eMo 2006.8: Joy’s Conversion, Al’s Confusion & More

*Updated from previous post: read further down below*

Thanks Al again for being the fastest writer and blogger to post the “raw” stuff of our conversation thus far. I think the impression one will get as I am is that the issues are complicated and one needs to perhaps “slow down” and chew on the ideas before forming uninformed opinions without due consideration. And yet the reality is that our emotional attachment to questions of religion, identity and many of the issues surfacing in the consciousness of our country lately is deep and personal. A detached totally objective standpoint is almost impossible to achieve.

But being aware of what’s the feelings and fears underneath any discussion of a given topic is needed. And I think we need to give space to “acknowledge” those feelings and fears with openness. That’s why, my comment back to Alwyn’s post was the following:

“I suspect if we can create space in our minds that “Are these touchstones also untouchables?” does not mean that touching these topics mean immediate unthinking change or revision, but coming to a better grasp of the issues and context. This would include being open on how that process can either deepen us, and/or lift the discourse to a higher level of sophistication and/or allow for moving forward together for mutual and perhaps better solutions. So the art of distinguising this difference (i.e. touching on these topics aren’t kidnapped for unthinking revisionism or rhetorical manipulation, etc) I think is important.”

My immediate reaction when Al mentioned how much of the “details” were like going over his head during our recent conversation (and he’s a secondary school teacher!!!). I wonder how much more ordinary folk when they hear about how the complexity of the issues surrounding matters of religion, consitution, legal arguments, socio-political context. It’s a lot of hard work and require some patience. This also means a commitment to engage in civil respectful listening and conversation with the “other” person whom very likely has opinions which require as much unpacking as ours.

But now back to the original post Joy’s Conversion, Al’s Confusion

“Now what is Article 121a again? And Yew Khuen said that Article 3.4 is a good ‘counter’ to 3.3? And wow those guys are using “Article 11” like a proper name, lemme check: Ok it’s about freedom of religion…it’s an issue today because, wait lemme see, right, because this lady – Lina Joy (nice name, btw) – wanted to remove the “Islam” code on her MyKad, National Identification Department (NID) said you have to have an “Exit Order” issued by the Syariah Court…Syariah people said no so Joy escalated it to the High Court (or is that the Federal Court – ok, it’s the Federal Court), so Joy brought it up to the Federal Court citing Administrative Law to say that the NID shouldn’t bring Syariah into the picture since a change in her MyKad should depend on what religion she says she embraces…didn’t work for Joy, so she and her lawyers brought it higher to the, err, High Court, this time bringing up Constitutional Law – and Article 11 (right, got it!) – and a Malaysian citizen’s right to freedom of religion.”

(Such were the state of my thoughts yesterday at the very informal EMO get-together at BLC…like I told the rest, it was all over my head but still exciting…anyway, so, alright, there’s Article 3.3, 3.4, 11, 121a, Syed Hussein Farish Noor, KOMAS and it’s about freedom of religion, there are some ties to the National Economic Plan, class struggles in Malaysia, the ethnic debate as a ‘smoke-screen’, and…)

It’s not so simple because the Syariah Court has jurisdiction over all legal matters Islamic. And the High Court isn’t about to just ‘take over’ this case because its judges are Muslims (and the last thing they’d want is to legally sanction apostasy within Islam – even if they didn’t fear for their lives it’s unlikely their conscience could be clear before Allah). The repercussions could be critical because, so it seems, there are about 250,000 post-Muslims seeking official confirmation of their allegiance to another religion.

On the other hand, Article 11 does seem kinda “clear” on this issue. To bar Lina Joy from converting out of Islam implies BOTH that Malaysia is an Islamic state AND there is no real “freedom of religion” for Muslims (yes, they are ‘free’ to be Muslim but at least a few people might see this as an arbitrary extra-constitutional curtailment of one’s freedom).

It looks like a damned-if-you-damned-if-you-don’t scenario. Joanne mentioned that a Statutory Declaration might be the only way to resolve it i.e. grant the NID some kinda special authority on the MyKad issue and NID uses this to refuse Joy’s request (I’m not even sure if I’m grasping this right). Ah. So constitution “upheld”, conversion refused.

What’s the relevance of all this for Christians who, for now, have nothing acutely staked on the whole Joy vs. Syariah thinggy?

The obvious issue for Malaysian Christians is that the decision one way or another will cement people’s fears and/or hopes regarding true “freedom of religion” in the country. It will be hard to find many non-Muslims in the country enthusiastic about the idea that Islamic laws have a one-up on non-Islamic ones. “Is Malaysia An Islamic State?” may no longer be an open question (for more information, goto Kairos Research Center).

Another thing to think about is how communities protect their boundaries and how Christians might proceed if they were the minority group (as is the case now) compared to if they were the dominant one. Is nothing sacred? Can everything be raised?

It seems that Malaysian pro-Islamic politicians are unwilling to even DISCUSS the issue of Islamic conversion. It’s a no-no. Don’t even go there. Nip it in the bud before it even starts. On one hand the desire to “protect one’s sacred boundaries” is a vital one. But this crashes head on with publicly declared principles which USUALLY do not come with “exception clauses” about what issue can or cannot be highlighted. As Christians, we have have non-discussables (in addition to non-negotiables?)? Yes we’ve got touchstones. The question is: Are these touchstones also untouchables? (At this point someone mentioned that discussions ARE happening, but behind closed doors, which is bad because of the fait accompli feeling when things are revealed i.e. where’s the transparency?)

My own view – and I think that of an increasing number of Christians engaging the Emergent conversation – is more No than Yes. I don’t think the things of God need to be barricaded against counter-views, criticism, open challenge and so on. I see that over-protection in the face of serious and sincere questioning transforms our sacred doctrines into sacred cows.

Sivin, though, highlighted how important it is to bear in mind the situation of those in the dominant group. Even as we ask probe and push, we must demonstrate empathy to how the boundary-guards feel. We cannot ignore their fears, their trepidations. Respect and compassion are the order the day, everyday.

And, well, maybe that’s a key for the future. When self-sacrifice and love and giving are the “barriers” of a community, then perhaps this not only transforms the individuals within, it also refreshes those without and, hey, even put a good twist to the very idea of barriers.

Because wasn’t the Cross God’s way of “keeping evil out”?

*Update: I think this is an important comment from Yew Khuen on Al’s blog worth putting in part of this post. At least to show how we “converse” and “clarify” with each other*

Hey Al.. thanks for the quick and fairly detailed sweep of the discussion points. Just a few points to make note (not sure if it’s worth updating your posting):

1. I would say that Article 3(4) is a “balance” for 3(1) [prefer that word rather than “counter” which seems to imply some contradiction in our Consittution]

2. The progression of the case was from High Court – Appeal Court – Federal Court. The case was fought on administrative grounds in the High Ct and Appeal Ct, but for in the Federal Ct, the lawyers used the constitutional grounds.

3. Jo-Ann’s point was that it will be interesting to see on what grounds the Fed Ct will say “no” to Lina Joy (assuming that’s the decision) without opening the door to the application of Islamic law interpretation of the constitution – if indeed that is possible. One possible way to sidestep the thorny issue is to rule on administrative grounds again (e.g. the NRD had the right to request “exit order” from Syariah Cts) but that would be unlikely given that the grounds being debated this time round is the constitutional issues (and the admin stuff had already been decided).

4. The correct reference is 121 (1A) an amendment made to the constitution in 1988 (?) which more or less states that the Civil courts have no jurisdiction over matters which the Syariah courts have jurisdiction over.

I think as God’s people we need to constructively work towards a way of reconciliation for our increasingly fractured communities. May I suggest that as our first step – we, the people of God, repent of our own chauvinism and continue to grow in our agape love for our neighbours – through acts of kindness, service and (toughest of all) friendship.

Yah… maybe given all the “heat” at the moment, I’ll agree with you that a “moratorium” on talking about the A-word might just be the right thing for now.

God bless
YK

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