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Don’t mess with religion
Published on: Saturday, May 07, 2016

By Richard Joe Jimmy
The Federal Constitution should be the supreme guideline of decision-making for the National Registration Department when approving the issuance of birth certificates and Mykad.

If only the constitution is fully respected and acted upon, there wouldn’t be any confusion making decision related to the issue of religion that had been confronting indigenous native Malaysians for years now. But is the Federal constitution rule supreme over such issue?

Many are confused about it. In Sabah, many are facing unnecessary inconvenience when their Mykads identified them as Islam just because of them having “bin” or “binti” in their birth certificates. Though there is ample evidence proving otherwise, often they are taken in a long merry-go-round before they eventually get their problem solved.

The reason is simple. The NRD officers in Putrajaya are still lacking knowledge about the status of indigenous natives in this state and also in Sarawak. More problems surface when an individual is unknowingly allegedly converted to Islam even though he or she had never practised the religion and know nothing about Islam.

However, the case of a Dayak Bidayuh convert Roneey Rebit who wants to remove “Islam” in his Mykad after the Sarawak Court made a landmark judgement allowing him to return to his childhood religion is an eye-opener to respect once again the dignity of the Federal constitution. It must be officially recognised as a precedent when NRD performs its duty issuing birth certificates and Mykads.

And it is pleasing that the Sarawak CM had taken a bold decision to keep his promise granting religious freedom to Sarawakians. He intervened. Our PM too had given his assurance requesting NRD not to challenge Rebit’s bid so that he can officially be allowed to live as a Christian again.

Rebit won the case after he filed a judicial review at the civil High Court to challenge the NRD. The decision was made on March 24. That was his response to the insistence of NRD asking him to obtain an order from the Shariah Court before they can process his application.

Ribet’s lawyer, Chua Kuan Ching welcomed Adenan’s initiative. She said that the case cannot be a one-off case only.

Meanwhile, Secretary General of the Association of Churches, Sarawak (ACS) Ambrose Linang criticised the NRD’s initial decision to pursue the case to the Court of Appeal.

“There really is no need for NRD to file appeal in the first place because any such appeal is seen as interfering in the religious freedom of Sarawakians.” Linang said. He also wants NRD not to make it difficult for converts to go back to their old religion, especially when they were never born as Muslims.

The Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) was disappointed that NRD failed to uphold and respect Article 11(1) of the Federal constitution. It said that NRD should understand this basic constitutional right of all Malaysians. It urged all federal agencies to respect the constitutional liberties of Malaysians that it believes are sacrosanct.

Indeed, religion cannot be used to hinder the right of Malaysians to obtain legal official identification.

But religion is solely a way to worship God, our creator. Religion must not deny humans to have a peaceful means to be near to God.

Why not we make our country a real and truly a heaven on earth rather than the opposite of it? Isn’t it great that there is always great understanding and unity among various religions in Malaysia? The decision selecting us to be placed in His heavenly kingdom, not in this earthly kingdom, is purely God’s decision. Why mess with God?

It is very unfortunate that the NRD seems lost so much so it cannot act based on Article 11(1) of the Federal constitution.

The lives of many indigenous natives in Sabah had been made difficult by the NRD. There are several of them still not having birth certificates and even Mykad up to this day. Due to that problem, some children are deprived of education.

They can’t register in school. The elders are deprived of opportunities enjoyed by other Malaysians.

Intervention by certain YBs, too, is always ignored by NRD as if their powers are irrelevant, not important and that they have no authority helping the people to get birth certificates and Mykad, even if they are equipped with undeniable evidence. But if they can abide our PM and Adenan’s interventions, why can’t NRD consider other YBs’ appeals?

What an irony. Why use religion as the dominant consideration?

The indigenous natives in Sabah and Sarawak never expected this when they agreed to the formation of Malaysia.

What a pity, they have problems getting the citizenship of Malaysia.

NRD’s duty should be confined to issuing birth certificates and Mykads to qualified indigenous natives.

They must not function as a religious body by denying those having problematic details of religion when issuing those important papers. It is totally absurd and unfair for them when NRD does not act in accordance with Article 11(1) of the Federal constitution. Let the people handle their religious problem later but not the issuance of birth certificates and Mykad.

Look, there are already indigenous natives who don’t bother to get their birth certificates and Mykad.

Although they know that without such important documents they are deprived of all the benefits, they opined that getting birth certificate and Mykad with the imposition of tough conditions tantamount to forcing them to change the life they are already comfortable with. Without such important documents, they are forfeiting their future just because of a simple problem.

NRD must respect the sensitivity of the indigenous native especially with regard to religion. There must be no force attached for them to readily accept such faith. We are fortunate that they are peaceful people, not aggressive and rebellious community. But that should not be the reason for anybody to take advantage of them. Instead they must be assisted unconditionally so that they can always truly commit themselves building this nation. They really want to be part in nationhood. If they are treated indifferently simply because they disagree with the religion they don’t want to profess, then where is our caring society slogan gone? Are we no longer interested to be real human being? The birth certificates and Mykad are two very important documents. Denying a citizen of his right to obtain them is similar to closing his or her existence in a country. NRD must function according to none other than the requirement meted out in the Federal constitution.

It is time for NRD to look deep at the citizens’ human value of this country. There should be no more of purposeful denial not to issue their birth certificates and Mykads if indeed they truly deserved it.

NRD must stop acting as a messenger of the Almighty. Why make it illegal to obtain the legal and proper documents with that kind of reasons? If they are arrested for not having Mykad, will the NRD come to their rescue?

I agree with Sabah’s Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun when he advised Malaysians to stop wasting time arguing about religious differences.

He said that it can divide the people. He wants Malaysians to help this country to become a great nation.

“We create problems and we utilise 95 per cent of our time arguing about the five per cent difference in religion when we should be spending 95-100 per cent of our time celebrating the 95 percent similarities among religions.

“It pains me and a lot of other people to realise that in Malaysia a lot of time is unnecessarily wasted on racial and religious problems when we should be working hard to make Malaysia great,” he said.

Indeed, religion should not be manipulated and made as an obstacle between rights and privilege of every citizen in this country. We must protect our diversity as our great assets for survival. We need to eliminate conflicts so that our country can progress the way we want it to be. Religion cannot be the principal issue determining whether a person is really a citizen of this country or not.

Getting official identification must be given without any “dead” condition. Insisting making it a pre-condition is absolutely an ignorant and impractical way to treat the diverse identity of Malaysians. It needs to be done away with.

Let us make religion as our valuable asset to unite our similarities, not as compounding our differences.

It is time for every Malaysian to move forward and progress in unison.

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