AMLA, Converts & Fara’idh
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
The problem with being a Muslim in Singapore is that according to the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA), my wealth must be distributed according to the fara’idh. I am a convert. The implication for me is that only my wife inherits some portion of my estate, not my non-Muslim family, and the rest goes to the Bayt al-Mal.
This means, also, that for converts to Islam who have children or other possible heirs who are not Muslims, they do not inherit automatically. The option is giving hibah, a gift when the person is still alive. Gifts designated post-mortem still come under estate and are subject to fara’idh. There is an option to give out up to a third of the estate only, as per our familial requirements. Joint tenancy property reverts to the surviving owners. CPF is nominated, and insurance policies are paid out according to the nomination forms, or to the policy owners. Everything else is part of the estate that is divided according to fara’idh laws.
One option would be to make a declaration that I owe such and such amount to people I choose to have part of that estate. But this is legally tenuous since it can be argued that this is based on a lie. Another option is to put funds in an investment-linked plan, accessible to my chosen heir. There are limits to this, and is unsuitable for illiquid assets, or even all liquid assets. Also, as per current legal practice, jointly acquired matrimonial assets, the so-called harta sepencarian, are distributed according to Malay custom. Why Malay custom? I did not convert to Malay, and I am not interested in following their customs.
Essentially, the AMLA is outdated, and was written in a time where the assumption was that converting to Islam meant becoming Malay. Shari’ah court still seems to function like that. Ultimately, I could considering simply making a statutory declaration that I have left Islam so that I do not fall under this archaic law. The current interpretation of the fara’idh is anachronistic and problematic. There is no specific mention in the Qur’an that only Muslims can be furudh, heirs. The way I look at it, there is no reason why a person needs the permission of some organisation to adhere to a certain theology. We do not require the approval of anyone to believe or disbelieve. I have no issues if I am never buried in a Muslim cemetery - burial grounds have no religion. The only reason why MUIS exists is to advance a Malay-centric version of Islam, and collect money. They are certainly not collecting mine.
Someone said that the converts should trust MUIS, because this is Singapore, not Malaysia. That is not helpful. MUIS are not much better than JAKIM. How they use the money is irrelevant to the main contention, which is the fact that non-Muslim families of converts may not inherit, except for a small portion. What has the Malay community done for converts, and for me, that they deserve our wealth? And converts to Islam, are generally wealthier than the Malays. Islam is not a Malay religion. Why should we give our funds to what is essentially a Malay organisation to fund Malay causes, that have nothing to do with us, whilst our own families get pittance?
There are hundreds of converts who have children from prior marriages, non-Muslim families, and they get nothing from fara’idh. One of the reasons is also the fact that many of them are not made aware of how predatory and discriminatory AMLA is, and that their wills are superseded by AMLA. Nobody in the Malay-Muslim community, these Malay-run and dominated Muslim organisations, including MUIS, are interested in addressing this, because this is contrary to the interests of the Malay community, an entitlement complex of sorts.
It is not as if the leaders of the Malay community would do anything for us. We have to take what we want, and force the issue. Talking nicely gets nothing done. It was forcing the issue that gave us the English khuthbah. It was willingness to challenge the community that gave us English classes. We had to fight to take our rights from the Malay exceptionalists. This is just one more fight.
The Administration of Muslim Law Act is a legacy of British colonial rule, and was part of a series of measures to safeguard the special status of the Malays as the native peoples. There were a series of negotiated treaties with the sulthans, the British made it a condition that to be Malay is to be Muslim. This has two implications: those natives who were not Malay were exempt from these special privileges, and called “Native Christians”, another currently meaningless label; and those who converted to Islam were assumed to be Malay. When someone converts to Islam, there are several “privileges”, including the guarantee of a Muslim burial, the collection of zakat, a separate registrar of marriages, a tribunal called the shari’ah court to rule on fara’idh and divorce, and so forth. However, many of these provisions are out of date by about half a century or more.