06/28/2006, 00.00
MALAYSIA
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Award for those who marry and convert indigenous animists to Islam

The state of Kelantan, run by Islamic extremists, will provide money and a free vehicle and house to Muslims who draw the animist Orang Asli to Islam. Many describe the move as a violation of human rights but political leaders said: "It's a only a way of helping young couples."

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) – In Malaysia, those who marry and convert to Islam members of the indigenous, semi-nomadic population will receive an award. The northern state of Kelantan made a provision stipulating that Muslims who marry Orang Asli – the country's traditionally animist indigenous inhabitants –will receive a lump sum of 2,707 dollars, as well as free accommodation, a vehicle and a monthly allowance of 1,270 dollars per month.

The law in Malaysia, a Muslim majority country, stipulates that whoever wants to marry a Muslim must convert to Islam. Kelantan is the only state led by the Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party, a political party born of Islamic extremism, in Opposition at national level.

The Kelantan Religious Affairs Committee chairman, Hassan Mohamood, said: "We were not satisfied with the low numbers of Orang Asli that have embraced Islam and that's why we thought of several measures to motivate them." He said out of 12,900 Orang Asli in the state, only 2,902 had converted.

The measure has come under fire from members of the Muslim community and others too, because it is held to be a violation of basic human rights. Colin Nicholas, director of the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns, said: "This policy discriminates against the indigenous people and shows a great lack of respect for their culture and religion."

Most of the 180,000 Orang Asli in Malaysia, the country's original inhabitants, live in poverty and marginalization. Some are still nomads and others live in settlements run by the government, earning a living selling natural products.

The human rights lawyer A.Sivanesan said the government of Kelantan had gone too far by interfering in such a manner in people's private lives. "The system of awards is a form of corruption and a waste of tax payers' money," he said. "What will stop a Muslim man from marrying an Orang Asli just to get the award, only to divorce her to marry another?"

Even Kelantan's Muslim authorities opposed the initiative but the leader of the Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party claimed the award-giving was justified. "Money, house and car," said Mahfuz Omar, a member of the governing party, "are only a way of helping young couples and not discrimination."

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