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Muslim protest halts forum on religion in Malaysia

Muslim protest halts forum on religion in Malaysia

Protesters forced lawyers in Malaysia to abandon a conference on religious conversion Saturday, decrying it as an effort to challenge the official status of Islam in the Muslim-majority country.
Police instructed the Bar Council to halt the conference for security reasons after more than 300 demonstrators gathered outside the headquarters of the legal association.
Council President Ambiga Sreenavasan ended the forum less than an hour after it began, saying the lawyers respected the opinions of the protesters and "have no quarrel with anyone."
The outcry over the conference _ which was meant to examine how families are caught in legal conflicts if one spouse in a marriage converts to Islam _ mirrors the resistance of some Muslims to what they say are minorities' unfair demands for religious equality.
Many top Muslim politicians had urged the Bar Council to scrap the conference, which was to include both Muslim and non-Muslim legal experts, saying it could inflame religious sentiments and undermine social peace.
Malaysian Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar, quoted by the national news agency Bernama, said he hoped the Bar Council got the message that "there are certain things that are out of bounds for public discussion, even if held in a private place."
But Lim Kit Siang, a senior opposition leader, said the forced cancellation of the forum showed that "Malaysia has failed a major test in nation-building ... where sensitive issues of interfaith problems can be discussed in a mature and responsible manner."
Protesters held signs that read "Don't challenge Islam" and shouted slogans including "Crush the Bar Council," accusing the lawyers' group of meddling with Islam's position as Malaysia's official religion. Some threatened to storm the hall where the forum was held.
"We remind the Bar Council not to play with fire," activist Azmi Abdul Hamid said in a statement. "The issue of Islamic affairs is a very sensitive issue for Muslims."
Lawyers have voiced concerns that the law fails to safeguard minority rights in religious conversion cases. In a prominent case last year, Malaysia's highest court rejected a Hindu woman's plea to stop her Muslim-convert husband from changing their son's religion to Islam.
Such disputes have heightened dissatisfaction among Malaysia's Hindu, Christian and Buddhist minorities who feel they get second-class treatment.
The Bar Council has defended the forum, saying it was not trying to question Islam's status but wanted to seek an acceptable solution for legal dilemmas.
"Such conflicts are best addressed in an open, frank and mature manner by all the parties involved," council Vice President Ragunath Kesavan said in a statement before the conference. "The alternative to any ban or clampdown (on) any open discussion may be disastrous and counterproductive."


Updated : 2021-06-14 11:56 GMT+08:00