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Malaysian Council of Churches worried by conversion ruling

conversion ruling

KUALA LUMPUR – The Council of Churches of Malaysia is troubled by the silence of Malaysia’s top constitutional court on the unilateral conversions of minors to Islam.

The Rev Hermen Shastri, the council’s general secretary, commenting on the Feb 10 Federal Court decision on a five-year custody battle between a divorced couple, said the contentious issue had not been resolved by the courts’ ruling of granting the parents one child each.

Shastri who is also deputy chairman of a government body called the Cabinet Committee for the Promotion of Interreligious Harmony and Understanding Among Religious Adherents, said the court had failed to rule on the legitimacy of one parent unilaterally converting a couple’s non-Muslim children.

“The court did not take into account in its judgment that in this case the children were unilaterally converted by the father,” he told via email on 12 Feb 2016.

He was commenting on the custody battle between Subramaniam Deepa and her former husband Izwan Abdullah, which saw the Federal Court reasserting the supremacy of civil courts on matters of civil marriage and divorce after this was challenged by Malaysia’s Islamic authorities.

Though the court did not provide Deepa custody of both her children, the ruling affirmed that civil marriages cannot be automatically terminated if one spouse converts to Islam and seeks the intervention of the Islamic court.

Hermen said that while the judgment has the potential to resolve long-standing legal disputes of unilateral conversions and custody of minors, the ruling was a missed opportunity to settle the issue.

“The mother’s plea to be awarded custody of both children on the grounds that the father had abrogated his responsibilities in not obtaining the consent of the mother to convert them was not given any weight,” he said.

The judgment states that both children had embraced Islam and the court would not disturb the conversion, he said.

The children who were converted without the non-Muslim parent’s consent will remain as Muslims because of this ruling.

Hermen predicted that this could lead to problems when the children reach adulthood.

“Sharmila Nur Nabila, the daughter of Madam Deepa will be brought up as a “Hindu” by her mother. What guarantee is there that she will not face religious harassment from the Islamic authorities later?

“What happens should the daughter decide to marry a non-Muslim later on in life? The right of the children to determine their own religion when they reach adulthood has been taken away from them,” he said.

The five-man bench set aside a High Court decision that granted Deepa full custody of the children and this, he said, shows that the judgment will not serve as a helpful precedent, unless the issue of unilateral conversion is addressed.

“This judgment will only blur further interfaith custody issues that will come up in the future with one religion having the right of privilege and dominance,” he said. –

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