Archive for the ‘Religion’ category

Restrictions for Christians to visit Holy Land removed

December 19th, 2012
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I didn’t know that Malaysian Christians were subject to such stringent requirements in order to visit their holy land until the issue was highlighted early this year or so. Sounds like unfair or even religious discrimination to me.

Previously the rules were quite tight such as government imposed a quota of 700 pilgrims per year, with any one church only allowed to send one group of 40. Visits were also limited to 10 days and pilgrims were only allowed one visit every three years.

But this changed last month as government had cancelled most of the requirements (visit limit extended to 21 days from 10).

Maybe its part of the “transformasi”. Maybe its due to election nearing. Maybe to show government is sensitive. Maybe due to security concerns. Maybe due to boycott of Israel. Maybe “whatever you want to think of it”.

 

The Najib administration has rescinded its quotas, age floor and other travel limits imposed last year on Christian Malaysians wishing to make their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, say church leaders and a tour agent.

The Barisan Nasional (BN) government’s move, ahead of Christmas and national polls, is seen as a bid to win back dwindling support from the minority community that barely make up 10 per cent of the country’s 28 million-strong population but is regarded as a swing vote group in urban areas and crucial to the battle to reclaim the middle ground.

“Yes! Granted us all the concessions we asked for,” Rev Hermen Shastri told The Malaysian Insider in a text message yesterday.

Shastri, the secretary-general Council of Churches Malaysia (CCM), had previously criticised Putrajaya for “always shifting the goal posts” during meetings between government officials and Christian leaders, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported in July this year.

Christian Malaysians had voiced their unhappiness with Putrajaya after churches were allowed to send only up to 20 pilgrims to Jerusalem a year besides limiting their stay there to a week, among several constraints, acts they saw as further erosion of their religious freedom guaranteed by the Federal Constitution.

In recent years, the Christian and Muslim religious communities have been engaged in a tug-of-war over the word “Allah”, with the latter group arguing that its use should be exclusive to them on the grounds that Islam is monotheistic and the word “Allah” denotes the Muslim god.

While Malaysia bans travel to Israel, the government had previously shut an eye to Christian pilgrims journeying to the historic city regarded as holy to three of the world’s main religions — Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

An official with the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) confirmed the umbrella body — which represents 90 per cent of the country’s nearly 2.8 million Christians — had last month received a letter from the Prime Minister’s Office informing that the government had relaxed the rules to allow Christian Malaysians to enter Israel.

“Taking into account the needs of Christian Malaysians, the Home Ministry has amended the religious pilgrimage rules to Israel as follows,” wrote Wong Nai Chee, political secretary to the prime minister in the letter dated November 28 sighted by The Malaysian Insider.

In its list, the government removed the quota on the number of Christian pilgrims per year; the number of pilgrims per church group; where Christian pilgrims can go in Israel; and the frequency of their pilgrimages; as well as extended the stay in Israel to 21 days from seven previously; and cancelled the 18-year-old minimum age requirement.

The new guidelines were effective from October 30, Wong stated in the letter.

According to the CFM official who declined to be named, it was the first time the government had issued any travel guidelines to Christian Malaysian pilgrims, a point backed by a local tour agent who has been organising travel arrangements to Jerusalem on behalf of churches for the last 15 years.

“Previously, the only black-and-white we received were when they rejected our applications,” said Inbam Solomon of World Discovery Travel.

She told The Malaysian Insider that prior to 2010, Christians in this Muslim-majority country have been freely performing pilgrimages to the holy city despite Malaysia having no diplomatic ties with Israel.

Then in January 2010, the government banned pilgrimages to the region, ostensibly due to heightened security risks posed by the long-running Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

When Putrajaya finally lifted the ban in April 2011, it tightened travel rules for Christian Malaysian pilgrims, Solomon related.

Her agency, which had helped organise pilgrimage tours for an average 2,000 Christian Malaysians before the 2010 clamp, saw the numbers severely cut by nearly 90 per cent.

Churches were also required to deal directly with the Home Ministry for permission to travel to Jerusalem, a role that had been performed previously by travel agencies, she said.

Christians were also subjected to additional scrutiny from the Home Ministry, including the police, and were required to submit their baptism certificates or endorsement letters from their respective churches to prove they were genuine followers of the faith, Solomon added.

Word of the government’s new travel guidelines have already spread among Christians, who told The Malaysian Insider they were heartened by the government’s decision.

“We are grateful we can once again go to worship in the Holy Land,” Catholic priest Father Lawrence Andrew said when contacted.

Andrew, who edits the country’s sole Catholic paper, had run a short news report on the new guidelines in last Sunday’s edition of Herald.

source: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/putrajaya-lifts-curbs-on-christian-pilgrims-to-israel/

DBKL disallow decoration at MHS event

September 3rd, 2012
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This is quite surprising. I remember reading interview with new mayor where he talked about karma and all (sounded like a well-read and understanding guy), and then this news appears on FMT. Decoration like kolam is quite common even in shopping centers!  Banana trees are usually put at the entrance – can see it at Hindu weddings especially at temples. Wonder what’s the reason for DBKL’s actions. Is it because of cleanliness factors or there are considered religious symbols?  Or perhaps MHS wasn’t aware of such rules?

Senator S Ramakrishnan of the DAP today demanded an explanation from Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak over Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s (DBKL) decision to disallow cultural decorations to be put up in their hall for an event by Malaysia Hindu Sangam.

“Najib must investigate why an event officiated by his representative was marred by DBKL’s stupid act which hurts the feeling of delegates,” said Ramakrishnan in a press statement today.

“It is totally unbecoming of DBKL since they are under the Federal Territories and Urban Well Being Ministry that has a Hindu deputy minister,” said Ramakrishnan.

He was commenting on DBKL’s decision to disallow MHS from decorating the venue – a DBKL hall – with kolam, a colourful rice based decoration, and banana trees in conjunction with a conference which was held yesterday.

MHS had organised a conference to launch temple worship guidelines yesterday at the DBKL training institute hall in Cheras.

The conference was attended by about 800 delegates from all over the country with PM’s representative honouring the event.

The hall was rented for RM4,600 and an additional RM300 paid for DBKL staff manning the hall for the event.

The conference was supposed to be officiated by Najib but was subsequently delegated to Human Resources Minister Dr S Subramaniam.

Ramakrishnan also lashed out at DBKL for their lack of sensitivity.

“Why is DBKL afraid to allow such simple cultural decorations?

“DBKL is a public body that serves all Malaysians, so why did it abstain MHS from putting up biodegradable and easily disposal cultural decorations?

“If it is a rule not to allow any decorations by any user of the hall then that should have been made known at the time of hall booking and not one day before the event?

“This act of DBKL shows how they look down on cultural practices of Indian Malaysians,” said Ramakrishnan.

source: http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2012/09/02/dbkl-lacking-cultural-sensitivities/

Madam Nagamah, her children and their religion status

August 24th, 2012
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Some facts gleaned from newspapers (the facts may change as more details are revealed):

  • Madam M Nagamah passed away on 14 August 2012 at Sg Bakap Hospital. She was 64 years at the time of passing. She was from Byram Estate, Nibong Tebal.
  • Eldest son of the deceased is M Kamasantheran, aged 46 [ meaning he was born when she was 18 years old].
  • Her body was taken back to home by the family for funeral preparation.
  • JAIPP officers came for the body, saying she was a convert. No documents were provided.
  • Family refused to give in. And the officers left [how ridiculous does this sound? You’d think that a such a serious matter would involve some documentation or proof]
  • Family proceeded with funeral (cremation) at Batu Berapit Crematorium.
  • JAIPP officers went to crematorium and took the ashes of the deceased. Family got to know about it from the crematorium staff.
  • According to Penang state Islamic Religious Affairs Committee chairman Datuk Abdul Malik Abul Kassim, the deceased had converted to Islam in November 2006 [Meaning she was aged about 58 at that time].  He said that  initial investigations as reported to him by JAIPP and the state Mufti Department showed that the 64-year-old had converted at the South Seberang Perai (SPS) Islamic Religious Department with registration number 11/06. The conversion was overseen by Ustaz Anuar Ismail.
  • Her name was registered as Nagamah @ Mariah Abdullah when she converted after marrying one Ibrahim Noyan and had nine children who were registered as Muslims by the National Registration Department.
  • Since both family and JAIPP had made police report, the EXCO said will leave it to police investigation.
  •  The family insists that the deceased has been a practising Hindu all this while and there’s not mention about her converting.
  • Family wants ashes back to conduct funeral rites on 14th day.

sources:

http://www.thesundaily.my/news/469470

http://www.thesundaily.my/news/470546

http://www.freemalaysiakini2.com/?p=43085

http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/206890

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/opinion/2012/08/20/no-dignity-in-life-or-in-death/

http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/206819

http://www.mmail.com.my/story/nagamah-muslim-says-department-27661

If one does a search, can find documents back in 2007 related to the husband Ibrahim Noyan. Below are the facts from 2007:

  • 10 siblings (5 men and 5 women) were seeking to change their religion from Islam to Hindu. These 10 people were born to Ibrahim Noyan and M.Nagamah.  The 10 of them grew up as Hindus and even got married to Hindus.
  • On Feb 16 2007, the 10, all of them with Muslim names and listed as Muslims on their MyKad, submitted individual sworn declarations at the magistrate’s court in Jawi, South Seberang Prai, claiming that they had been practising Hinduism since birth and prayed at Hindu temples.
  • In their declaration, they said that they wanted to change the status of their religion from Islam to Hindu.
  • They also said they were married to Hindus – although none of them had their marriages registered – and took part in Hindu celebrations, including Thaipusam. Their children were also given Hindu names.
  • Their plight was highlighted at Bukit Mertajam MP Chong Eng’s service centre on that day.[ So she should be aware of this case by now as back then she “hoped that the authorities can settle this issue“].
  • Their father, Ibrahim Noyah, 67, said he first married a Muslim woman known only as Sabariah but she died in 1958. He then married M. Nagamah but did not require her to convert. “Nagamah was my neighbour and I fell in love with her when she took care of me after my wife passed away,” he said.
  • Ibrahim Noyan is visually impaired since 3 years old and Nagamah took care of him after his first wife died.
  • Ibrahim and Nagamah, 60, have 10 children and 30 grandchildren. Three of the grandchildren do not have birth certificates, while some have only one parent’s name in their birth certificates.
  • V. Rathiga, 27, an athlete married to Ibrahim’s son, Kamis, 27, said she left out Kamis’ name in the birth certificates of their daughters – three-year-old Prami and one-year-old Sakti – as Kamis wanted them to be recognised as Hindus. [that’s one solution! if the law hinders, then find a workaround.]
  • While the 10 children wanted to be Hindus, the parents didn’t (meaning Ibrahim and Nagamah). According to Ibrahim he was still a Muslim and that his wife M. Nagamah had converted to Islam in 2005 and assumed the name Mariah Abdullah.
  • “I know my children and my grandchildren are facing problems with their identity cards and I don’t mind if they want to change their names from what it is now in their birth certificates,” said Mariah.
  • Ibrahim had said he started following Hindu culture and customs after his marriage to Nagamah although all their children were given Malay names while being raised as Hindus and had never stepped into a mosque.
  • The Penang Islamic Religious Council has recognised the elderly couple as Muslims.
  • However, the council also accepted the fact that the couple’s children are Hindus. “As far as we are concerned, the matter is resolved as the man had returned to the Islamic faith and his wife has embraced Islam,” said religious council chairman Shabudin Yahaya. “The council has built a house for them in Kebun Baru and are living separately from their children.”
  • Shabudin said the couple were considered Muslim as they had married according to Islamic rites.
  • He said Ibrahim Noyah, 67, had returned to the Islamic faith and his wife, M. Nagamah, 60, embraced Islam in August 2004 and her Muslim name was Mariah Abdullah.
  • Their Muslim marriage was solemnised at the religious department on Aug 11, 2004 and had been issued with the relevant documents.
  • The couple’s eldest son, Jamal Ibrahim, 42, said he hoped the authorities would help resolve their problem.

sources:

http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2007/2/24/nation/16965034&sec=nation

http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2007/2/27/nation/16983857&sec=nation

NST article: Islamic department urged to check family background (25/2/2007)

NST article: Council: Children are Hindus (25/2/2007)

NST article: In a spot over religious status (25/2/2007)

 

So far I can’t find any article reporting the outcome of their application to change religious status.

Interestingly, the conversion date ranges from 2005 to 2006.  Anyway the religious department says the marriage according to Muslim rites were done in 2004,  meaning she converted after marriage.

Back then, these kind of marriages existed and registering them legally wasn’t a big focus, I guess.

Ok back to the issue at hand. The religious department had shown no respect for law and order. No empathy, no sympathy. No sense of respect. No sensitivity. If conversion happened, then should bring the documents and do it properly. They simply came and took the ashes away.

So, did the deceased marry another person? If not, then M Kamasantheran (or is he Johan Ibrahim?), the eldest son should also be a Muslim and his father should be Ibrahim Noyan. Its quite impractical that they don’t know the existence of the other 9 siblings nor of their father/step-father. It feels like the deceased lead a double life with the children not knowing what happened to her.

Maybe she converted but didn’t inform her children about it and continued to live as an Hindu.

There’s no mention about the husband.  Maybe he had passed away and she returned to her Hindu family?

In the above case, if the whole family is following Hindu religion (including the deceased), then might as well leave it to the family to perform the last rites accordingly.

If the families provides proof of the deceased being a practising Hindu (especially after 2006), does it make the conversion void?

I think to safeguard ourselves, a MyDaftar-like campaign should be conducted by government to provide opportunity for non-Muslims to reaffirm their religious status via a official document or statutory declaration.  We don’t want to be victims after passing away and cause misery for the family.

And what happened to the suggestion that future converts-t0-be must inform their families/next-of-kin? All quiet?

The silence from MHS is also deafening.

On a political note, since this happened in Penang, can expect brickbats for the PR government. But I wonder what can be done legislation wise to avoid this issue in the first place. Can the enactment be amended? Would need approval from MAIPP or King?

Thaipusam, Street Demonstration and Peaceful Assembly Act

June 22nd, 2012
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MP Kubang Kerian YB Salahuddin (PAS) during a debate on the Public Assembly bill with Deputy Higher Education Minister YB Saifuddin (shown live on Astro Awani.  Caveat: I DID NOT watch it),  mentioned about Thaipusam (along with Maulidur Rasul festival) as example of procession or demonstrasi jalanan. He mentioned perarakan Thaipusam and also said “secara separa sedar” (semi conscious” and “walaupun ada Kavadi” (even though got Kavadis), and also tanpa perlu gas pemedih mata (without need of tear gas). The clip below extracted the part about Thaipusam statements.

These statements were picked up by YB Kamalanathan and blogged at his website:

http://pkamalanathan.blogspot.com/2012/06/my-letter-to-yb-kubang-kerian-with.html

 

 

I think saying that the participants are semi conscious is not appropriate and lacks sensitivity. In fact its a bad example as in our social climate, we can easily misunderstand and get angry. Most of the devotees walking along the chariot or at Batu Caves are perfectly conscious!  He should apologise for this wrong statement, possibly due to his ignorance. Next time invite him to join Thaipusam festival as observer to see how things are. Anyway, this coming from PAS is expected. They aren’t really into understanding all faiths.

The YB tried to justify and explain, but I think he should just apologise and move on:

“The point that I was making was not about religion.

“I was talking about Article 10 of the Federal Constitution. I highlighted Thaipusam to make a point about how Malaysians throughout the years, even before independence have gathered and organised themselves in large numbers.

“This was part of a list of other examples that I used to put my point across,” he said.

The Kubang Kerian MP stressed that he had no intention to insult the religious event which is a major Hindu celebration here.

Salahuddin, who met with Kamalanathan, to explain his comments on the matter said that to drive his point across, he used the examples of the gathering against the Malayan Union led by Onn Jaafar (1946), the Perarakan Kerandah 152 (2009) which demanded for the importance of the Malay language, Thaipusam and Maulidur Rasul celebrations to commemorate the prophet’s birthday.

“I did not mean to insult any religion. Why then did I bring up the example of Maulidur Rasul?” he asked.

Kamalanathan, who is the Hulu Selangor MP, took Salahuddin to task yesterday for his comments on Tuesday during a debate entitled “Street demonstrations: Does it build or destroy democracy?” organised by Malay daily, Sinar Harian.

Salahuddin reportedly said that thousands of Hindus gathered during Thaipusam peacefully without the intervention of the authorities.

The PAS leader was also alleged to have said that some Hindus carrying kavadi were semi-conscious and yet they do not need tear gas to keep the situation calm.

Calling Salahuddin “naive”, Kamanathan said his comments were both “insulting and hurting” to the Hindus.

“Belittling the practices of another religion and calling the devotees semi-conscious street demonstrators show lack of understanding and respect for the Hindu devotees,” he added.

‘Just stating facts’

Salahuddin, however, stressed that he was not insulting but merely stating facts about how the public could organise themselves.

“It was only to show that the public is capable of organising themselves. We have the devotees who are semi-conscious but still controllable,” he said.

“Then I also mentioned the large crowds that march during the Maulidur Rasul. You don’t need to use tear-gas to control the crowd.

“That is the point I was making that as long as excessive force is not used, the gatherings have always been peaceful,” he added.

Note: YB Kamalanathan forgot to mention about the Maulidur Rasul part on his blog. In spirit of 1Malaysia, he should also stand up for fellow Muslims and demand apology from the YB for insulting/desecrating/slighting/hurting their feelings.

 Now, the part about Thaipusam being street protest or street demonstration (demonstrasi jalanan).

Let’s look at the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 (refer source pdf file at: http://www.federalgazette.agc.gov.my/outputaktap/20120209_736_BI_JW001759%20Act%20736%20(BI).pdf or http://www.parlimen.gov.my/files/billindex/pdf/2011/DR422011E.pdf

Under Para 3:

  • “assembly” means an intentional and temporary assembly of a number of persons in a public place, whether or not the assembly is at a particular place or moving;
  • “counter assembly” means an assembly organized to convey disagreement with the purpose for which another assembly is organized, and held at the same time, date and place or approximately at the same time, date and place as the other assembly;
  • “simultaneous assemblies” means two or more assemblies to be held at the same time, date and place, but which have no relationship to each other;
  • “participant” means a person intentionally or voluntarily present for the purpose of an assembly;
  • “street protest” means an open air assembly which begins with a meeting at a specified place and consists of walking in a mass march or rally for the purpose of objecting to or advancing a particular cause or causes;
  • “prohibited places” means— (a) the protected areas and protected places declared under the Protected Areas and Protected Places Act 1959 [Act 298]; and (b) the places as may be specified in the First Schedule;

These are the locations specified in First Schedule:

  • Dams, reservoirs and water catchment areas
  • Water treatment plants
  • Electricity generating stations
  • Petrol stations
  • Hospitals
  • Fire stations
  • Airports
  • Railways
  • Land public transport terminals
  • Ports, canals, docks, wharves, piers, bridges and marinas
  • Places of worship
  • Kindergartens and schools

And this is the Third Schedule:

ASSEMBLIES FOR WHICH NOTIFICATION IS NOT REQUIRED

  • Religious assemblies
  • Funeral processions
  • Wedding receptions
  • Open houses during festivities
  • Family gatherings
  • Family day held by an employer for the benefit of his employees and their
  • families
  • General meetings of societies or associations

Para 11:  Consent of owner or occupier of place of assembly

11. The organizer of an assembly, other than a religious assembly or a funeral procession or an assembly held at a designated place of assembly, shall obtain the consent of the owner or occupier of the place of assembly for it to be used for the purpose of the assembly.

Reading the above extracts from the Act, some questions arise:

1. What is the difference between assembly and street protest? Street protests is defined to be an assembly that is “open air” and for purpose of a cause (for or against).  Assembly can be stationary or moving, while street protest involves marching (moving la..).  So, if its (i) indoor or (ii) assemble for no reason or (iii) assemble and don’t move, its assembly. Quite ridiculous. Even people want to assemble to lepak also got reason or cause – melepak.

2. Note the phrase “street protest”. If you take basically any event involving thousands of people, it will fall into the “street protest” category. The definition doesn’t mention that “not including religious activities”. Example, gathering of million youths at certain location, people marching during uniformed bodies activities, event parades, religious events, and yes, even funeral procession (you are support the cause of sending of the person on his last journey).

The only exemption given is that religious event or funeral need not provide notification to authorities. That’s all.  It doesn’t say its not street protest. Yes, common sense will tell you obviously a religious parade or funeral procession is not a protest. But this law doesn’t specifically state so? So does that mean a religious procession can be a street protest per the definition above?

3. Why is place of worship is prohibited? Does it mean we can’t “assemble” at Batu Caves  or the local shrine any more? Need to get approval? Sounds contradictory to the “no notification needed” clause.

Conclusion: If you don’t know what you are talking about, better don’t talk about it. Give other example that you really know of. If not, end up like this la.

Temple being demolished in Kepong

June 21st, 2012
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Yup, in KL which under federal government. And this pisses off Deputy FT Minister Dato Saravanan. Because now they (MIC) can’t say no temple demolished under BN since PM Najib took over. Yup, its that serious.

Yup. (Just wanted to make it three  “yup”s).

Interestingly, a directive was issued saying temple issues in FT was to be referred to Deputy Minister, but wonder why it was not adhered to this time. Looks like not only in PR-managed states have this problem.

And according to article below, the land has been gazetted to be used for non-Muslim religious purpose. So, what gives?

DEPUTY Federal Territories Ministry Datuk M. Saravanan was incensed by the demolition of the Maha Veppan Kaliamman temple in Kepong early yesterday morning.

Saravanan said he was made to “feel like a fool” negotiating with the group of government officers despite being in charge of non-Islamic religious land issues in the Federal Territory after a directive was sent out two years ago.

“The FT Land and Minerals Department went on with the demolition despite the directive that no temples should be demolished without prior discussion with me, Federal Territories Minister Datuk Raja Nong Chik Raja Zainal Abidin and FT Secretary-General Datuk Ahmad Phesal Talib,” he said.

Taking control: Saravanan discussing the temple demolition issue with some of the devotees.

When he was informed about the demolition process that morning, he contacted the FT Land deparment director Hashim Ismail.

Saravanan said he had asked for the demolition process to be postponed until he could discuss the issue with Nong Chik but Hashim said he could not do anything.

Temple priest Periasamy Batumalai said 40 devotees tried to stop some 50 officers from DBKL and the police force from demolishing the temple.

Roads leading to the temple wereclosed off and devotees were barred from entering despite pleading with the officers.

According to the temple’s laywer Datin Anit Kaur Randhawa, the temple was not issued any order to vacate.

The officials used the notice from the Land and Minerals Department dated June 19, 2012 and the bulldozers moved in the very next day at 9am, barely 20 minutes after pasting the unsigned notice on the two gates of the temple.

“The DBKL officers and the police came at 8.30am and pasted the notice on the temple before proceeding to demolish it within 20 minutes. They only managed to tear down the fence surrounding the temple as the devotees formed a human barricade to halt the proceedings,” she said.

The demolition was later stopped by Saravanan who arrived at 10am.

The temple was initially located at the Jalan Kuching roundabout before moving to its current site in 2011.

The land in Kepong had been gazetted as religious land and set aside for non-Muslims.

“When I called Nong Chik, he said he was unaware of the demolition. I am surprised at the arrogance of the officers. They seemed to be in a rush to demolish the temple,” he said.

He added that the small plot of land was useful for the temple.

Anit Kaur said letters of support were sent to the Prime Minister’s Department on May 31 last year to apply for the land.

MIC Taman Fadason branch chairman K. Jayaraman said the demolition move was disrespectful.

Non-governmental body, the New Indian Welfare and Charity Malaysia, will donate RM2,000 to put up a barricade and secure the temple.

source: http://thestar.com.my/metro/story.asp?file=/2012/6/21/central/11517229&sec=central