Former minister Zaid Ibrahim today appealed to Muslims, urging them to speak up in kindness and fairness against unilateral child conversion.
“I don’t know if I’m going to heaven, but those who have no heart will go nowhere. How can anyone condone a unilateral child conversion?
“It’s not too late for good Muslims to speak up. We need to have capacity for kindness and being fair to others, even if not a Muslim.”
The lawyer turned politician declared on Twitter that “we have lost our soul” if Malaysia did not prohibit the conversion of a child to Islam by one parent at the expense of the other.
“Is being a Muslim more important than being human?”
He asked whether the pain of a mother deprived of her child had no bearing in Islam.
To resolve interfaith custody conflicts between Muslim and non-Muslim parents, a bill to amend Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 (Act 164) was tabled in Parliament last November.
It was to be debated at the present sitting of the Dewan Rakyat but has been pushed back to No 8 in the order of proceedings.
Once passed, the amendment allows only the civil courts to rule in matters pertaining to civil marriages, even if one spouse converts to Islam.
However, Muslim legal experts have argued that the bill is “null and void” as it contradicts Islamic jurisprudence, which states that when a parent converts to Islam, his or her child (if the child has not yet reached puberty) automatically becomes a Muslim, too.
Former chief justice Ahmad Fairuz Abdul Halim said any law which contradicts Islamic jurisprudence, derived from the Quran and Sunnah, was null and void.
On these grounds, Haniff Khatri Abdulla, who is legal aide to former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, has challenged the validity of the bill that seeks to end unilateral child conversions.
“In Islam, there is jurisprudence dealing with issues that arise when a person converts to Islam.
“These include disputes over what happens to the convert’s previous union, to the child from that union, the religion of that child, the matrimonial and custodial rights.
“On that basis, any amendment to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 (Act 164) which does not comply with Islamic jurisprudence, in that situation, would be null and void. That’s what I’ve been arguing for the last 12, 13 years,” Haniff Khatri said.
Zaid, however, has expressed empathy for those embroiled in custody battles for their children, who along with their spouses, had converted to Islam.
Among the better-publicised cases is that of kindergarten teacher M Indira Gandhi, who challenged the conversion of her three children after a protracted court battle for custody.