Jakoa objects to Kelantan’s plan to convert Orang Asli

KUALA LUMPUR: It is not right for people to take advantage of the Orang Asli communities and trick them into religious conversions, says Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) director-general Prof Dr Juli Edo (pic).

He reiterated that while Islam is the official religion of the federation, non-Muslims are free to practise their respective religions.

“The Constitution must be respected.

“Non-Muslims are free to choose their religion.

“Let that choice be up to the individuals,” he told a press conference after the Persatuan Pembangunan Orang Asli Malaysia (Malaysia Orang Asli Development Association) annual general meeting yesterday.

Juli made the remarks when he was asked to comment on the Kelantan Islamic Religious and Malay Customs Council’s (MAIK) announcement on the plan to convert all the Orang Asli in the state to Islam within the next 30 years.

Juli said it is “not nice” that converting people, especially Orang Asli, has become a state agenda for Kelantan.

He added that Orang Asli communities have their own culture and traditions inherited from past generations.

“Also, historically, there have been no problems for Orang Asli living peacefully with others so what is wrong with their way of life and traditions?” he asked.

Juli added that MAIK should look into educating and guiding the Orang Asli who have converted to Islam.

Also present at the event were Deputy Rural and Regional Development Minister R. Sivarasa and Orang Asli Senator Bob Manolan Mohamad.

Sivarasa, who is also Sungai Buloh MP, said such comments from the council are inappropriate.

“It gives the picture that converting to Islam is a condition in order for development (to the communities in the state) to happen and this is not right.

“Any development, be it from federal, state or the private sector, should not have such conditions,” he said.

On Thursday, Utusan Malaysia quoted MAIK deputy chairman Dr Nik Mohd Azlan Abd Hadi as saying that so far, 5,000 of the 16,000 Orang Asli in the rural interiors of the state have converted to Islam.

He was reported as saying that there are more than 100 MAIK religious preachers, including those from the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia, who have been tasked with helping and providing education to the Orang Asli communities there.

“We plan that if in a year we can preach to 500 people about Islam, then God willing, in 30 years we can convert all the Orang Asli in the state to Islam,” he was reported as saying.

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