CAIRO - A Malaysian government decision to withdraw a controversial bill on child conversion that caused uneasiness among non-Muslims is winning plaudits in the Asian country.
"The move to withdraw the Bill shows that the Government listens to the people and that it has heeded the people's aspiration, Dr Chua Soi Lek, the president of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) party, said in a statement cited by The Malaysia Star on Monday, July 8."However, I believe that the Bill was thoroughly deliberated in the Cabinet before tabling it for first reading in the Parliament."
The government has presented a bill allowing parents to convert a minor child to Islam without the consent of the other.
"Such a move had triggered many unnecessary controversies and this would also cost the Barisan Nasional government its image, the MCA president said.
Therefore, the non-Muslims Cabinet members have the responsibility to explain to the public on their action."
Facing opposition from parties and activist groups, the government withdrew the bill from parliament following a motion by minister in the Prime Minister's department Jamil Khir Baharom.
Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin had said the bill would be withdrawn until an agreement was reached with all stakeholders.
"We agreed that the bill's withdrawal was necessary to ensure that such cases were resolved in a fair manner to all," he said.
The government said it will resubmit the bill in the future after discussions with opponents.
We will perkemaskan' (streamline) them in the future, Jamil Khir told reporters.
We'll see, after consulting a number of bodies of every level, after that is done then we'll table it."
The withdrawal came on the heels of increasing public pressure against the controversial bill.
"If the law had been pushed through, it would definitely cause tensions in society because the law seems to favor Muslims while other minorities would be denied justice," Tian Chua, an MP with People's Justice Party led by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The withdrawn law had come under fire from minority religious groups when it was introduced last week.
Interfaith group Malaysian Consultative Council Of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism had said in a statement that the bill was unconstitutional and should be withdrawn.
"Any conversion of a minor by a single parent will cause serious injustice to the non-converting parent and the children of the marriage," it said.
The Malaysian Bar Council had also said that "unilateral conversion of minor children to any religion by a parent, without the consent of the non-converting parent, is contrary to our constitutional scheme".
Usually dubbed the "melting pot" of Asia for its potpourri of cultures, Malaysia has long been held up as a model of peaceful co-existence among its races and religions.
Malaysia has a population of nearly 26 millions, with Malays, mostly Muslims, making up nearly 60 percent.
Under Malaysia's two-tier judicial system, Shari`ah courts handle family law cases involving Muslims, while secular courts handle those involving non-Muslims.
Malaysia's Constitution says that the religion of a child under 18 should be decided by the parent or guardian.Some lawyers have argued that this should be interpreted to mean both parents, but the courts have not agreed, ruling that the consent of one parent is sufficient to convert a child to Islam.