When Juinah binti Paulus, a native Christian, went to the National Registration Department (NRD) to get her new identity card, the NRD changed her religious identity to Islam without her knowledge nor consent.
This is not unusual. Many native or bumiputera Christians in Sabah and Sarawak with bin (son of) or binti (daughter of) in their names, are automatically classified as Muslims in their identity cards, known as MyKad. Once this is done there is virtually no remedy, except to wait in an administrative purgatory.
Christians and non-Muslims consider this as backdoor conversion or “MyKad Islamisation”.
The NRD denies this is done as a government policy whenever it is confronted and put the blame on “technical glitches”.
The then director of the NRD in Sabah, Ismail Ahmad (left), is reported as acknowledging that, “While there have been cases where Christians in Sabah have been ‘converted to Islam’ by the NRD, simply because they have ‘bin’ or ‘binti’ in their names, he described those incidents as ‘technical glitches that occur due to the data entered into the department’s database when they first started the computerisation system.”
“I admit that sometimes we make mistakes, but this is actually something that can be rectified immediately. All you have to do is come to the office to point out the mistake and we will rectify it for you,” Ismail had said.
However, this is not that simple nor the policy of the NRD head office in Putrajaya, the country’s administrative capital.
In a meeting in 2012 with the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF) and the NRD’s director-general, NECF in an official statement pointed out that, “At the meeting with NRD officials, NECF also raised the issue of East Malaysian Christians whose religion in their MyKad is recorded as ‘Islam’ simply because their names carry ‘bin’ and ‘binti’.
Data change only with approval of syariah court
It said, “The NRD confirmed that those who are affected could change the data in their MyKad provided they had obtained clearance from the Syariah Court.”
The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) lashed out and warned that the NRD’s decision meant that it would continue to list such bumiputera Christians as Muslims until they have obtained an order from a syariah court to say that they are not Muslims. This would also be a violation of the affected persons constitutional rights and fundamental liberties as enshrined in the Federal Constitution.
The conflict was referred to the cabinet and Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak wanted a quick resolution. However, the NRD continues to drag its feet, giving an impression that the ‘MyKad Islamisation’ may, after all, be an unwritten government policy.
How then can there be a plausible explanation that the director-general of the NRD can be so bold as to defy the PM’s directive?
So Juinah binti Paulus, 30, a Murut native from Tenom in the western interior of Sabah, situated in Sabah’s oldest interior division, in the beautiful valley between the Crocker and Trus Madi ranges, has no choice but to go to the Syariah High Court, even though the court is supposed to have jurisdiction only over Muslims. Her main hurdle is that she is not allowed to be represented by Christian lawyers.
In her affidavit, Juinah said she is a full fledged member of Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB) Sabah or the Borneo Evangelical Church since 2008 and was baptised 17 years ago. She married Matius bin Mangantig, 35, who is also a Christian of Rungus ethnicity and they have a four-year old son, Carl Xavier.
Files of 162 native Christian go missing
The other three cases still pending were brought by a 54-year-old widow and her two adult daughters and supported by the respective local churches. All three are from the Dusun Banggi tribe from the tip of Borneo. The case has been postponed a few times.
Meanwhile, files of 162 native Christians who complained that they were wrongly classified as Muslims have gone missing from the National Registration Department in Sabah.
This was highlighted by the NECF-COSA, the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship Commission of Sabah Affairs, during its meeting last year with Sabah’s (then) Assistant Minister of Finance, Donald Mojuntin. The files were handed to Abdul Jafer Henry, the then state NRD director in his office on Sept 24, 2010, by a lawyer and witnessed by two pastors.
The MyKad Islamisation controversy and the missing 162 files from the NRD surfaced once again two weeks ago when two senior Sabah clergymen demanded action from the NRD.
Taking a cue from the Catholic Archbishop of Sabah Rev John Wong’s urging to Putrajaya to act against aggressive Islamisation in the state, Rev Jerry Dusing (left), president of the indigenous denomination Sidang Injil Borneo Sabah, said, “As highlighted by Archbishop Wong, we urge NRD to immediately rectify the wrong classification of Bumiputera Christians in Sabah as Muslims just because they have ‘bin’ and ‘binti’ in their names. The JPN must desist from this ‘MyKad Islamisation’ drive through changing the religious status in the MyKad of these Christians.”
Dusing said the wrong classification of the MyKad belonging to native Christians in Sabah has brought untold misery to those affected.
And so, marriages too cannot be registered
“Christians wrongly classified as Muslims are unable to get married legally. Getting married in churches would not solve their problems as these marriages cannot be officially registered,” he said.
“The birth of their offspring also cannot be registered as their parent’s marriage is, in the first place, not recognised in law. This makes them illegitimate children. This presents a major problem in registering them in schools and in applying for their own identity cards. Eventually, they cannot even get married as Christians.”
The NRD responded to the senior clergymen by going once again into denial overdrive. The Sabah NRD deputy director, Adrian Allan Richard, is quoted as saying the NRD has no jurisdiction to decide on the religion of MyKad holders.
“Having a bin or binti in the name is not the criterion for a MyKad holder to be listed as Islam in the document,” Adrian said.
Adrian also denied receiving reports of lost files, saying that they have records dating back to the 1970s, which were digitally uploaded into their system.
“We have no agenda here, we only act according to facts. If it was indeed an administrative mistake, it will be easily cleared up by verifying past records,” he said, also denying previous reports that “technical glitches” prevented the correction process.
Meanwhile, Joseph Kurup (right), a Sabahan and a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, is scheduled to meet church leaders over several issues in Kota Kinabalu, on Aug 29, in the run-up to the celebration of Sabah’s 51st independence day on Aug 31.
However, Kurup is not expected to resolve the MyKad issues as the NRD is not under his jurisdiction but under the Home Ministry, whose minister is Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. And Zahid has not attended to this problem thus far.
The MyKad Islamisation presents itself as a serious ethno-religious conflict with far reaching consequences and Zahid cannot remain silent. Neither can the prime minister.
By BOB TEOH
Bob is enrolled in a Master’s programme at the Asian Center for Journalism at the Ateneo De Manila University in the Philippines and this paper is part of his Conflict & Peace Reporting course requirements.