Buddhist dad wins court bid to cancel ex-wife’s unilateral conversion of kids to Islam

Ida Lim

Lawyers Honey Tan, K. Shanmuga and Matt Wong represented the Buddhist father who challenged the unilateral conversion of his two children by his Muslim convert ex-wife. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 16 — The High Court here quashed the unilateral conversion to Islam of two young children born to a woman who later embraced Islam and her Buddhist ex-husband.

In her decision, High Court judge Datuk Azizah Nawawi said she is bound by the Federal Court’s landmark ruling in the M. Indira Gandhi case.

Noting that it was not in dispute that the children in this case were converted without the consent of both parents, the judge said: “Therefore the court is bound by the decision in Indira Gandhi case.”

Azizah granted two of the court orders sought by the non-Muslim father, including the immediate quashing of the two children’s “Kad Akuan Agama Islam”, or certificates of conversion.

The other court order compels the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department (Jawi) director-general, and the Federal Territories Registrar of Muslim Converts to immediately cancel the children’s registration as Muslim converts in their records or Muslim converts’ register.

The judge gave no order as to costs.

The judge also rejected a request for a stay to quash the children’s conversion to Islam. The two children are currently under the father’s custody.

Earlier, the FT Registrar of Muslim Converts’ lawyer Datuk Sulaiman Abdullah indicated his client will be appealing and applied for a stay on the two court orders until the Court of Appeal decides on the appeal.

The father’s lawyer K. Shanmuga argued, however, that there is no reason for a stay to be granted, having highlighted that the elder child is in school and that the younger child will be starting school soon.

The judge then decided that she had “no basis” to allow the application to defer the effect of the court orders, again citing the Indira decision.

Today was the decision for the Buddhist father’s legal challenge to invalidate the 2016 unilateral conversion to Islam and certificates of conversion of his two children, who were born in a civil marriage when his now ex-wife was still a Buddhist.

The two children, then aged eight and three, were converted to Islam on May 11, 2016 without the father’s knowledge and consent. That was also the day that he had filed a fresh application for divorce at the Shah Alam High Court.

The elder child is now aged 10, while the younger child is now six years old.

The names of the family, including the father and mother aged 46 and 42 respectively, cannot be disclosed due to a court order.

The lawsuit filed on June 14, 2016 is against five respondents, namely the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department (Jawi) director-general, the Federal Territories Registrar of Muslim Converts, the education ministry director-general, the government of Malaysia and the Muslim convert mother.

Lawyer for the Muslim convert ex-wife, Rohani Ibrahim, and lawyer for the Federal Territories Registrar of Muslim Converts, Zulkifli Che Yong, speak to reporters at the Kuala Lumpur High Court October 16, 2018. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

When met outside the courtroom, lawyers Rohani Ibrahim and Zulkifli Che Yong — who represented the mother and the FT registrar of Muslim converts respectively — said their clients will be filing an appeal to the Court of Appeal.

When met, the Attorney General’s Chambers’ senior federal counsel Mazlifah Ayob — who represented the three other respondents — said she will be seeking instructions on whether to appeal the decision today.

Lawyer Ajeet Kaur held a watching brief for the Bar Council.

Today’s case is likely the first child conversion case to be decided after the apex court’s decision in the Indira case.

Indira, a Hindu mother, had filed a similar judicial review application to challenge her Muslim convert ex-husband’s unilateral conversion of their three children — then aged 11, 10 and with the youngest just over 11 months old — to Islam without her or the children’s knowledge or consent.

Like today’s case, the children were born into a civil marriage to a couple who were initially non-Muslims, but were converted to Islam unilaterally by one of the parents who became a Muslim. Both cases also involve court disputes over custody of the children.

On January 29, the Federal Court’s five-man panel in Indira’s case had unanimously declared it was unlawful to unilaterally convert children to Islam.

The Federal Court ruled that the consent of both parents is required before a child born in a civil marriage can be converted to Islam.

Separately, the Buddhist father and Muslim convert mother were locked in court disputes over the custody of the two children.

On September 13, the Court of Appeal decided that the father will have sole guardianship, custody, care and control of the two children, reversing a prior decision by the Shah Alam High Court.

The father was reunited with his children since their separation this April.

Rohani, the mother’s lawyer, today confirmed to reporters that an appeal against the custody order has been filed at the Court of Appeal on October 11. No court dates have been fixed yet for the appeal.

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