This Thing about Unilateral Conversions in Malaysia

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by Ruby Gege

I am personally very disappointed today. Over an issue that has been dragged on for years. It should have been solved, could have been solved years before but I’m not sure what was stopping the proper parties from reaching a solution. The solution is clear – it is there, it can provide for a finality in the dispute.

However, due to the fears of offending certain factions of the Malaysian society, the proper parties have somehow intelligently avoided from showing their stances. They need to give a solution. They don’t really want to – I know. It is a difficult thing, indeed. Who wants to be stuck in the middle of that dilemma that involves two faiths of two different persons – the mother and the father?

Unilateral conversions of children have been a major issue in Malaysia and most of the time, the stories had a tragic backdrop to them. Father and mother were a non-Muslim married couple with children. Years later, the marriage turned sour. Father converted to Islam and applied for divorce from the Syariah Court. At the same time, he also converted their children without the consent of the mother, changing their religions to Islam. I don’t think he bothered to ask the children what they think. What more the mother. Then, since the children were supposedly of the same religion with the father, the father was granted custody order. Thus, to him, the children belonged to him.

Based on a number of famous cases in Malaysia, one can safely assume that the mother is always the victim to this one-sided proceedings. The father converted to Islam without telling her, applied for divorce from Syariah Court (which decisions bind only Muslims) without consulting her and converted her children without her knowledge. She was half the unit that gave birth to the children. She was half the unit that raised them. Yet, when it comes to cases such as this, her importance was discarded. Her role as the mother – notwithstanding the religion she subscribed to – was diminished. By whom – the husband, the judiciary or the whole system that seems to be treating her unfairly?

Yes, ‘fairness’ is the main issue here. Is it fair to the mother? I prefer to use the word ‘mother’ here in light of the frequency of the cases which involves the mother not having knowledge of their husbands’ act in converting the children and having them deprived from her. If one is to read all the stories in the newspaper and also the case reports, one could very well conclude that it is not. It is not fair. Nevertheless, in situations like this, most people would react with… “What can we do? What to do? The father has the right to act as such anyway. The mother has the order of the civil court, the father the Syariah court. Both have orders. Both have the rights. So what can we do? How can we favour the mother over the father? We don’t have a right to tear away the children from the father as well.”

For the public, they can say such thing, considering they are the public. As for the proper parties who are entrusted by the public to ensure fairness, I do hope that they would display more determination in this matter. Referring to a number of news for the past few days, many significant leaders have suggested solutions which, in my humble opinion, stray from the clear-cut solutions we have in mind. Instead of offering solutions to solve problems, the suggestions lead to more waiting and confusion.

The suggestion that has triggered this post and the one I personally find most disappointing is that the interfaith custody battle should be determined by the Federal Court. Now, I disagree with such view purely from the technical angle. It is already very costly to hire a lawyer and wait for the case to go to court. After having the relief of bringing the case to the attention of the High Court (which is established by the Federal Constitution which happens to be THE SUPREME LAW OF THE LAND) and obtaining an order, the mother or aggrieved party was then told something similar to this effect – “yeah, sorry, I know you spent so many time and energy to gain your son’s custody. But guess what? The High Court order is not good enough. Now, you have to re-hire your lawyers, spend more money, time and energy and witness the continuation of this case.” Problem is, as a normal insignificant citizen, I don’t see any end to the continuation. I can’t. And I am forever a skeptic as to the Federal Court’s ability to solve the matter further.  

We need a solution. That is clear enough. We also need a determination and finality in that solution. Any so-called solution that proves to drag the matter further, causing more suffering to the parties. We are in dire need of fairness and justice in that solution. From what I observe, all eyes are on the Federal Court now. I did not really take the suggestion seriously when it was mentioned by the Prime Minister. Then, a few minutes ago, the Attorney-General suggested the same thing. And I was a bit surprised. I asked myself – is that it? Is that the solution we have been seeking for? Really?

But then… what about the mothers who have been separated from their children?

What about their children’s happiness? What about fairness?

It seems like my disappointment remains… for now.

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