Sabah Minister Investigates Alleged Attempt to Convert Student to Islam

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Malaysia must end the subtle attempts by Islamic groups to convert students at schools and varsities, said a Sabah politician seeking to meet Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad over the long-standing issue.

State Education and Innovation Assistant Minister Jenifer Lasimbang told The Malaysian Insight that she is investigating an Iban woman’s claim that her daughter was offered money to convert to Islam.

The woman, from Sibu, Sarawak, said her daughter, a student of University Pendidkan Sultan Idris (UPSI) in Tanjung Malim, Perak, was offered financial aid by the Malaysian Islamic Economic Development Foundation (YaPEIM) through its Dana Inspirasi Malaysia (Inspirasiku) programme if she agreed to it.

YaPEIM, in a statement posted on its Facebook page on Wednesday, denied the accusation, saying Inspirasiku is meant to help students from B40 families.

Demanding a stop to these alleged conversion attempts, Lasimbang said education institutions are not the place to spread religion.

“It has to stop. It’s alright to have religious classes and programmes to build the character of Muslim students, but it should not go to the extreme by using these classes to mask their attempts at converting students.”

The Moyog assemblyman said she has made headway in her probe, but yet to ascertain the identity of the Sibu mother and speak to her.

In this matter, Lasimbang is being assisted by friends in the Sarawak town.

In a Facebook post, she said: “I am investigating the claim below. One of (the) many messages I received this morning.

“An Iban parishioner at Sacred Heart Cathedral (in Sibu) told me her daughter is studying at UPSI Tg Malim (and) she receives an offer from YaPEIM.

Rosmah Tuah/NST

“The only condition to receive RM1,000 is to convert to Islam. Her daughter called her mum about it. Another daughter of hers at St E (St Elizabeth in Sibu) received the same offer, but for RM500.”

She said she is interested in investigating the woman’s claim as “this thing is really happening” in her home state.

“It’s not a new thing. These things have been happening for a few years now.”

She hopes to be able to meet Dr Mahathir, who is acting education minister, soon to discuss the issue.

“I have parents coming to me and showing me forms asking them to sign in return for financial assistance.”

It is not right to try and convert people to any religion by luring them with money, or converting minors without their parents’ consent, said Lasimbang.

She said in Sabah, a tactic used by Islamic groups is to rope in Muslim boarding school wardens.

These wardens would give preferential treatment to the targeted students, like taking them out to the movies on the weekends or treating them to nice meals.

This causes the students to become “beholden” to the wardens, who are simply preying on their charges’ susceptibility, said the rep.

“When you are far away from home, all alone and lonely, you become susceptible.”

Lasimbang said she witnessed and experienced first-hand attempts at converting students when she was studying at University Utara Malaysia in Kedah.

Bukit Assek assemblyman Irene Chang said she has yet to get in touch with the Iban woman alleging that her daughter was offered money to convert.

On YaPEIM’s denial that its Inspirasiku programme is a conversion drive, the DAP leader said attempts to convert students could be the work of some overzealous officers at the foundation.

“I believe it is possible that even though the official stand might be as per the official statement, there’s always the possibility that some overzealous officers act on their own when carrying out their duties.

“It is for YaPEIM to check, to ensure that the allegations did not happen. And should not happen.”

Puncak Borneo MP Willie Mongin was trolled by Facebook users when he posted that the Sibu woman’s claim is untrue, after asking the Prime Minister’s Department, YaPEIM and Pakatan Harapan backbenchers for verification.

He shared YaPEIM’s denial and appealed to social media users not to spread “fake news”, as well as urged police to act against those spreading false information.

The PH man admitted to The Malaysian Insight that he did not check with the woman herself.

“I do not have the contact (details) of the person who made the allegation, but if there is a case like that, I (am) asking them to come forward to lodge a police report.”

The first-time parliamentarian appealed to the woman to call him if she needed assistance.

He promised that he will “do whatever it takes to protect their beliefs”, adding that he does not condone such conversion attempts.

Facebook user Agnes Mukan, meanwhile, questioned why financial assistance is being channelled through YaPEIM, saying there must be an ulterior motive. – TMI