The National Registration Department should accept statutory declarations from non-Muslim people who have Muslim names as sufficient evidence for them to get a civil marriage, Beruas MP Ngeh Koo Ham says.

The NRD requirement that one has to get a Syariah Court order before changing his or her religious status, said Ngeh, who is also DAP deputy secretary-general, clearly goes against Article 11 of the Federal Constitution on freedom of religion.

“It has been repeatedly said, many times, that there is no compulsion in religion, even in Islam.

“The problem here is not so much about Muslims converting out of their faith (as there are legal prohibitions on spreading non-Islamic doctrine or belief to Muslims) but rather, the right of non-Muslims to practise the faith of their choice.

“Almost all the cases of people wanting the religion ‘Islam’ removed from their Identity Cards are non-Malays. God gives each of us the freedom to choose, we must not play God by denying an individual the right to choose,” Ngeh (photo) said in a press statement today

He went on to cite two cases, one where a couple faced problems getting married. This is that of a Chinese girl with a Muslim name, who has never practised Islam since she was born.

She has been a Buddhist and a Taoist, but has not been allowed to change the status of her religion on her identity card from ‘Islam’ to ‘Buddhism’.

“The girl wanted to get married to a Chinese non-Muslim, but was not able to do so. They cohabitated and give birth to a son, whom she registered with a Chinese name in his birth certificate, through my help.

“The name of the father was left out of the birth certificate, for obvious reasons,” Ngeh said.

Another case is that of a Chinese boy with a Muslim name, who wanted to marry a non-Muslim Chinese girl, but was not allowed to do so.

“They cohabited and they have five children. The name of the father was again
not stated in the birth certificates of these children,” Ngeh said.

He then pointed to the disruption of the marriage of Zarina Abdul Majid, which was reported last year, as an example of the plight of hundreds, if not thousands of non-Muslims, whose ICs state that they are Muslims by religion.

Zarina, a practising Hindu, had her marriage to an Indian Hindu man, at a temple, disrupted by the Selangor Islamic authorities because her IC states that she is a Muslim.

Why are we contributing to social problems?

Ngeh said Muslims are protected as the only restriction on the freedom of religion in Malaysia is the ban on the propagation of any religious doctrine, or belief, among persons professing the religion of Islam and that the practise of any religion must not go against any law relating to public order, public health or morality.

The federal lawmaker said society caused the two Chinese couples, stated above, to cohabit and have children out of wedlock.

“They are not immoral but we have an immoral society that prohibits their legitimate union. We must stop this immorality in our society by ensuring that the two Chinese couples can be properly married and be recognised under our laws,” Ngeh said.

“Why are we being so cruel by making it so difficult for the two couples and their children? Why are we contributing to social problems by refusing to recognise the right of an individual to profess his or her own religion and the right to get married?” he asked.

Ngeh said one could change the status of his or her religion 30 years ago with a Deed Poll, which is done by signing a statutory declaration that the person has changed his or her name and/or religion and get this published in a newspaper.

“The NRD will then change his or her name and religion as stated in the Deed Poll. Subsequently, it was deemed “sensitive” to advertise a person’s change of religion in a newspaper.

“It was then agreed that the various state Islamic councils would issue the necessary letter that one has left the religion of Islam in order for him or her to change the declaration on ‘religion’ in his or her identity card,” Ngeh said, adding that the present requirement for a person to go to the Syariah Court was not feasible.