Despite the numerous issues covered in the three-hour forum by a seven-member panel, it is regrettable that the focus has been solely on YB Nurul Izzah's response to a question by the audience.
These attacks reflect the shrinking of democratic space for civil public discussion and the increasing intolerance and authoritarian attitude in our society on the issue of freedom of religion.
Malaysians are routinely reprimanded or attacked for raising this issue even though freedom of religion is enshrined in Article 11 of our Federal Constitution.
In a multi-religious society such as Malaysia, problems and conflicts will always arise in a multitude of ways.
These include cases where non-Muslims convert to Islam without resolving their duties and responsibilities to their earlier non-Muslim marriages and families, thus affecting the rights of their non-converting family members.
They also include cases of born-Muslims who have never led a Muslim life as they were brought up by non-Muslim family-members; or converts to Islam who later want to leave Islam; cases of born-Muslims who wish to leave Islam out of their own free will; and also cases where one converting spouse unilaterally - and coercively - effects the conversion of his or her children who are legal minors.
Court precedents exist
Freedom of religion has always been contentious in this country but there have been court judgments allowing Muslim converts to leave Islam.
The Administration of the Religion of Islam (Negeri Sembilan) Enactment 2003 contains legal procedures by which one may do so.
The Quran is explicit and consistent in its recognition of freedom of religion. Surah al-Baqarah, 2:256, "Let there be no compulsion in religion" has been widely interpreted to mean that no one can be compelled to embrace Islam.
Other verses in the Quran speak about people who believed then disbelieve with no mention of any temporal punishment like in Surah an-Nisa 4:137, "Indeed, those who have believed then disbelieved, then believed, then disbelieved, and then increased in disbelief - never will Allah forgive them, nor will He guide them to a way."
Faith in any religion is contingent upon free will, and this would be meaningless if induced by force. Islam itself means submission to the will of God - not the will of men.
The willing submission of the self to faith and belief must therefore be attained through conviction and reason of the individual, not by coercion and duress. This is clearly mentioned in Quran, Surah Yunus 10:99, "And had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed - all of them entirely. Then would you compel the people in order that they become believers?".
Freedom of religion must recognise the freedom to change religion.
How can Muslims demand this notion of religious freedom for those wishing to convert to Islam and at the same time argue the denial of this freedom to leave Islam for those who no longer believe? Faith by compulsion may lead to hypocrisy.
SIS has consistently maintained a strong position against the legislation of faith. We support all voices that call for freedom of religion and therefore condemn the attacks made against YB Nurul Izzah.
SISTERS IN ISLAM is a local NGO.