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.

Society, Individuals and the Domination of A Collective Mindset

by Ruby Chingu

bfbgghI am going to ramble a lot in this post. I am going to ramble proudly. Because this is a rare moment where I’d question the meaning of life and have many crazy thoughts about my life, individuality and the society around me in general. It has been a common occurrence lately, especially after attending Prof’s class on Public Law. How it is rarely the people themselves who shape the mindset but the government or the authorities above them. Is it the way it is – when one is born and is groomed to be a man/woman, it is easier to a subscribe to an existing standard of thinking rather than exploring various other alternatives and finally coming out with one’s own principles? Am I able to stop someone politely on the street in Malaysia and ask them – “can you please explain to me your guiding set of principles? What dictates your decision-making processes?”

I believe people do believe in something, someone or a great many things. But I also believe that some certain factions choose to believe and analyse issues based on their own collective lens. What are collective lens? Well, it is always presumed that a human being was born with a desperate sense to belong to a group to feel protected, secure and safe. Thus, when one is surrounded by like-minded people, it is easy to think that such like-minded people is the dominating society. Thus, sensitization towards the needs of other community may be made difficult. How can you, a person from Community A, understand a person from Community B, if you have never mingle with them before? How can you possibly understand any sorts of discrimination they face if you have been indulged in the benefits by the virtue of being a part of Community A? How can you even learn to understand the plights of your neighbours when you were never educated to see things from their perspective?

Still, we blame other people for dividing Malaysians into factions. It’s not the fault of the Constitution. Notwithstanding its status as the supreme law of the land, it is just a book. A book can, at best, influence how people think. What divides Malaysia is the mindset of the people. People are given a box to live in – a very comfortable box – and refuse to leave the box. They are afraid of what exists outside the box. They are afraid to think outside the box. It is a social and intellectual confinement. Being in a box – the same box you have been in since you were born – will lead you to see things from the hole in your box ONLY. However, if we step outside the box and imagine ourselves being in the shoes of people from other communities, we will be able to understand them. To look at things from their perspective. How does it feel to be raised up, knowing that you can never be admitted to a certain institution because of your ethnicity? How does it feel to be persecuted because you choose to love who you love? How does it feel to be disowned because you dare to be who you want to be without harming other people? The truth is bitter yet it is necessary. It is reality. However, to keep things easy, we are forced to maintain the status quo.

ffsffs What if there are certain people who don’t subscribe to status quo? That people should not be shaped to comply with a certain standard of society? When can people accept and embrace the fact that a human mind is a powerful tool. If one has a stand or an opinion about an issue, no law or disapproval in the world can stop that. If one chooses to be who he/she wants to be, no slaps or beatings from the society can stop that. Conscience is the strongest tool I have ever encountered. Conscience neither yields nor surrenders just because someone say so. I believe conscience is a part of the human soul, the rational kind voice from within, always convincing the body, heart and mind to be kind and fair to others, notwithstanding who they are.

Thus, when clashes occur between the opinions of society and the conscience, which one prevails? Would you rather pretend to not care about your conscience and follow what the society wants you to follow to avoid troubles and fit it? Would you not choose to be a part of a group? To be protected? To survive? To be able to live without running the risk of isolation?

Or would your conscience prevail? Would you allow it to flourish in the name of being true to who you are? To be able to look back in the past and have no regrets in your life about fighting for what you believe in? Is it not risky – disappointing your loved ones with your thoughts and being who they do not want you to be. Most of the time, people’s consciences are invisible. At times, it can be completely different from their appearances.

fdIn defending our lonely fight against the collective, one somehow has to prepare to feel a bit lonely. To always be cautious about voicing out one’s disagreement over the majorly-accepted policies. Just because it benefits you does not mean it benefits the society. Just because it gives you more opportunity does not mean it is acting fairly to all people like you. Why, then, stay in the box? What meaning and adventure can life offer if one is living it confined to its four walls? The world is round for a reason. The world is surrounded by an endless universe for a reason. It is no longer a feasible thing to judge the situations and the laws based on the needs of one community. Even the idea of community is fading away. Globalization is happening. Whether you like it or not, individuals are formed with minimal collective mindset. Internet allows for border-less information. Travel allows the whole world to be our home. A passport and Visa does not determine where you want to go and who you want to be – they are just documents. Home is where your heart is and it can be anywhere. What can other people say if you choose to belong to a different place or choose to never belong to anywhere at all? Fact is, you are in control of your own mind, your own body, your own soul.

We are our own persons. Administrators of our thoughts and actions.

Thus, when we disallow the society to play that roles for us, how do we deal with the consequences? Face the music and risk being disapproved? Risk being unloved? Risk being unfairly judged? What do we do? I hope for an acceptance towards people who think differently. People who wish to unsubscribe themselves to the collective mindset. Just because our minds work in a different way does not mean we are going to hell and you are going to heaven. Who decides that? God. And yes, as much as you like to think that you are, you can never guess or predict God’s action. Who can say for sure that that man or woman is destined for hell? Is that not indescribably vain?

The truth is, being who you want to be and think what you want to think are two of the most difficult things to do in a society I live in. Instead of learning to be ourselves, we are, more often than not, educated to be a person of ‘ideal qualities’ – clever, pretty, religious and obedient. Freedom of individuality is not something we have been exposed to much and even if we did, the notion freedom has always bring in negative connotation. More conservative people will say freedom is not absolute. Yes, of course it is not but the basic principle is that freedom exists. Freedom to be who you want to be – to be able to uphold your identity and to be a human being – is that not the basic right everyone should have?