Part 2: What the bishops found out
In Part 1, the Catholic Church in Sabah has exposed a covert ploy to convert under-aged students to Islam in Labuan and complained that non-Muslim students at the Labuan Matriculation College between 17 and 18 years old, “are constantly subjected to various forms of harassment, ridicule and pressure to change their religion.”
What the bishops found out shocked them. Some teachers there were proselytising Christian students resulting in some converting to Islam. The called for full probe after which a strongly worded letter jointly signed by the four Catholic bishops of Sabah together with a report prepared by the Sabah Catholic Diocesan Centre was despatched to the highest levels with copies to Education Minister Muyhiddin Yasin, who is also the Deputy Prime Minister as well as two Sabahan Christian ministers, Bernard Dompok and Dr Maximus Ongkili, as well as to Murphy Pakiam, President of the Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia.
More poignantly, the newly established Vatican Embassy in Malaysia known Apostolic Nunciature was also notified through its Charge’ d’Affairs Monsignor Marek Zalewski.
In their joint letter dated 5 October 2012, the four Bishops claimed that some lecturers at the Federal funded Labuan Matriculation College “are abusing their position as teachers/mentors by imposing their beliefs on (non-Muslim) students during classes and through the activities of the college. Some lecturers have made offensive remarks about Christianity with intent to hurt the religious feelings of the students.”
“In the light of the above, we trust that the college will uphold our constitutional rights as Malaysians and ensure that any infringement of the students’ rights is stopped immediately,” they added.
According those close to the case, the college has transferred a teacher identified by the students as one of those involved in the covert ploy has been transferred back to Peninsular Malaysia to placate the Catholic Church of Sabah.
The matter came to light when on 16 July last year, the Catholic Church received information through Catholic students at the matriculation college that some of the Muslim lecturers there attempted to influence their faith and as a result several students have embraced Islam.
A full probe was conducted by the church and written evidence was gathered from the students. The college has 2,771 residential students from Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan of which half or some 1,232 are Christians, the rest being Muslims. There are also 77 Buddhist students there.
The probe report said some Muslim lecturers disparaged Christianity, make comparison of Christianity with Islam, ridiculed (memalukan) Christian students, infused Islamic teachings during lessons even those which had nothing to do with the subject matter, and holding classes, activities and forums in suraus.
When two Catholic teachers tried to intervene in the case of an Iban Catholic girl who had converted, she was advised by an ustaz to make a police report against them for harassment. She made two police reports and another was also made by another Muslim lecturer.
According to the probe report, the modus operandi of the covert ploy to convert Catholic students is to spot students who are weak in their faith and those from poor families. They also look out for students who do not attend church regularly as well as those from broken families.
The two case cites in the report fit this profile. One is an Iban girl from a longhouse in Kanowit, an old Chinese trading post on the Rejang River, Borneo’s second longest river. Her father is unemployed while her mother is a farmer. She has five other siblings. She converted to Islam when she reached 18 years of age and changed her name to a Muslim one.
I managed to speak to her mother through mobile phone. She said her daughter didn’t ask them for permission to convert. She just told them when she came back wearing a tudung or the Muslim head covering. She said her daughter seldom went to church. Asked why she didn’t intervene she replied, “Apa boleh buat.” (What can we do).
The other girl is a Melanau from Miri who converted she was just two months short of the legal age of 18. She asked both her parents to accompany her to the religious department to give their consent. Both didn’t agree but went nevertheless to the department. I asked the father why he did that. “Tak tahu lah.”(Don’t know). He gave the same reply to my other questions or “dia suka” (she likes).
According to current issue of Catholic Sabah, the fortnightly newsletter of the Sabah Catholic Church, following the expose by the four bishops and publication of their letter, the education authorities responded by sending a senior delegation last month led by Dr Sariah Abdul Jalil from the Ministry of Education which included Sawan@ Rizal bin Amil, the director of the college and its deputy, Kamarudin Mansur, and five other key personnel from the college for a discussion with the Sabah Catholic Church to “thrash out certain issues.”
Subsequent to the meeting, the bishops were invited to submit a letter to Dr Sariah, outlining their complaint which she would include in her report to “higher authorities”, the newsletter added.