Claudia did a brave job in this Malaysiakini article... It reminds us of how, in contrast, Christian missional practice ought to be compassionate, respectful and authentic.
Religious official denies forced conversion of Orang Asli
Feb 4, 05 1:32pm
Claims of Islamisation of the Orang Asli in Gua Musang, Kelantan, by way of coercion, empty promises and even force in some cases may have merely been "a case of frustration", said a religious official at the state's Islamic and Malay Customary Council (MAIK).
Assistant propagation officer Ahmad Nordin said some Orang Asli may have been upset with MAIK for not giving any contribution during the recent Hari Raya Haji two weeks ago.
He also drew a distinction between donation and aid, saying that the former is occasional while the latter is fixed and on a more regular basis.
"Every year, we contribute in kind by giving them (registered converts) some Raya cookies, glutinous rice and other dry foodstuff for the Aidilfitri celebration," he explained.
"But we do not extend this to all festivals. Probably this is why they are now making such claims, which are totally untrue."
Yesterday, malaysiakini reported
Force never used
Besides alleging forced conversion, the Orang Asli claimed that authorities were neglecting their welfare by failing to provide monetary assistance.
Firmly denying the allegations, Ahmad reiterated that MAIK has never used force in its propagation work.
Neither have counterparts in the Islamic Development Department (Jakim), the Malaysian Muslim Welfare Association (Perkim) or the Malaysian Muslim Youth Movement (Abim), he added.
"We ask the Orang Asli about their problems and then explain Islam to them before registering those who want to embrace this way of life."
He said that usually five officials would visit the Orang Asli community and stay over for two or three days in each village conducting religious talks and programmes.
"Sometimes, other agency officials tag along in an integrated propagation trip," he said, adding that there are more than 500 villages or 23 posts in Gua Musang alone.
"We have registered close to 4,000 Orang Asli adults and children in Gua Musang and Jeli (as Muslims) so far, out of the estimated 9,000 population in the former area."
As a follow up, Ahmad said a penggerak masyarakat (religious facilitator) is stationed in every village with some choosing to live nearby.
Promises of cash
"Besides the 26 ustaz posted by Jakim in the villages or Orang Asli administrative districts, a surau is also provided in each village."
Ahmad also related how some Christian groups, mainly from Raub and Cameron Highlands in Pahang, were also actively involved with the Orang Asli community.
"Since ours is a free country, anyone is free to say or do anything within the law."
According to the Orang Asli, he said, the Christian groups hold regular parties for them.
"There was even talk that promises were made to give each Orang Asli a token sum of between RM15,000 and RM20,000 but nothing was paid," he claimed.
In comparison, MAIK gives each Orang Asli a one-off 'cash gift' of RM400 upon conversion to be paid over two or four months.
"On top of that, we also provide emergency funds for hospitalisation and weddings to ease their burden," said Ahmad.
Several Orang Asli had told malaysiakini that concerns over forced conversion raised with the Orang Asli Affairs Department (JHEOA) had largely been ignored.
When contacted, JHEOA Director-General Fadzil Mahamud denied the department's involvement in any way with Islamic propagation exercises.
"We are not involved and cannot be seen to be so with religious activities among the Orang Asli. Our scope is to ensure the overall development and well-being of the indigenous community in Peninsular Malaysia regardless of their beliefs," he explained.
"We can't be seen to be promoting Islam. We also don't organise religious functions."
But he conceded that the JHEOA field trips do act as door-openers for Islamic propagation.
"We give full cooperation to agencies carrying out whatever programme in the Orang Asli areas but we ourselves stay out of it," he said, noting that allegations of forced conversion were quite common in areas like Pahang.
"We mainly organise awareness talks on health, education and motivational programmes aimed at bringing about a mindset or attitude change within the Orang Asli community.
"This is to enable them to assimilate with other Malaysians. I believe that it is unhealthy, even dangerous, for them to continue living in isolation."
On whether other religious groups have ventured into Orang Asli territory, he said several evangelists have written for permission but none have conducted registered conversions or joined the JHEOA on field trips.
"Islamisation of the Orang Asli is not done by us. There are government agencies to handle that. We only play host to their development," said Fadzil.
"The only constraint for us in implementing infrastructure or physical development is the limited budget, but we're managing the best we can by, for example, focusing more on the Orang Asli community in Perak and Pahang due to their population size.
A total of RM257 million was allocated for development, he added, covering an estimated 150,000 Orang Asli under the 8th Malaysia Plan, which five-year term ends this year.