Buddhist man gets full custody of kids unilaterally made Muslims

Zurairi Ar
Lawyer Honey Tan said the Court of Appeal had considered the respondent’s unilateral conversion of their children to Islam and the argument that it was not done for their welfare. — Picture by Azneal Ishak

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 14 — A Buddhist man who is challenging his ex-wife’s unilateral conversion of their children into Islam was reunited with his offspring yesterday, after they were separated since April this year.

The Court of Appeal decided that Shah Alam-based ethnic Chinese businessman Tan (not his real name) will have sole guardianship, custody, care and control of their daughter and son, reversing an earlier decision by the Shah Alam High Court.

“It was a brave and right decision for the Court of Appeal to grant sole guardianship, custody, care and control of currently Muslim children to a Buddhist father.

“It bore in mind the key principle of best interests of the children in doing so,” the appellant’s lawyer Honey Tan told Malay Mail.

The decision was made by a three-judge panel of justices Datuk Tengku Maimun Tuan, Mat, Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim, and Mary Lim Thiam Suan.

“I felt a great relief after three years of fighting,” the father told Malay Mail after the two children were returned to him last night.

The ex-wife, as the respondent, must also return the RM30,000 costs paid by the appellant under the previous order by the High Court.

Honey said the Court of Appeal had considered the respondent’s unilateral conversion of their children to Islam and the argument that it was not done for their welfare.

“I submitted that the conversion has torn apart the children’s lives as they knew it and it was not in the children’s best interests,” she said.

“The respondent’s act also caused an upheaval within the appellant’s family with whom the children have close relationships, replete with the usual Chinese cultural and religious traditions. This surely cannot be in the welfare of the children.”

The Buddhist father is currently in the middle of a 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 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.

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 judicial review will be heard next on October 16.

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