in favour of a challenge by a Malaysian Hindu, Indira Gandhi, to her ex-husband’s conversion of their three children to Islam, in 2009, without her consent.
   Her ex-husband, K. Pathmanathan, left his Hindu faith that year to embrace Islam, adopting the Muslim name Muhammad Riduan Abdullah. His marriage to Mrs Gandhi broke up, and, shortly after his conversion, he changed the religious status of the three children to Muslim.
   At the time, their eldest daughter was 12, their son 11, and the youngest daughter, Prasana, was barely one year old. Riduan Abdullah took Prasana from the family home, and disappeared.
   A series of court battles ensued. In 2013, Mrs Gandhi brought the matter before the High Court in the Malaysian city of Ipoh, which declared the conversions of the three children null and void.
   Two years later, the Malaysian Court of Appeal reversed the decision for the two younger children by the Ipoh High Court, declaring that the case fell under the sharia court, and that the civil courts had no jurisdiction over such matters.
   Mrs Gandhi’s legal team then took the matter to the Federal Court, which issued its decision in her favour. It ruled that the religious identity of the children could not be changed without the consent of both parents. In interpreting Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution, which states that the religion of a person under the age of 18 years shall be decided by his or her parent or guardian, the Federal Court ruled that the phrase “parent or guardian”, although in the singular, included both parents.
   The decision of the five Federal Court judges, most of whom are themselves Muslim, was unanimous. The panel also ruled that the right to judicial review of such cases falls under the jurisdiction of the civil courts, not the sharia courts, as the latter have limited jurisdiction over matters pertaining to Muslims only.
   The Malaysian police force is attempting to track down Riduan Abdullah, whose whereabouts, and those of his now ten-year-old daughter Prasana are unknown. Meanwhile, the two older children are reported to have declared themselves as Hindus in the wake of the Federal Court decision.
   The decision has been widely welcomed in Malaysia. A former Federal Court judge, Gopal Sri Ram, said that the decision demonstrated that the Malaysian Constitution was a secular charter and not an Islamic constitution, and that “the essence of the judgment must be taught in all our schools so that future generations understand its importance.”
   The Malaysian Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (PROHAM), a multi-faith group which includes Muslim representation, argued that the decision was in line with Article 14 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Datuk Kuthubul Zaman, who chairs PROHAM, urged all parties “to respect this decision and work towards a united Malaysia where all are equal before the law irrespective of religion, class, and gender”.
   Eugene Yapp, the director of RFL Partnership, a Malaysian network for the promotion of religious freedom, said that the decision represented “a first major push-back against the tide of Islamisation by a major institution that is long overdue. It is welcomed by large segments of society, especially non-Muslim minorities.”
   Conservative Muslim groups have opposed the decision. The Mufti of Perak, the supreme Islamic legal authority in that Malaysian state, said that “this is as though the country has no religion,” and that it was like “making Hindus of Muslims”. His counterpart in the Malaysian state of Pahang, Mufti Abdul Rahman Osman, spoke against the Federal Court decision, saying that “under-age children follow the religion of whichever parent has taken to Islam.”
   The president of the Malaysian Association of Muslim Scholars, Abdul Halim Abd Kadir, said: “We are concerned that . . . there is a possibility of conflict between religious adherents in this country that may spark violence in society.” He went on: “I am simply carrying out my duty as a Muslim, to speak out against this.”

This article was first published in "The Church Times", London, 16 February 2018

Thursday, 11 January 2018

The Gülen Movement: practising presence more than proselytisation

The world’s largest Muslim movement is in crisis. Tens of thousands of supporters of the vast international network led by Islamic theologian and philosopher Fetullah Gülen languish in prisons in Turkey and other countries. Gülen himself faces extradition to Turkey from the US to face charges of subversion if Washington accedes to the Turkish request. Ankara is now linking the release of American Pastor Andrew Brunson, imprisoned on trumped-up terrorism and espionage charges, with Gülen’s extradition.
Read on here.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Australia: same-sex marriage and religious adherence

In Australia, supporters of same sex marriage (SSM) continue to celebrate the result of the postal survey taken during the months of September and October. Around 62% of Australian voters answered YES to the simple question: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” Press coverage of this result has generally taken the line that the Australian people have overwhelmingly supported SSM.
Masking the details
Of course, such macro statistics mask myriad details. To speak of “the Australian people” as a monolithic block on such a contentious topic is misleading. Almost 5,000,000 Australians voted against SSM. The country is clearly divided on the basis of voting statistics alone.
However, this issue has revealed deep divisions of other kinds that have been under-reported in the media, itself largely pro-SSM during the campaign. One of the most interesting, and perhaps most concerning, aspects of division revealed by this vote relates to Australia’s multicultural and multi-faith society.
The SSM proposal received especially strong support from inner-city areas. For example, the fashionable electorate of inner Melbourne recorded 84 per cent support for SSM, the highest in the nation. In electorates in inner Sydney and the Sydney North Shore, where house prices determine a population of largely Caucasian professionals, support for SSM was running typically well above 70%. As with Sydney and Melbourne, the inner-city electorates of Australia’s third largest city, Brisbane, were among the top ten electorates that were most supportive of SSM.
On the other hand, the strongest opposition to the SSM proposal came from areas of cities with high density non-English speaking migrant populations from the two-thirds world.  For example, twelve of the seventeen electorates that returned a majority ‘no’ to SSM are in western Sydney, where there are clusters of lower socio-economic communities, with high proportions of recent migrant arrivals.
Cultural & religious divide                                
So there is clearly something of a cultural divide between those sections which enthusiastically supported the proposal and those which strongly opposed it. While the lines are not drawn exclusively according to ethnicity, a general observation is that more affluent Caucasian communities tended to go with the proposal.
However there is another very interesting aspect to the deep division over the SSM question.  It was also noticeable from recent Australian national censuses that inner-city areas tend to have higher proportions of (especially younger) Australians who self-identify as having no religion. On the other hand, lower socio-economic communities seemed according to Census statistics to be more attached to a religious identity.
 The connection is striking. Those communities in Australia that tend to be areligious were inclined to support SSM, while those communities that embraced a religion– not only Christianity–were inclined to oppose the SSM proposal.
This contrast can be illustrated by two neighbouring electorates in the state of Victoria. In the inner Metropolitan electorate of Wills, support for the SSM proposal was 70%. However in the neighbouring electorate of Calwell, which has a significant non-English speaking migrant community that is heavily Catholic and Muslim, a 56% majority chose to oppose the SSM proposal.
As observed in a report by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, “the proportion of non-religious residents in an electorate has a closer statistical relationship to voters’ views on SSM than any other demographic variable.”
The Australian Parliament has already legalised same sex marriage, effective December 9 2017.  One male parliamentarian took the opportunity during a recent speech in the Lower House to propose to his male partner who was in the public gallery.
Papering over the cracks
Media reports of a sweeping victory for the YES campaign, and public celebrations of the result by supporters, paper over the reality of a deeply divided society. These divisions reflect not merely ideological perspectives but issues of ethnic, cultural and religious identity. Australian society is likely to become much more polarised in coming decades.

This article first appeared in "Evangelicals Now" (http://www.e-n.org.uk/), January 2018, p9.